Designing business-friendly training classes

How do you make software training interesting and relevant to your adult students? Peter Nelson shares some tips on creating classes that give users what they really need, instead of offering generic, one-size-fits-all training.

One of the biggest issues to overcome when presenting software training to adults is getting them to attend the classes they need. So how do we create training that users will find worthwhile? The answer is to design classes that relate directly to their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.
In this two-part series, we'll look at some techniques for designing business-friendly training classes. In part one, we'll show you how to develop your course focus, based on conversations with your future students.
Talk to your potential students
As obvious as it might sound, the first step in developing an enticing training class is to talk to your potential students to see what they do, how they're currently doing it, and what problems they're running into. Sounds simple, but how often does it get done?

I prefer to talk to the users themselves—kind of a “grass roots” approach. Talk to one of the veterans, talk to a rookie, and even talk to one of the “complainers.” Ask them to show you the things they do the most—whether they do them with or without the computer. If they show you a manual process, you can then teach them to automate it. If they continually retype a document that has only slight variations, you have a great reason to teach them about templates and styles.

Build rapport
Your conversations with users will give you a lot of information on which training topics make sense. You'll also begin establishing, or enhancing, your relationship with the students. Once they see that you actually listened to what they said, your credibility will increase significantly.

When I am teaching the class, I will often give “credit” to the users who gave me ideas for the training. This gives those students a special acknowledgement, and it leaves the door open for future meetings about additional training classes.

I also use the same business vocabulary, particularly abbreviations, that the students do. This is certainly easier for an in-house trainer, but even contract trainers need to embrace this approach. Just ask your customer for a list of their most popular acronyms and abbreviations.

For example, if they refer to the people who sell their products as “product agents,” you should use the same term. If you call these folks “salesmen” or “reps,” your students will still understand what you mean, but that term won’t convey the level of familiarity and intimacy that is needed.

Get management’s support
In any business scenario, there is always the factor of management buy-in. Most of the time, it's managers who initiate a request for training. While they may be signing the purchase order, they are not necessarily the best ones to design the actual training approach.

Where management can be very helpful is in helping you frame the training based on the current business needs. For example, maybe the business unit is going to be taking on some newly transferred business. In order to make sure that these customers meet certain financial tests, various spreadsheets need to be developed to analyze the data. Just from this information alone you can begin to get a broad picture of what might be needed from the training that you will provide.

In subsequent meetings with management, you will be able to illustrate clearly how you’ve blended the management input with the end user assessments to develop the perfect classes for their specific needs.
If you have any suggestions or stories you’d like to share about how you approach the design phase of your training courses, please Post a Comment below.

Peter Nelson is the principal of NewMarket Technologies in Saratoga Springs, NY. NewMarket provides customized software training and applications development for its clients. While their client base includes manufacturing, government, and small business, NewMarket has a specific focus on brokerage and insurance markets.

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