April 2021
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TD Magazine

Create Learning Experiences for All Knowledge Levels

Thursday, April 1, 2021


No two training classes are alike. The same goes for learners. Facilitators are often confronted with learners at different knowledge levels—some who are advanced on a topic and others who are not. How do you ensure one lesson meets the needs of all learners?



Learning leaders need to possess the ability to adjust the ebb and flow of a training session to meet learners where they are. There are also ways to use advanced participants' knowledge to promote greater learning for the whole class.

  1. Get to know your learners. Reduce uncertainty about participants' understanding of the subject matter by asking what expectations they have for the learning experience. Consider launching a discussion board ahead of the course or sending a poll asking learners to share their familiarity or experience with the topic.
  2. Put learners at the same level. Organize the course in a way where everyone can start from relatively the same place. For example, reserve the first two hours of the course for those who want to cover the basics and allow those who are advanced to join the class at a later start time. That enables those who are less familiar with the subject matter to have a safe space to learn and grow.
  3. Partner learners with purpose. Pair advanced learners with those who are new to the topic. This is another way to help all participants reach a similar knowledge level. Participants don't need to know why they were paired together. Sometimes pairing can happen naturally, but as a facilitator, your role is to balance teams for the optimal learning experience.
  4. Conduct frequent knowledge and pace checks. Technology makes it easy to gauge how learners are feeling about the subject matter and the course's pace. At various points, pause instruction and have learners use virtual feedback tools, such as a green check mark or a red X, to share how they're feeling about the course. Use that information to adjust the program's tenor and pace.


After you have introduced a concept, invite those individuals you have identified as advanced to chime in and share their experiences on the topic. Engage them as co-facilitators. Further, if you notice several learners have finished the activities ahead of schedule, keep them engaged by having them quality check each other's work.

About the Author

Nikki O’Keeffe is an internal ATD Facilitator. She is dedicated training specialist who delivers a positive, memorable, and meaningful service that repeatedly meets or exceeds the expectations of the client. She has experience creating strategies and visions to ensure training requirements and deliveries are in line with quality, probability, and client need. 

Nikki has worked in varied industries, including education, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. In her role as the global senior training and development specialist at PAREXEL International, her focus was on managing and developing courses for new and existing staff on technical systems, process changes, new products, and soft skills.  Her educational background includes a BA in psychology from Butler University and a master’s degree in exercise science, health, and wellness from Northeastern Illinois University. Her specific areas of interest include virtual training, facilitation techniques, and mentoring new trainers. 

Nikki is skilled at providing face-to-face and online learning programs for global participants of varying experience levels. In addition to delivering training, she has performed training needs analyses to identify gaps and recommend training solutions, worked with SMEs as a consultant to develop courses and curriculums, and evaluated programs for effectiveness. 

As a certified ATD Master Trainer and certified ATD Master Instructional Designer she understands the value of solid training plans and strong facilitation. Nikki looks forward to sharing her experiences and expanding her knowledge base by learning from her participants in the upcoming ATD courses that she leads.

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Agreed. Getting to know each person's confidence level, skill set, and pairing teammates have proven to be successful in our learning environment.
Lena, that is great to hear! It seems so simple but is sometimes forgotten. Glad to hear you are using those techniques for a successful learning environment.
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This is something we run into frequently. I love your idea of having a discussion board up front to allow learners to share their experiences at the start. With virtual training this would be so simple to implement and I think we could easily keep it going if we start training in person again as well.
@Monica- thank you for the comment! Yes, the discussion board is perfect for the start and after the experience as well. I use it for both virtual trainings and in person training and it is a great landing page for creating connections and sharing ideas.
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Nikki, this was agreat article. I run a digital upskilling program for my institution and this gives me great new ideas and approaches to keep it moving forward.
@Jesus- thank you for taking the time to read and reply. Delighted to hear that you gathered some new ideas to try. Always learning, always improving!
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