Is Someone Actually Using Learning Preferences?

By Gary Sulton


High level executives of a major finance company outline how the firm is integrating "I Opt" with the Kolb Learning model to capture visible and quantifiable benefits in its learning efforts.

Do people really have different learning preferences? Do they gain more if the learning opportunity is engineered to different styles? Can these various learning preferences be identified…even specified for each individual? Is anyone really trying to use learning preferences?

AmeriCredit has an answer to each of these questions. It is a resounding, Yes. In fact, this company of nearly 4,000 employees is concurrently utilizing learning preferences in engineering both instructor-led sessions and e-learning applications. We also are constantly exploring understanding and uses of how people process information, and how they learn optimally through learning preferences. AmeriCredit is into its fourth year of applying the Input-Output Processing Template (I-OPT), developed by Professional Communications Incorporated, a research and development firm. With every application, the company finds benefits to learners, to our various operations, to our customers, and to AmeriCredit’s award-winning Learning & Performance Department (Training magazine named AmeriCredit as one of its top five training functions in the United States for 2002 and 2003). Participants are engaging in e-learning sessions with over 70% completion rates, while instructor-led learning opportunities find participants rating the sessions higher than ever before.

The approach for identifying individual learning preferences includes a one-page survey of 24 multiple-choice questions that examine our team members' preferences for learning. Connecting through AmeriCredit’s web-based learning management system, anyone in our more than 90 locations can submit the survey in approximately five minutes. The results are processed instantaneously and are immediately available in a back-end database.

The I-OPT provides each person with an information template that identifies four information processing and learning preferences. These four primary styles are:

Almost everyone has a primary style, or preference. Team members whose preference is RS learn best when they are engaged with an activity on the topic, while LPs gain the most when they can follow an orderly sequence to their learning. At AmeriCredit, this primary style is called someone’s "sweet spot." Most people have the ability to also connect to varying degrees with any of the other three preferences. AmeriCredit's instructional designers are utilizing this information to better engineer learning opportunities.

One of the areas where this is most evident is in developing e-learning. In order to engage all learners, online courses are now developed to continually cycle participants through all four styles. Online courses, in every 8 to 10 minutes of attention time, cycle AmeriCredit team members through something that hits their "sweet spot" for learning. They feel comfortable with their style being addressed at a frequency that keeps them engaged. This is AmeriCredit’s "Action e-Learning." Learning & Performance instructional designers apply an experiential learning process based on the work of David A. Kolb, in which learning is achieved by progressing through four phases or processes:

AmeriCredit is also pursuing the development of e-learning courses that allow participants to experience a learning module tailored to their primary learning style.

Our web-based learning management system links to individual learning preferences, allowing learners to be presented with online courses engineered to their style. In this next phase of our application of learning preferences, courses being designed to individual preferences will become our "I-Styled Learning" modules.

Instructor-led classroom sessions are currently being designed using Kolb's learning cycle and team member learning preferences. We now ask team members, prior to attending a course or workshop, about factors concerning their readiness and motivation. This information is processed and provided to facilitators. Based on the percentage of participants with each style, facilitators can then modify the way the session is conducted to maximize connection with attendee "sweet spots." Pre-reading may be sent to Hypothetical Analyzers (who actually may read it), more "do" activities may be inserted into the session to reinforce Reactive Stimulators, time may be taken for "connecting the dots" for Logical Processors, or conceptual, fun application time may be added for the Relational Innovators. Of course, AmeriCredit sees instructor-led sessions that are specifically engineered for each primary learning preference as another step the company will be pursuing in the near future.

AmeriCredit is on the leading edge of understanding and applying learning preferences. We are gaining much from our applications in such areas as knowledge management, enhanced learning, increased return on investment, and improved operational results. From what we have experienced thus far, the future is going to be both exciting and highly rewarding for those exploring and effectively utilizing human learning preferences.


Tom Schafer is Vice President of Learning & Organization Effectiveness for AmeriCredit. Tom is an international organizational design and development consultant recognized for helping to create world-class learning organizations and high-performance work systems. Tom's track record extends to 21 industries. He facilitates numerous learning and OD workshops and has spoken at a variety of international conferences.

Bill Thomson is Vice President of Performance for AmeriCredit in Fort Worth, Texas. Over the last 15 years, Bill has constructed and led three corporate learning and organizational effectiveness departments, as well as designing, developing, and facilitating many professional, managerial, and executive programs. His experience includes petroleum, manufacturing, utility, and financial industries.