Have you ever been taught a desktop application via video? I just experienced a bit of video-age learning with “Introduction to Access 2000.” If you're shopping around for training videos, you might want to read this review first.
“Introduction to Access 2000” is a short video overview of the most complex application in the Microsoft Office 2000 suite, the relational database program Access 2000. The video is one of three in the Access series—there are intermediate and advanced videos as well.
A video training product from EduPro Systems39 South Main StreetHurricane, UT 84737http://www.eduprosystems.com SRP $49.95
Show us; don’t just tell us
According to the video sleeve and the EduPro Systems’ Web site, the video instructor is a Microsoft Certified Professional, a teacher of a wide variety of desktop applications and network operating systems, and the manager of 14 training centers and their staffs. But for all her qualifications, seldom, if ever, does she take the steps necessary to teach viewers how to use whatever feature she's discussing. There is no effort to include the audience. In fact, even if you sat at your computer while watching the video, it would be difficult in some places, and impossible in others, to follow along.
Of course, this type of approach, where the audience “watches” rather than “does,” is not inherently ineffective. In fact, hands-on classes can often backfire if students put too much effort into simply copying the instructor’s keystrokes. Once those students return to a real-life situation, they can't reproduce the desired results because they have no understanding or context (and frankly, because they have no one to copy).
But for a “heads-up” learning situation to work, it is imperative that the trainer make the context and reasoning behind each action exceptionally clear. That doesn’t happen on this video. Instead, the instructor shows us what she can do without explaining how she is accomplishing it or even telling us why we need to know it. It would have been far stronger if she had explained:
- This is what I’m going to show you, and this is why it’s important for you to know about it.
- This is how you do it.
- This is what we just learned and this is how you apply it to your Access 2000 tasks.
Savvy trainers will spot my adaptation of the tried-and-true “tell ’em what you’re gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, tell 'em what you told 'em” formula. Pre-qualifying what you are about to teach is the best way to hook your audience and get them to buy into your lesson. This video instead relies on the instructor's ability to demonstrate features, and leaves us to figure out the benefit and application to real life. In fact, the instructor often speaks in the first person, using phrases such as:
- “When I want to accomplish X, what I do is…”
- “Here’s how I…”
- “Let’s say I want to…”
Readers of my earlier article on the language of training understand the effect and benefit of audience-centered language. Using “you” rather than “I” would at least have made a bit of difference in how the audience receives the information.
I also found the video lacking in terms of content. Specifically, the instructor uses two types of examples: those pulled from the Northwind sample database and those she made up herself. I find using the Northwind database ineffective in teaching Introductory Access for several reasons:
- It’s huge.
- It’s complicated.
- It contains more information than the average Access rookie can handle.
- The audience has no personal investment in it.
- Users can explore it on their own.
Northwind’s sheer size and complexity preclude any adequate explanation and definition, so the novice audience can at best merely respond by rote. It would have been better to set up a more common illustration at the beginning of the tape and work through it, using each concept to flesh it out. When the instructor tries to use her own examples, she introduces them abruptly, with little or no setup to help the viewer grasp their purpose.
In addition, I found the definitions of terms to be imprecise at some times and confusing at others. I would have liked to see vocabulary terms show up on the screen, accompanied by a definition, the first time they were used.
My final thoughts
While the instructor is pleasant and appears to be somewhat knowledgeable about the product, I cannot recommend this particular video except as a cursory overview of Access 2000. The tape delivers very little in the way of actual training.
As a side note, the video was shot in what looks like a living room. I couldn't tell if she was on a set or in someone’s house. But either way, she’s not in a classroom and there is no audience present. She sits in a chair and faces us when she’s on camera, and voices over when the camera is covering her onscreen actions. Instead of seeing Access demonstrated in an educational setting, we see alternating views of the instructor talking to us (and to her screen) as she enters and manipulates data, creates and uses database objects, and shows us a few capabilities of this powerful application. At times, the camera shots are pulled back too far to allow viewers to even read what’s on the screen.
To give this video a fair shot, I asked a friend who is computer literate but who knows nothing about Access (beyond the fact that it’s a database program) to watch it with me. Although she seemed to get more out of it than I did, her report was that she really did not learn anything about using the application.
The best use I can think of for this video is as a precursor to someone’s very first Access class. If the student has never used Access before, this video will give them an idea of what the screens look like. I can’t recommend it for actual training.
Bob Potemski, MS, CTT, is a writer and trainer transplanted from New York. He and his five dogs now make their home in the Midwest. Bob has a bachelor’s degree in science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master's degree in counseling from Long Island University. He has spent the last 10 years working in human development.If you have a training product that you’ve recently used and would like to review it, please let us know my sending us a note . If you’d like to comment on this review, please post your comments below.