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Two Words of Advice for Anyone who Designs Software Training

For better advice, see Is it possible to create engaging software training?

Over the past few years, I’ve been asked to help design a variety of training programs during the implementation of new software products and computer systems.

It boggles the mind how complicated software vendors have tried to make their user adoption training. Here are two words of advice for anyone who works for a company that is tasked with training clients on their software: stop training.

People know how to use computers (and if they don’t, then you’ll need something more basic than training on your software to be successful). Every day users don’t actually need to know anything about your company’s history or how many secret tabs and cool buttons your software has. Nobody wants to sit and watch you demonstrate how to use the system. So please stop designing training like this; it simply insults your learners and makes your company look foolish. Plus, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Here is an alternate formula for software training:

  1. Let them play. Assuming you have a sandbox or a training site, send  your learners their login and password information several days before the training and give them a scavenger hunt. See how many people can carry out some of the most basic functions without any training at all (after all, if your software is as awesome as it should be, then it should be fairly intuitive anyway, right?). Have people write down any questions or sticking points they came across; this might be a great way to begin your actual training.
  2. Give them a manual. At some point, the navigation of your system may need some sort of explanation. If you stand in front of the group and explain complex navigation, you’ll bore some people, lose others, frustrate others and waste a lot of time since they won’t remember 70% of what you said by the time they go to bed. Give your learners a manual at the start of your training and then give them some real-life scenarios to work through that will give them a taste of the system. In a large group, have your learners walk you through the process/workflow they used to accomplish the real-world tasks you gave them.
  3. Give them homework. Just because they could do something in class doesn’t mean they’ll remember how to do it when your learners leave. Assign them some additional real-world scenarios, then follow-up with another in-person session or even a webinar to clarify questions and to be sure the learners are truly getting it.

Spending less time talking at your audience doesn’t mean your work educating users of your software will be easier… it just means you’ll be working smarter.

Know someone who is tasked with developing computer system or software training? Please pass this along to them.

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