Keep your training classes useful with these four rules

Training individuals is part and parcel of working the help desk, but what about providing training to a group? Planning is a key to being successful when you're leading a class, and these tips will help you make sure you're prepared.

I've been conducting a number of training sessions for my colleagues lately. We've been integrating a departmental wiki site into our computing environment, and it's introduced some significant changes to our internal culture, as well as being a software platform that most people haven't used before. I'm really excited about the opportunities our wiki provides for augmenting our communication, but I've spent a lot of time up until now in a cave integrating and testing the system. Now that the site's live and I have to turn my attention to helping people get familiar with it, I'm coming out of the cave and putting on my trainer's hat. I had forgotten—but am quickly relearning—that running instructional courses for a group requires a whole different set of muscles than one uses when teaching an individual. Here are the rules that I have come to live by as I've found myself at the head of the class again.

Build on a firm foundation. I don't want to waste anyone's time by developing a training session that's not useful. The quickest way to go down the drain is by trying to be everything to everyone. My departmental clients are at all different levels of comfort with our wiki. Some are experts and are building new content. The bulk of my colleagues have referenced the site but aren't really sure how to approach adding new articles, and a few people haven't even bothered to log in. I realized early on that I wouldn't elevate the average skill level in the department by teaching to the extremes of the bell curve, so I made clear that my group training sessions would be intended for beginning wiki editors, and they'd be demonstration-based sessions. Once we've all got the basics down, we'll move on to advanced sessions. Provide takeaways. I like to provide attendees with extensive documentation from my courses, so that I can be assured that at least they're leaving with main concepts in hand, if not in mind. For one thing, the fact that I've provided them with reference materials means that during demonstration-based sessions, my users aren't distracted by having to take notes. Usually, I spend quite a bit of time up front producing both a simple course outline and a more extensive procedural document, complete with screenshots and diagrams where appropriate. Offering multiple types of documentation acknowledges that people have different learning styles. Some individuals acquire skills visually and will benefit from having illustrated materials to which they can refer. Others retain a procedure once they've read it over themselves, and for those people a clear prose reference will be useful. The outline is useful after the fact for anyone who needs to jog his or her memory without plodding through a long manual.

As an added bonus, I find that any materials that I produce to accompany the in-person training sessions can usually be adapted to provide self-study opportunities for anyone who might not have been able to attend the workshop.

Prepare for resistance. In any group, you're bound to find someone who's averse to learning what you're trying to teach. During my training sessions, the holdout was a woman who feels like the wiki doesn't add any value to our department. "We already have e-mail and the file server," she said, "and I don't want to have to learn something new."

Someone with a negative attitude doesn't really belong in a training session, in my opinion. If they don't see value in what they're supposed to be learning, they're not going to get anything out of the course; that person will be too busy wishing they were somewhere else. Holdouts will have to be won over one-on-one. Spending time during a training session trying to convince someone that the lessons are valuable is a waste of time for the people who came wanting to learn. When I have individuals who are resistant to training, I arrange another forum where I can evangelize and try to win them over. The actual training session though is something I keep a learning forum, not a complaint session.

Audit and adapt the curriculum. For training to be useful, it has to be meeting people's knowledge needs. To ensure that my programs continue to show value, I make sure that my users can easily provide me with feedback. There are a lot of forms that feedback can take; I've used exit questionnaires, e-mail response requests, and focus groups. The form of feedback that you'll find most useful depends on your users and the type of training that you offer. While user feedback can help you fine-tune your presentation, it's also a concrete way to begin assessing your trainees' forward progress. The feedback that your users will provide will begin to fill in the roadmap that points to where your training offerings should be heading.

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