The most effective learning strategy considers personality, allowing a variety of employees to engage in a variety of ways.

By the early 2000s, human resources developed a reputation in some circles as being a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, no-fun-allowed department, its trainings a necessary distraction from “real work.” This image of corporate training was popularized by characters like Toby the HR guy on the sitcom “The Office,” who constantly foiled the well-intentioned but often legally and morally dubious shenanigans of management.

How true this image of training is probably varies from company to company, but many HR departments are taking steps to deliberately depart from it. Learning tools and strategies are increasingly focused on what can be done to make work more enjoyable and engaging. As Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, pointed out in his Forbes article, “The HR Software Market Reinvents Itself,” HR software has experienced a renaissance during the past few years. As a result, HR and learning and development departments have more training options than ever before and the chance to do something important: make learning relevant.

However, rapid evolution in the way companies deliver training (through using softwares like final cut pro to make interactive videoes) can leave some employees who liked the old way of doing things feeling left out in the cold. This may be more than simple resistance to change — it might actually be linked to personality.

The numerous tools available to facilitate virtual and on-demand webinar trainings complicate things further. What new features will make which employees happy? Do people prefer to sit at their desks alone and watch a webinar or do they really crave the classic conference room presentation? We may be abandoning many aspects of Toby-style HR and training, but are there employees who will miss them?

As the job market heats up and high-potential employees face more and more options, questions like these are important. In the race to adopt learning technologies, learning leaders must take care not to simply adopt solutions because they have fancy new features. Rather, they need to develop a strategy for learning that allows a diversity of employees to engage in a variety of ways.

Bersin by Deloitte breaks the continuous learning technology stack into four groups — education, exposure, experience and environment — which is a good starting point for thinking about how learning can be applied to individuals with varying preferences. Following is a look at how emerging training tools can be applied based on personality using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, framework, which provides a model for understanding how individuals think, gather information, and act or behave. Knowing your workforce’s preferences is critical for delivering next-generation (and traditional) training tools that they’ll be naturally inclined to engage with, which will maximize their chances for gaining knowledge and skills that will bring their talents to fruition.

The Perfect Learning Cocktail

Companies are wisely beginning to focus HR and L&D on creating an environment that maximizes both the individual and collective talents of their workforce. Indeed, in a few (notably high-tech) industries, there’s a strong management-led emphasis on building a culture that allows employees to enjoy their work lives. One image this may evoke is the fun tech company with beer taps and a pingpong table in the office and flexible work-from-home policies.

This focus on temporal flexibility together with remote collaboration tools makes it possible for employees to attend trainings from anywhere. It also gives employees access to a much wider range of trainings that would be difficult and expensive to attend in person.

Common sense indicates that training tools that people actually want to engage with — those that leave them feeling empowered as opposed to overwhelmed or confused — will deliver a more effective experience that also benefits retention. But it turns out that delivering such an experience is tough even with the most cutting-edge tools because people’s learning styles are as diverse as their personalities.

While fantastic advancements provide many new opportunities, they also raise a number of questions: Which employees will benefit most from and take greatest advantage of virtual training? How can virtual training be adapted to best serve all employees? Are there employees for whom virtual training will never quite cut it compared with conventional in-person training? Are there ways in which virtual training can be adapted to the needs of individuals regardless of whether or not they are inclined to gravitate toward virtual learning environments?

In most cases, the perfect “cocktail” will likely require a mix of virtual and in-person training.

Online learning software has enabled companies to scale learning like never before, reaching more employees at lower cost, so it’s no surprise that there’s a tendency today to leverage such tools to the hilt. Yet, a study conducted earlier this year by CPP, The Myers-Briggs Co., of 1,632 training participants who completed the MBTI assessment as part of their program revealed that while HR and training culture seems to be changing rapidly, the vast majority of employees still prefer either in-person training alone or a combination of virtual and in-person training. In fact, very few workers appear to prefer a completely virtual training environment.

What this finding reveals is that while new technology and a focus on employee flexibility and happiness would seem to go hand-in-hand, the reality is that the full spectrum of personality preferences aligns with a combination of new and old ways of delivering learning.

