Whether users need training in a new operating system or improvements can be made to efficiency in current ways of working, user training in IT solutions is often overlooked by companies, badly put together or worse still, nonexistent. IT training is incredibly hard to pitch in an era of mixed technology expertise and in a subject area where others like to believe they are better informed than the trainer themselves. These together, plus other hurdles for IT trainers, make for a very tough job.
Technology is something we have no choice but to embrace – it is all around us – whether we’re old, young, male or female, technology is and will always be a part of our lives. In a business environment we rely on IT systems to drive our productivity and the margin that could make or break you against competitors is such a fine line – would you want to gamble it away by not properly educating your staff on how to use fundamental IT systems? I wouldn’t…
Mistake number 1: Ignoring the call for training. It’s very hard for business owners and decision makers to understand the importance of training – especially if they are very intuitive in terms of technology or already know how to use the system in question. Therefore, when justifying the need for it with the aforementioned, it has to be done carefully, authoritatively and most importantly with key benefits illustrated. Find some statistics about ROI, demonstrate something to them that they probably don’t know and bring some real-life examples to the table about how training would have helped in the past.
There is a harder argument against something when strong evidence is on display. Some of you may find its encouraging to take a user with you to the meeting to relay first-hand experiences about gaps in training. Also be realistic with how much time you propose to spend conducting the training sessions. Be ready to compromise but make it clear that training on average, takes 30% longer than estimated.
It is easy to misguide a decision maker on the scope of your proposed training. Sometimes people are using IT systems without a problem (in the eyes of the end-user) but training can be identified and provided to improve productivity with existing systems rather than teaching something new – allowing users to do more work in less time.
Mistake number 2: Inadequate training material. It is a scientific fact that people learn in different ways – reading, writing, listening, speaking and interacting. It’s imperative that a training session designed for a multitude of people with different learning styles and different abilities, is designed with a range of learning methods. Presentations are clearly an effective way of conveying useful information to people – but add twists to it rather than talk about a series of slides. Include videos from the internet, develop exercises for them to interact with and ask them questions. Get them to write down a question each at the start of a session and if it is not answered by the end, ask them to read it aloud.
One session we did recently was about a document management system. Before the session began, we wrote down 10-15 key operations that we were going to teach and then towards the end of the session, we asked people to pick one and show their skills in performing it. This was great, it ensured everyone listened – no-one wanted to make a mistake in front of the class.
Mistake number 3: Detached learning principles. Be very aware when talking or writing to users about why the learning is important to them. Human nature intends us to learn what matters to us and not what matters for the sake of others’ interest. For example, when suggesting a user needs to use a strong password for their web mail tool, there are two avenues of clarification: You could either give a reason for ‘company data security’ which would be accurate but not entirely related to the user (unless you’re a stakeholder). The other avenue to try is ‘for the protection of your own privacy.’ This engages the user much more effectively than asking them to do something for someone else. Life is busy enough for everyone and we tend to leave out what isn’t entirely necessary.
Mistake number 4: Over-flattering the user. Let’s face it – we all like to prove ourselves right from time-to-time and we all like to think we know best at certain things. There is a strong culture among young-folk (mainly) who see being techno-literate as being ‘cool’ (geek-chic) and it’s very tempting to try to catch out someone in a stronger position than yourself. It is especially easy to do in IT where there are many ways to achieve the same result. We’ve all witnessed the person who cannot resist interjecting with what is being said. A common way to deal with these is to massage their ego with phrases such as “Yes, that’s another way of doing it” or “Oh I didn’t realise you could do it that way” or worse still “Yes, you’re right.”
All this does is plant a seed for future disruptions because they know that they can get away with it. Sometimes of course, the interjection is worthy of recognition and this has to be treated with caution. However, in general, remember to be authoritative and assertive in how to answer questions. Comedians are taught how to deal with heckling and IT trainers need to learn a similar trick.
One way around these situations is to acknowledge the situation with users near the beginning of the training session – be open with them, let them know that you are demonstrating ‘a method‘ and not ‘the method‘ and that over time users will discover which way works best for them.
Above all, the IT trainer needs to be confident and well-versed in the learning subject-matter, above the level at which it is being taught. This will make sure questions can be answered correctly, maintaining a level of respect and also leaving the user satisfied.
Mistake number 5: Disjointed training sessions. These are normally caused by the issue outlined above or by people asking genuine questions throughout the presentation. Questions break up a key points in your training and often lead to a digression from the subject in hand. This is very frustrating for the trainer and also other listeners. The fundamental point to make at the beginning of a training session is that ‘questions will be answered at the end of each section’ (or at other appropriate milestones). The frustration is two-fold – not only does it break up the learning but most of the time, the question is answered on a future slide.
The bottom-line here is that learning material has to be slick, informative and does not leave open-ended questions at stake. When writing material really try to bear in mind what the user might ask. This gets easier when you know your audience in advance but think ‘what is missing here – will the user want to know more?’ For example, if you have a slide outlining the steps for archiving email, make sure the user understands that they’ll get more information at a later stage by naming the slide ‘Overview of archiving routine’ rather than ‘Steps to archive emails’. The latter could be interpreted by the user as ‘this is all the information on offer; I’d best ask a question.’
The underlying message to everyone involved in IT training is “It is important, it does take longer than you expect and it is an effective ROI.” Whether you are the presenter, the stakeholder for your business or the IT manager in charge of making the training happen, this needs to be remembered and above all, training is a waste of time unless done effectively. I hope these as well as other training resources will improve your companies work throughput by guiding users through using your company IT systems.
- Where Do You Go To Learn To Teach Computer Science? (acthompson.net)
- Some thoughts on learning technologies in the classroom (dougbelshaw.com)
- Teaching and Teachers in Blended Learning Models (blendmylearning.com)
- The Problem of Teaching Tech in Schools (ashimmy.com)
- Teaching with tablets: Will our children be using electronic textbooks to learn? (itproportal.com)