Education optimize

Is end-user training a lost cause?

As everyone knows, the biggest threat to company data and computer systems don't come from outside forces. Unenlightened employees pose the biggest risk. But does end-user education forestall this risk? Take our poll and let us know how you feel.

Time and again we've seen data that indicate the biggest threat to business data and computer systems do not come from outside hackers or competitors; the biggest threats come from employees making dumb mistakes and using their computers and peripherals irresponsibly.

There are two schools of thought on fixing this problem. Those who believe end-user education is the key (if end users are made aware of the behavior that leads to security risks, they'll stop doing it), and those who think end-user education is a waste of time (the warnings go in one ear and out the other).

We'd like to take an informal poll to see which camp you're in. In this poll we ask if you've had success training end users. (By "success," we mean you have seen user behavior change for the better due to training you've conducted.)

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

20 comments
karl.beil
karl.beil

I don't have to deal with training people in the traditional sense. I don't teach them to use a system or application. I train them on how to use access a process or procedure. For example: How to get a quote for an item or how to get that item purchased. My organization has very specific procedures for these to tasks. I find that if you enable a behavior, such as allowing them to circumvent the procedure, they will continue to do so. If you consistently make them go back and do it correctly, they tend to catch on fairly quickly. In this sense, I tend have a reasonable rate of success in training people. The keys are persistence and consistency.

itvisionary
itvisionary like.author.displayName 1 Like

It is only a lost cause if the end user doesn't care about learning how to correct an issue or process. User training is never a lost cause, however with our ever increasing dependency on technology, it is inevitable that the majority of the population will gain deeper understanding of IT related subjects. My parents couldn't work a VCR 5 years ago, and now they use PSP's, send txt messages and own multiple computers. Time changes everything.

Chi-7
Chi-7

To be a good teacher is about as close to Divinity as any mere mortal can hope to achieve, to instill the inquisitive will to learn and better oneself can be a monumental task. The rewards of watching the light behind ones eyes click on, capturing that moment and making the student fully aware of their accomplishment can make a difference that will last a lifetime. Years ago I taught piano, bass and guitar, there was a universal rule, everything had to be stated three times in three entirely different ways. The years have convinced me that all people, regardless of intelligence or willingness listen with an accent. I still enjoy the challenge and take great delight in watching that light click on. I live in a world far removed from the large scale cooperate IT operations most of you live in and likely have more latitude in dealing with system inequities, operator traps, errors and indiscretions. Controlling the risks by tailoring work stations to the required tasks, uniform data entry fields and tab orders, requiring root privilege for removable media and hardware / software enforcement of browsing policy have been highly effective in reducing stomach acid. Wanna check your E mail, see whats new in Swedish XXXXXXXX videos? Thats what the 5 vanilla wood burning K-7's in the break room are for, better to rototill 5 hd's occasionally than 62 on a regular basis.

cssatx
cssatx

A lot depends on the industry. In HealthCare there is tremendous emphasis on HIPAA and SOX related security. However, general security tends to be viewed as an impediment to the real work ... patient care. That said, education is something that you can not afford to not do. It is an ongoing struggle and cost of doing business. It starts with creating a culture of awareness (already mentioned) but needs to continue using any and every innovative approach at hand. We have had the greatest success when we carry education on past the point of do's and don'ts to actually sharing detailed infomation about risks and practices. At that point you can begin to partner with users. Most people have home PCs ... education they recieve in the workplace can transfer to their home setting ... where they have a real vested interest. Tell them something they can apply there and the message will stick ... and stand a better chance of being applied in the workplace.

kevin
kevin

Training has to be continuous without being intrusive (which is a fine balance). And the security function needs to get buy-in from the line managers. The key is to create a culture of awareness, not just throw training at people.