Introversion and Extraversion

Individual preferences for learning are expressed in a number of ways. When it comes to the question of preference for virtual versus in-person training environments, assessing how employees take in energy — whether through introversion or extraversion — may be one of the most critical considerations.

It’s important to note that introversion is often confused with shyness. However, these two shouldn’t be conflated, as shyness often denotes nervousness or timidity and may not actually reflect any innate preference (and can stem from a number of issues in one’s environment). People with a true preference for introversion derive their social energy from time spent alone in contrast with those who prefer extraversion and derive their energy from interaction with others.

Logically, perhaps, introversion would align with virtual tools that allow more self-directed training experiences. Indeed, more people preferring introversion than people preferring extraversion would select virtual training over other options, but their numbers are still in the minority overall — even most of those preferring introversion do not prefer entirely virtual environments. In addition, extraversion has been associated with a slightly higher preference for using video chat as part of virtual training, though, again, those reporting that video chat is an important feature were in the minority overall.

One area where introversion and extraversion preferences diverge more sharply is in the desire for including group discussions in virtual training. As might be expected, most of those preferring extraversion cited group discussions as an important facet of virtual training.

In tailoring learning for people who prefer either introversion or extraversion, there are other areas to consider as well. According to Donna Dunning’s “Introduction to Type and Learning,” those who prefer extraversion like to learn through interactivity, to roll up their sleeves and jump straight into the work. They also like to switch things up, changing learning topics, tasks and activities relatively frequently. Those preferring introversion, on the other hand, like to understand material by reflecting on it and by having the ability to access additional information and study a topic in depth.

It doesn’t take much imagination to envision how a learning environment that is perfect for someone with a preference for introversion would be maddening and frustrating for someone who prefers extraversion.

Using Personality to Guide Content

The other side of the virtual training coin is the potential to offer a wider range of training content than would otherwise be available, even for training on the same topics. While personality preferences across the board look for a healthy dose of in-person training, virtual training can allow employees to select training content and delivery that matches their preferences more closely.

According to Dunning, here’s how personality type breaks down along other preferences:

  • How we take in information — sensing versus intuition: People who prefer sensing often favor “hands-on” learning, like using visual aids, and tend to place the first focus on memorizing facts and details of the material. Meanwhile, those preferring intuition like to explore concepts and find patterns. They use theoretical frameworks, associations or abstractions to represent ideas.
  • How we make decisions — thinking versus feeling: People who prefer thinking tend to explore logical consequences and implications, appreciate clear criteria for evaluating their performance, and enjoy debates, questioning and critiquing the information presented. On the other hand, those who prefer feeling tend to focus on the effects of ideas and information on people and enjoy collaborating and connecting with other learners as well as having the opportunity to mentor.
  • How we process the outer world — judging versus perceiving: Those who prefer judging tend to enjoy structure and sticking to a schedule or plan, while those who prefer perceiving value flexibility and spontaneity and tend to like to keep their options open so they can take advantage of last-minute learning opportunities.

These preferences can play out in a variety of ways for both structuring and delivering content. For example, MBTI types that include S (sensing) and T (thinking) like getting practical information in their trainings delivered succinctly and logically. For these types, training options not too heavily laden with nonpractical information would be better received. On the other hand, types including S and F (feeling) appreciate kind, people-oriented delivery and would benefit from more relationship-building content.

Types that include N (intuition) and F gravitate toward information that’s both abstract and warmly relational — quite different from the down-to-business, practical orientation preferred by ST types, for example. Types that include N and T appreciate the same abstraction but with less need for it to be colored with a personal relationship.

Integration is Key

For the time being, classic in-person training shouldn’t be replaced by virtual tools but, rather, integrated with them. Where the real value of virtual comes in is as a platform that can allow employees to tailor the content and delivery of their training.

New technologies offer the possibility of developing different kinds of training to suit different preferences in a way that would be impractical for in-person training. Combinations of in-person and virtual training could take this a step further and deliver content choice alongside widely appreciated in-person modules.

Sherrie Haynie is director of U.S. Professional Services for CPP Inc. Comment below or email