IT Employment

You know what's important about end-user training? The end user

End-user training is often a huge fail because IT pros don't consider the needs or the learning style of their audience members.

Let's talk about training a little bit. Training end-users is probably one of the most important aspects of successfully rolling out a new technology in an organization, yet it is also one of the most poorly executed tasks.

I recently attended a training session on a new enterprise tool. I walked away thinking that that was an hour of my life that I would never get back again. I'm not one to criticize but... (I really am, I just put that line in there to give my regular readers a chuckle.)

Here are some ways that I think the presenters could have done a better job:

Tailor the presentation

The tool I was being trained on was one that would be shared by several properties in our business group. But guess what? I don't care how Group A or Group B will be using it. Why would I? I've got enough on my plate and no room on the docket for strolling through 700 features that I will never use. Maybe you used the one presentation across the board to save time? Honestly, I don't care. If you can't take the time to customize the presentation for my benefit, then don't invite me.

Use examples

If I will be using a tool to perform x, y, and z, then I want you to walk through examples of x, y, and z. Show me a typical example of MY work and how it will be done with this tool. You can go through and point out all the bells and whistles but unless they have a practical application, then count me out. I've got work to do.

Consider the old tool

I think it would be really cool if engineers had to really get to know the old application end-users are using before they start adapting or creating a new app. Because I think that's the best way to understand the usability preferences end-users are accustomed to.

It's also a more straightforward way to explain the new tool to me. "In the old tool, you had to do this to accomplish this task. In the new tool, this is how you'll be using it." Draw some comparisons FOR me and show me you give a crap about how the new tool will affect my work.

A friend of mine, Jeff Davis, wrote a great piece on IT pro presentations in sales meetings that bring up some other excellent points. I think both of our takeaways focus on one main aspect of presentations: Know your audience and proceed from there.

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.

16 comments
SuzeG
SuzeG

I am always amazed that "award winning writers" get away with foul language. Was "crap" really necessary?

Aiponas
Aiponas

Goods advice, but not sure is of any use. There is one problem related to EUT - end user itself. Usually when developing new proceses and preparing corresponding training materials I attempt to customize it based on user population groups, but guess what - it apears users are using the old tool not the way they supposed to use it, and they do not admit during requirements collection, that they do not wokr the way they supposed to work. Result - design diconnected from reality and last minute adjustments to process and work-arrounds

maj37
maj37

Sorry Toni but it is a two way street, how about taking a little responsibility for you own learning? Most of the time the presenter didn't change things just for the sake of changing them, and he she also has a job to do so maybe they don't have time to learn exactly how you use the old tool. Would you be willing to spend some time before hand showing them how you use the old tool? I bet if/when they came and asked you to show them how you use the old tool you said "I don't have time!!!!!" I also bet if you asked them during the presentation or contacted after the presentation they would help you figure out how to do those tasks specific to your job.

CrimeDog
CrimeDog

Being a high-mileage instructor, I have to respond to your comments from the other side of the lectern. "... I’m not one to criticize but???Here are some ways that I think the presenters could have done a better job:..." - I have always been told to forget everything before the "but". Tailor the presentation You do not specify whether the trainer was in-house or a hired gun. In any case, the trainer is just the messenger - the course development appears to be the issue. The first part of curriculum development is needs assessment. In that step, you are figuring out if the course is, indeed, needed and who your audience will be. Direct your comments to the developers rather than the instructor. Use examples Same as above. Course development is usually delivered three ways, depending on audience. New folks get the full treatment, old tool users get an accelerated version, and there should be a management level overview course - for the buy-in (guess which course is taught first?) As for examples, I will wager that there were some provided, just not in time to prevent you from disconnecting. The issue,again, lies with the curriculum developers. Consider the old tool "I think it would be really cool if engineers had to really get to know the old application end-users are using before they start adapting or creating a new app. Because I think that’s the best way to understand the usability preferences end-users are accustomed to." What makes you think they have any more time to learn your old system than you do to learn their new one? The curriculum is the issue. The developers should....well, you know. In closing, I hope you took away more from your friend's presentation than "Know your audience and proceed from there."

tlpnightwatcher
tlpnightwatcher

Having experience delivering new-hire orientation in a high turn-over call center, delivering the same training over and over and over (while little changed in process and policy over the course of time), I got tired of using up all my time giving new hire orientation when there are some aspects of the job the user can explore on their own. Being introduced to a network recording application (i.e. Webex) saved my sanity. I was able to record topics from my desktop and demonstrate useful configuration settings to help my new hires assimilate to their new environment and become acclimated to using their new tools.

jsargent
jsargent

is that the trainer does not understand the business sector or company philosophy that the trainees are working with. Consider CRM packages that have to work in a variety of business contexts. Perhaps the trainer knows how the package works inside and out but he may be really in the dark as far as his knowledge goes of the user sector and company rules. This problem is quite common and understandable. As a suggestion the trainer should first make time available well before training starts in order to speak to employees who get their hands dirty so that he can structure the training sessions to suit the audience and gauge their responses.

timrush-aero
timrush-aero

I agree on the training. I sit down small groups and train to their specific portions of the program. I may give a general overview but the meat of the session will be for these persons. It starts at design though. We sit down with the end users and see what THEY need, and design accordingly. The whole purpose in any tool is to make the end user more efficient. If I go by what I think they need, we'll end up with a tool no one wants to use, or is difficult to navigate. I've seen too much of that in software on the market. That's probably why I have this job.

