How to Deal With a Slow Learner in the Workplace

Work with slow learners to help boost their productivity.
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Your boss just handed you the project of your dreams, along with promises of a reward if your team completes it by a fast-approaching deadline. The trouble is, one of the members of your team is a slow learner. Slow learners take longer to understand concepts and complete tasks, and working with them is often frustrating for you and your colleagues. Fortunately, with a bit of guidance and encouragement, a slow learner can be a valuable addition to your team.

Signs of a Slow Learner

    In a meeting, a slow learner might ask the leader to repeat a concept a few times because she doesn't understand. She may require extra study time to grasp new concepts presented to her. It's usually difficult for slow learners to follow multi-step directions. Slow learners may have a poor self-image and may suffer from a lack of healthy, mature relationships. They tend to have problems organizing and generalizing information. Slow learners sometimes don't have long-term goals.

Medical Reasons for Slow Learning

    Some slow learners have trouble because a medical condition or learning disability affects the way their brains process information. For example, a person with attention deficit hyper disorder, or ADHD, might appear to ignore others or have problems concentrating on tasks. Slow learners may suffer from depression, hearing impairment, Down syndrome or a form of autism. People with these conditions might seem confused, lazy, uninterested or stupid. Often, these people can take medication that makes it easier to focus their thoughts and concentrate on work. If your colleague is afflicted with a condition and is open to discussing it, talk to her. This will make it easier for you to understand the condition and find new, effective ways to work with her.

Acknowledge Her Other Traits

    If your coworker is a slow learner, chances are, she already knows it. She may suffer from low self-esteem and think of herself as a drain on the company or your team. Giving your coworker praise and encouragement may motivate her to work harder. For example, your coworker might work slowly, but that also means she's putting extra effort and care into her job. Where speedier employees turn in sloppy, mistake-filled work, hers may be error-free, saving the company time and money in the long run. Let her and your colleagues know that slowness isn't always a bad thing.

Keep It Simple

    Slow learners thrive on simplicity. Write down clear, succinct instructions for them to help them understand new tasks. Keep meetings short and focused. If you have a long meeting planned, break it down into several small gatherings instead. Avoid discussing concepts in abstract terms. When you give a slow learner verbal instructions, ask her to repeat them back to you. Demonstrate tasks for her so she can see how they're done. When a slow learner grasps a task more quickly than usual, praise her for it.

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