If you are a manager in a small- to medium-size organization, the task of educating end users about new software or a new security procedure will likely fall to you. Conveying technical information to end users can be tricky, but you can adopt three approaches to make the training go smoothly and effectively:

  • Reward positive behavior.
  • Supply information in a variety of ways.
  • Maintain an open-door policy.

Incorporating these three approaches into your training or education program will help make the process a success.

More on end-user education

For more tips on training end users, read the TechRepublic article “Use these three tips when educating end users.”

Make learning fun
Many users will respond to a training session if it’s entertaining. If you mix in a little fun with the training you’re providing on a new IT initiative, users will respond positively and learn more.

Michael G. Beason, CEO of the California Training Cooperative, an outsourced training department shared by California companies, gives users a learning adventure. His organization uses games as one way to introduce an education program.

Let’s say you want users to follow three simple steps when they encounter a virus in their e-mail account:

  1. Report it to the IT department.
  2. Forward a copy of the letter to IT.
  3. Delete the virus from their account.

First, direct users to an intranet page that walks them through a scenario like this: “Your brother sent you an unexpected e-mail with the file, ‘laughyourselfsilly.exe.’ Should you:

  • Open the file?
  • Ignore the file and delete it?
  • Tell your IT team about the file?

Each question contains a link to a splash page. The page behind the wrong answer, the “Open the file” option, contains an image of a user in front of a crashed computer. Pages behind the right answers show a gold star. Beason suggested that users with the right answers be awarded points for correct answers and that the user with the most correct points win a prize.

Beason’s simple interactive training tool can fit many situations. While the exercise is fun, it can send a serious message. It will start talk around the water cooler, and users will compare how well they performed the test, Beason said.

Ideally, the exercise will establish a pattern of behavior among users. For example, you want users to go to an intranet site for a security fix when a virus hits the network. Incorporate that solution into a training game and reward users who select that option as a solution to fighting a virus. “If I train them to use the Web site now, then I’ve got some advance learning that applies to responding to emergencies,” Beason said.

Vary the delivery
Your organization consists of different types of users. Some need information on how to log on to the network. Some might need information on the ins and outs of token rings. Some are hands-on learners. Some want to see a presentation. Some want an e-mail telling them where they can find more information about a new security policy.

If you have a mixed set of users, you may have to offer training in more than one format. But you have to understand what works best for different groups of users. “IT managers have many different types of audiences that they (would) need to train,” said Jennifer Harrington, program manager for Hewlett-Packard’s Web-based e-learning product, the HP Virtual Classroom. “You have to communicate your information in a variety of ways.” For instance, users of the HP Virtual Classroom tool can:

  • Visit a Web page with instructions about the tool.
  • Listen to a set of audio instructions about the tool.
  • Attend a four-hour training course that describes the tool.

“What I find is that all of those methods are being used,” Harrington said. “And they all have to be available, because people have their preferences, and they feel like they’re not really learning it unless they’ve learned in the way they’re…used to.”

According to Beason, the professional users he has worked with don’t learn well through documentation or extensive training programs. These users like to pull the bicycle out of the box and start building it. They consult the instructions if they can’t figure it out for themselves, he said. Putting together crib sheets or other documentation for this group of users may be a waste of time.

Keep information open
Follow-up training is the best way to reinforce what users have learned. Follow-ups can be as simple as slightly changing the scenario of Beason’s training exercise and sending each user through the game’s new version.

After a training session, you can keep the questions and answers that were discussed during the session in an intranet FAQ database.

Rob Teel, a network administrator for the University of Oklahoma, keeps a FAQ database on an offline site called “Tips & Tricks.” The database stores the answers to problems his end users experience daily. “This Tips & Tricks information is accessible to the entire agency and it has reduced our trouble calls drastically,” Teel said.

Tips in a FAQ database can be modified on a regular basis. Teel said many users have grown accustomed to searching the database for an answer before they call the IT team. “This has freed up our entire IT department to work on other important projects,” he said. “This system has definitely made our users more tech savvy.”

Offering open information also means having an open-door policy. Yes, a training session provides users with the knowledge to do more on their own, but after any session, you should prepare for aftershocks in the form of more questions. Encourage these questions and make sure users feel comfortable coming to you for answers.

These three training techniques will make users more comfortable with the material being presented. That, in turn, will help any manager train and educate users more efficiently.