Maxthefax
Maxthefax

I believe we all agree: Training is vital for getting everyone 'on the same page' when it comes to learning a new tool or program. The originator of this discussion, mentioned that he wasted an hour of his life attending some large gathering of 'new users'. --Reason: The Training was not specifically tailored to his needs. Could that same 'Training Program' that he attended, have been offered on his computer? or 'smart hone' or (?) Thus saving him travel and 'sitting' time? Could he have quickly, and simply checked it out there-- at his home, or on his phone, or at his place of work?--(For 'checking it out' suggestions: Appropriate captions on the first 'page' that identified what subjects will be demonstrated and applied in the following 'lesson'..) Then in a few minutes one has seen that it was 'Not for him'? On the other hand, -- if the program was 'just right' for a few-- they would have benefited by the hour spent --maybe at their home, or at their computer at work-- and thus some benefited, while others didn't have to waste both time and money to travel, sit, and endure in some large group? Basic point of my comment: Why can't more training be offered and benefited from, right on my computer?-- that I can 'take the course' either at work, or at my home? Note: I am in the Training Department, and we are tasked with the huge task of training users of a valuable tool in our organization, and we have Volunteers that range from being afraid to go on the internet, to the ones that are just too busy-- 'period!', and to only the very few really eager to schedule time regularly to learn this new tool. What might you suggest to us in the 'Training Department'- to make it easier and more beneficial for the end users? I would really appreciate your suggestions and ideas to further help us in the 'Training Departments' of many fine organizations. Thanks!

michael_boardman
michael_boardman

I did a fair amount of training before I retired, and was fortunate to be working in a smallish area with a reasonably enlightened boss. Higher management introduced PCs for the wider organisation and dumped them on the desks, expecting staff to achieve savings with less than the bare minimum of training (many had no experience of Windows or Office, let alone using them effectively). There were some generic courses which were of little value, since, for example, they taught people how to create charts in Excel when they would NEVER need to use them. My immediate senior officers (on two separate occasions) found a way to let me do some training and I was able to target what was essential to the work (in this case, sorting and filtering, which weren't dealt with at all on the standard course). Staff finished up far more confident with the software, and happier in the workplace because their time had been invested in something worthwhile. Also, they were more efficient, which was what the employer wanted: surely a win-win outcome! I can't track down who said it, but I recall a quote on the lines of "If you don't think you can afford training, you should try the alternative".: whoever it was was right on the money.

ecs.ltd
ecs.ltd

I think we have to be careful with End Users, as in reality they are the reason for our existence. If we treat them like dumb animals our arrogance will be the demise of Dyalects (I presume that is a pun on Dr Who). Silly questions are where people learn and are born out of a healthy need to understand and not conjured up to annoy. Training Needs Analysis is a time consuming task but without it training customisation is expensive because irrelevant subject matter is presented and very soon after the audience switches off. But this all goes back to the requirements gathering at the very start of the process and identification of the changes and enhancements, these are what form the basis of any new system, learn the workflow processes ie what people do, with what and when, and appreciate what and where the changes will impact this. Through dear old GAP Analysis the syllabus will appear and the training will write itself. Training is quickly denounced as an expensive luxury, in both time and money, however how many new systems become redundant because of the resistence and refusal to accept change by the user, not the manager or business. Training is more than just 'Peter says' repetition it is a key step in the selling process, ignore it at your peril.

Dyalect
Dyalect

Any training/take aways are good for the end user. This reduces the amount of silly questions that will arise later.

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

and I agree, for the most part. Customizing training can be expensive - is each separate audience willing to incur the cost? perhaps there should be separate 'overview' and 'just the bits that are relevant for your group' sessions. I don't know that I would spend a lot of time learning the old system. Comparing the new system to the old system seems like a good idea, but it can really bog you down while conducting the training. There is too much opportunity for "but I liked the old way" which, as a trainer, you have to handle; why encourage it? Use Examples - at least one of each function, and can't have too many, IMO.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It's quite obvious she wanted to use [b][u]much[/u][/b] stronger words.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Part of requirements collection should be to watch the users at their jobs so you [u]know[/u] how they are using the old tool.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It's the presenter's responsibility to match the presentation to the audience, not the other way around. Part of the preparation is to go through the presentation, verify its accuracy and appropriateness for the intended audience, and get it fixed before standing up at the lectern. The stuff you think they should be doing for the presenter–spend some time before hand showing them how you use the old tool–is part of development, not part of presentation.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Like Toni, most users don't care about the bells and whistles, they just want to know how to use the new tool in their jobs. Development - Find out how the old tool is used. - Relate that use to the new tool and develop the procedures. - Don't present an hour-long "How to use [i]Software[/i]" module. Address each individual procedure in a separate module lasting no more than 10-15 minutes. For example, for a new word processor, present separate modules for Creating files, editing files, inserting graphics, formatting the document, etc. - Get the help of experienced workers to validate the procedures. [u]Listen[/u] to what they tell you and either fix the procedure or find out why the procedure can't be fixed and add that information to the module. Believe it or not, most people don't mind procedure changes with new software if they are only told [u]why[/u] the procedure had to change. - Present the training to a sample group to validate the package. Solicit feedback at the end of each section or block. Again, [u]listen[/u] to what they tell you and do what you can to fix it. Training - Present the material - Solicit feedback - Fix the fixable problems. If you've done the development well, there should be no major problems here. If you want to present the training on-line, there are multiple e-learning authoring and presentation packages. I haven't worked with any of them except as the end user, so I can't make any recommendations.