fdaugherty
fdaugherty

Generally people are fat, lazy and stupid. I've noticed that large companies are like socialist societies. They breed bare minimum effort. The individual is only concerned about their own pay check. In a small company people are more concerned about the health of the organization. I believe this is true for two reasons, (1) the company will not exist unless it performs, the person will not have a job, (2) smaller company is more closely tied to the individual and who they are. Training is important, but at the end of the day it is the individual that makes it worthwhile or not. Similar to MBAs, anyone with cash and time can get an MBA. But very few leverage the opportunity to actually learn and grow from it.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Training is nothing more or less than the process of communicating. When training fails, MOST of the time, the responsibility for this rests with the one attempting to establish that communications. That is the trainer. After all, he or she is the one trying to initiate the act of establishing communications with the goal altering the behavior or actions of others. Note, I said "MOST" of the time. Not "always". There will always be some in the target audience (those to be trained) who are going to be pretty much a lost cause. Due to lack of interest, nursing a hangover from the previous night, having a stubborn streak and thinking more or less "I've always done whatever THIS way and it has always worked for me.", or similar personal issues. Of a kind which closes their minds to being fully receptive to the communications. But, by and large, it is the Trainer's responsibility to establish the communications, and to motivate the target audience to be open and receptive to the communications. To present the data to be communicated in digestible, understandable bits ... understandable to the target audience. In language, and in a style or form that THEY will understand. Too many trainers speak AT their audience, rather than TO them. Don't use technical terminology or introduce technical methodologies or concepts unless you first ensure that the target audience is familiar with such. If they are not, explain the terminology or concepts in layman's terms FIRST. And never, ever forget that you need to MOTIVATE your target audience to WANT to learn the info which you are presenting. It's the old, "What's the benefit to ME?" concept. They'll sit up and pay better attention, ask more questions for purposes of clarification, and so forth if properly motivated to want to learn the material. Proper training involves two way communications. If your audience is just sitting there quiet, you may well have a problem. Maybe not, but usually their silence is an indicator that they're not really thinking all that hard about what you are trying to communicate. ENGAGE them in two way communications. Stop routinely and ask one of them a question. For instance, "Sam, tell me in your own words what you think I meant by what I just said?" Or, "Julie, tell me what you think? Will this new procedure work? Will it help you get your job done better and easier? Can you see any pitfalls or problems with it?" And so forth. You're not only trying to engage their minds actively instead of just passively. You should also be testing to ensure that THEY understood the info you just gave em ... otherwise YOU have failed in your communications. Just some food for thought. The ideas I expressed above are all basic concepts taught in any good class on communications or educational theory. Yep, there are those who are just "dumber than a box of rocks", as one poster put it. And I've used that phrase myself. But the true facts are that the VAST majority of your target audience is probably just as intelligent and capable of learning as you are. So if they fail to learn, it is almost certainly primarily the fault of the teacher, not the student. Where I work, we have one fellow who does the majority of training to the end users of the systems and applications we install. The fellow is VERY bright, far smarter and more knowledgeable than I am about the technicalities of things. But he is often a poor instructor. He presents material from HIS perspective and level of knowledge. And expects that everyone understand the material presented, and the technical terms and concepts. Has no patience with end users who are unfamiliar with those things. So quite regularly, after we've completed a project and he has conducted end user training I find it necessary to later go through things once again with end users and explain the why's and why-not's of various things. Re-explaining things in language and using concepts that the end users can understand; that are meaningful to THEM. You know you've connected, and communicated, when you see their eyes light up and they say something like, "Ohhhh, okay. Now I get it. That's why it should be done like that!"; or "Hey, okay, I can see where that will help me ...."; etc. Then, after I get such a comment, I make em do whatever one more time just to make sure proper understanding is achieved.

sbmknight
sbmknight

I do the end user training for our organization and I completely agree with everything you've said. It's the trainer's job to keep the users engaged and to speak to their level of understanding. I hate the whole "for dummies" way of thinking -- it's condescending and implies that knowledge and intelligence are the same thing. I always make sure to engage my students. In both small classes and large orientations, I ask them lots of questions. When introducing technical terms, I like to ask "Who know what (fill in the blank) is?" and let a student share their knowledge, then clarify it if necessary. I also learned to focus on "what's in it for them" during my first roll-out, when we introduced SharePoint into our organization. After spending an hour reviewing all the cool new features that we in IT were excited about, one user asked "Why would I use this?" I couldn't answer her question. From that point on, every orientation I've done has been user-focused rather than application-focused.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

