If you are a trainer, consultant, facilitator or anyone else who works with groups, you’ve probably experienced the rule of thirds: One-third of your participants are engaged and want to learn. One-third may be skeptical or not yet engaged, but they are respectful to you and the group. Then there’s that other third, the disruptors. These participants are unengaged, and unmotivated and probably don’t want to be there. A handful of them may actively attempt to disrupt or sabotage the process.

How do we handle these people and situations? Training experts suggest a variety of strategies, including proactively building rapport and having clear expectations around behavior. For example, Jonathan Halls, an expert in training and facilitation skills, suggests these four strategies:

  • Develop authentic trainer rapport.
  • Encourage genuine peer rapport.
  • Give the class control over the learning environment.
  • Practice critical self-reflection.

Let’s take it one step further. What if these four strategies were individualized for different personality types and learning preferences? What if rapport meant something different to one person than another? What if control over the learning environment manifested differently for people who are introverts versus extroverts?

There are four main learning environments that correlate with personality type. Here are some tips for customizing the learning environment and things to watch out for based on your learners’ styles.


One-on-one learners are most comfortable with the more traditional style of didactic learning, an exchange of information through verbal presentation with discussion. To stay engaged, they need to see the logical connections, relevance and application of the content to their goals. They tend to ask a lot of questions and prefer small group discussion. They prefer to understand the material before attempting application. Small group discussion and time for questions and answers are important, because they want to share their ideas and opinions. One-on-one learners tend to be introverted, cognitively oriented and goal-directed.

One-on-one learners can disrupt the learning environment by becoming too concerned about minute details, asking rhetorical questions, getting on their own soapbox and refusing to take risks. To engage them positively, invite their ideas and opinions, and recognize their hard work ethic and commitment to reaching their goals and making a positive contribution.


Group learners are most comfortable in small groups, where they feel safe sharing their perspective without fear of being judged. They are very tuned into others, so they want a friendly and collaborative learning experience. Small group activities and plenty of “get to know you” time is critical. They prefer to try new things with others instead of on their own. Group learners tend to be relationship-oriented, extroverted and compassionate.

Group learners can disrupt the learning environment by losing assertiveness, not asking for what they want and avoiding conflict to keep the peace. They may shut down if they don’t feel safe. To engage them positively, reassure them that you welcome their presence, tend to their creature comforts, and ensure an emotionally safe learning environment that’s free from judgment and personal attacks.


Group-to-group learners prefer active environments where there’s lots of experimenting. They are most comfortable with less talk and more trial and error. They want to move, take action and try things out. Theory is boring; they like application. They don’t mind taking risks and do best with experiential modalities, games and friendly competitions. Group-to-group learners tend to be more extroverted, playful, charismatic and risk-tolerant.

Group-to-group learners can disrupt the learning environment by becoming too silly, creating unhealthy competition and avoiding accountability. They may break the rules or create negative drama by stirring the pot. To engage them positively, keep things upbeat and lively. Avoid lecturing at them or enforcing excessive structure. Allow for plenty of movement.


Alone learners typically don’t like training settings, because there’s too much interaction and stimulation. Socializing isn’t their forte. They learn best when new information is balanced with plenty of time for reflection and integration. They can be directed to share what’s on their mind or do an activity, but they lose energy with too much group interaction. They generally don’t speak up unless directed. Alone learners tend to be introverted, reflective and imaginative.

Alone learners aren’t disrupters, but they can undermine their own learning by withdrawing and shutting down. They don’t speak up or ask for help, so they fall behind. To positively engage them, use a more directive approach when you want their participation, and give them plenty of alone time. Don’t expect them to jump in or answer questions right away. Give them time to reflect first. Leave them alone during breaks.