However, the Pareto rule seems to also apply to trainees. The bottom 20 percent are going to have 80 percent of the problems with the material. So how do you eliminate or reduce that 20%? If the class is structured with the assumption that everyone is going to get the material the first time through, and no additional time and resources are included in the planning, you're going to get a high failure rate. Prescreening helps a lot, if you take only the ones that pass the screen. If you have a training environment where people come to you based on self-motivation, they usually prescreen themselves. Unfortunately, in a lot of business environments where you have a 100% mandated training, that's not going to work. Estimates of training time are almost always based on optimum conditions and trainees. That's what gets posted on web sites and in brochures. And that's what businesses contract outside trainers on. A smart, honest training company is going to inform the company up front that a portion of their employees will require more than the minimal training. And that even with more training, there may be employees that never get it. The only time I've seen 100% mandatory training work in a company was when the company told the employees that passing the training, using the software, and maintaining proficiency in its use was a requirement for their continuing employment. And HR was standing by with severance paperwork all ready to go. Several employees did go, and the rest at least learned how to make the system work for them.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Keeping in mind that the Pareto Principle is just a rough guideline to demonstrate the observation that most things in life are not distributed evenly. That is, the 80/20 split is just a meaningless example number. 95/5, 70/30, etc works just as well and might be the more correct ratios in a given circumstance. "So how do you eliminate or reduce that 20%? " The simple answer is that you can not eliminate it short of eliminating the people who fall within that group. As a trainer, that is not your job nor your responsibility. You job and responsibility is to provide the best training experience possible, given the restraints on time, budget, and you forth which apply. One must be realistic, coldly so. And when drafting a training plan you need to look at your plan and ensure that your goals and objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time based. (SMART) When I attended formal instructor training classes that was one of the first things they taught us. You can't do it all, and not all of your students can learn it all. There is almost never enough time or other resources to make that a possibility. Nor are you as an instructor usually allowed to cherry pick your students so as to maximize your chances of producing maximum results. In short, a GOOD instructor makes the most of what he or she has got to work with. It is what it is, and what you have by way of time, resources, and student material is what you've got to deal with. Set your goals and make your plans accordingly. IMHO, one of the most frequent mistakes instructors/trainers make is focusing on either the top 20% or the bottom 20% of their students. (or use the numbers of top 10%.bottom 10% which would likely be more accurate) While largely ignoring the middle 60% (80%). It is likely that the most cost effective improvement that would be beneficial to the employer paying for said training would be a knowledge/skill improvement for those falling into that middle category. They represent the vast majority of the workers. The top 10% (20%) are likely to be able to quickly grasp the material, with or without any additional efforts on your part. And the bottom 10% (or whatever number) will consume most of your time and efforts with the least beneficial returns. They'll either learn adequately in the allocated time, or they won't. When I was an instructor at the U.S. Navy School of Engineering, and later as a part time instructor at a technical college, I made it a practice of handling the lower percentile group ... as a separate group. I would not allow them to dominate my class time. I'd answer their questions, elaborate, try a different teaching method, and so forth. But if that group represented 10% of the whole, they only got 10% of my time. When some question from said group started to exceed it's allowed amount of time, I'd either tell whomever that we'd go over the subject in more detail during a break, during lunch, or after regular class hours. Or, person could email me later and I'd happily expand on the subject in more detail. Or, I'd suggest some extra reading, or other educational resource. Whatever was needed. But I'd keep my focus on, and appropriate amount of actual class time spent upon the "average" student. If a substandard student was REALLY interested in passing the darned course, that person would be willing to spend extra time during breaks or after class hours to learn, and I'd gladly help. But if they were unwilling to do this, I'd be wasting my time. And would be doing an injustice to the vast majority of my students if I spent inordinate amounts of time dealing with that substandard student during scheduled class time. I just wouldn't do that. You can reduce the numbers of that bottom 20%, the number you used, who fail to adequately learn the material by proper planning of the material to be presented. By having ready and in mind some alternative presentations or explanations of more difficult to understand material. Keeping in mind the different learning styles since each of us tend to have one or another that works best for us as individuals. And by making the effort to better motivate the problem students. That last if one of the reasons why instructors who are teaching adult students often start out the training session with some question like, "Why are you here? And what do you expect to get out of this class?" It's an effort to discover the different motivators held by those in the class. Don't accept some generalized, BS statement. Ask for specifics. A smart instructor takes note as each person answers that question. And throughout the class time keeps referring back to those notes. i.e. "Jane, when I asked you before what you hoped to get out of this class, you said you hoped to find a better way to accomplish XYZ. Well, here we are, what I'm about to show you will accomplish exactly that. And this is how ..." It's the old "What's the benefit to ME" thing. The payola, the reward, the carrot ... for Jane. Reason for her to sit up and pay better attention than she might have otherwise. Such works for the others as well. When they see that you are actually interested in helping THEM, providing something they can really use to make their work better or go easier ... they sit straighter and pay more attention. For that bottom 20%, if you can improve the knowledge or performance of what they do know, or can do; even if their abilities as they leave your classroom is less than that of the majority of your students ... you've still succeeded in improving them. You've done your job. The rest is up to them and their employer.

Shellbot
Shellbot

"The only time I've seen 100% mandatory training work in a company was when the company told the employees that passing the training, using the software, and maintaining proficiency in its use was a requirement for their continuing employment. And HR was standing by with severance paperwork all ready to go. Several employees did go, and the rest at least learned how to make the system work for them. " I wish!! I get so frustrated with people who either don't want to learn, or seem incapable of it. At least the ones who are incapable have an excuse..the ones who don't want to are a waste of everyones time and a lot of the companies money.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

"The only time I've seen 100% mandatory training work in a company was when the company told the employees that passing the training, using the software, and maintaining proficiency in its use was a requirement for their continuing employment. And HR was standing by with severance paperwork all ready to go. Several employees did go, and the rest at least learned how to make the system work for them." Wow. That's impressive. On the other hand, I've had some people in training situations who had such a hard time with what they were being taught (which was critical to their job functions) that they plainly said "You're just doing this to make me quit." No one actually has, for what it's worth, but I've run across some people who really dig in their heels and resist.

Maevinn
Maevinn like.author.displayName 1 Like

The only end users I've failed at training are those who did't want to learn. It's a matter of persistance and being willing to find an approach that works for the end-user in question. I know that there are some things I learn best by reading, some I learn by watching, and some I learn by doing. Other people seem to be much the same, so it's a matter of tailoring the subject matter for more than one approach, and being willing to make changes as needed.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Assistant London metropolitan police commissioner Bob Quick relevant to your point?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's like teaching any other skill. Some people can learn almost anything, some have trouble in one area but not in others, and some are dumber than a box of rocks. Those people outnumber the first two groups.

#1 Kenster
#1 Kenster

Same mistakes, same blame the system, the network or their computer that "just did something weird", not them. They swear that this time it was not them. Some learn, others fall into "training did not make a dent in the cluelessness of our end users." Some heads are hard to make a dent in.

drbayer
drbayer like.author.displayName 1 Like

Yes, the success rate depends on the user. I think it's less a question of a user's ability to grasp the concepts than it is of ease-of-use and ease-of-accessibility. I've had quite a bit of success with end-user training, even in an environment where new policies necessitated a cultural evolution in the organization. The keys that I have found are: 1) Make it easy. I don't care what the task is, if the process of completing the task is too difficult or convoluted, it won't get done. Even those who have the knowledge and experience will find it too tedious and either cut corners or avoid the task altogether. 1a) As a corollary to item 1, don't give too much information. There may be lots of ways of achieving the desired result, but develop a single methodology that is easy for the user to follow and present that. As the user becomes more comfortable, they may explore other methods, but if you provide all of that information up front it leads to information overload. And easy does not necessarily mean shortest or most direct path. It is frequently easier for the user to remember "go to the file menu, click print" than "hit ctrl-p on the keyboard." 2) Lather, rinse, repeat. User education is least effective when it is approached as train once and move on. Repetition and reinforcement, whether formal or informal, is key. This is especially true when the task is something not undertaken on a regular basis. 3) Document. Include with the training some kind of reference material for the user to go back to when they forget step 3a in the process. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it needs to be there.

lgorbic
lgorbic

Proper training of end-users ought to be multi-dimensional rather that "do it just one way." Each of us is capable at doing something. Some of us are lousy with technology. By identifying the more capable end-users through basic training or through one-on-one interactions with them we might be able to make them receptive to helping their office mates by determining what organizational rewards might be available to them. Perhaps some time off, or recognition in org publication, or celebration meal on the town, etc. Some people really respond positively to proper recognition of their successful efforts. End user training ought not to be a drudge.

douglasalt1
douglasalt1

I used to work for UK company with an HQ and 6 large regional offices. IT support was based at HQ. It was felt that by selecting two or three members of each regional office to come to HQ for training in some areas of support would help the operational teams run their offices more efficiently. Those selected were given training in how to detect local connectivity issues and correct them. In those offices that had Member Servers, how to change backup tapes and store them in suitable locations, ideal for disaster recovery/ business recovery. How to manage printer problems, manage local e-mail contact lists/groups (Not the mailboxes). They were also encouraged to take advanced courses in Office products. The benefits were: Reduced numbers of calls to HQ IT Added value of the members of staff who took the training Added value to the CVś of the staff who took the training. A valuable conduit of information that would not necessarily come through formal channels.