A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to observe a half-day training class in Office 97. There were only four students in the class, and they were there because their employer requested and paid for the training. (I did the exercises along with the students, but I didn’t ask or answer any questions or interact with the students in any other way.)

With a mere four students, it should have been an ideal setting for training, right? There was just one problem–one of the students couldn’t type. And he couldn’t operate the mouse either.

How much hand holding is too much?
The instructor started off on the right foot–introducing herself, making the students feel welcome, and laying out the goals for the training. When she had the class start the first exercise, she read straight out of the training guide as she performed each step on her machine, located at the front of the class.

She got to the end of the first exercise, a quick Windows primer, and asked if anyone had any questions. Everyone but Frank had made it through that section without any trouble. The instructor then asked the other three students to start looking at the next lesson, and she went through the Windows primer with Frank, one step at a time.

In the next section of the class, a Word exercise, the instructor carried the training guide with her, reading instructions aloud while hovering over Frank’s shoulder. Since the other three students were sailing through the detailed instructions, nobody seemed to mind that Frank was monopolizing the instructor’s time.

It was during the Excel and Access sections of the class that training broke down. The three “good” students started to need a little more attention. To her credit, the instructor told Frank to plug away as best he could while she answered questions from the other students.

Unfortunately, when the instructor got back around to Frank, she said with a fair amount of frustration in her voice, “Wow, I don’t know what’s gone wrong here.” Then she dismissed the rest of the class for a break and worked through the exercise with Frank from scratch.

The good of the many should rule
So did the instructor do a good job of helping a student who needed extra attention? Or did she sacrifice the good of the many for the sake of the one? Personally, I was embarrassed for her. In my humble opinion, she blew it.

She should not have let Frank monopolize her training time. She looked bad, the training school looked bad, and the other students didn’t get their money’s worth that day.

Folks, ol’ Frank had obviously never played a video game. He couldn’t track the mouse, taking forever to line it up over his click target. And he’d never had a typing class. He had not a clue where any letter was. Apparently, he must have had something going for him in order to get the job. But “basic computer skills” clearly were not among his qualifications.

The instructor should have 
How could the instructor have given the rest of the class good training without completely ignoring or embarrassing Frank? If I’d been that instructor, as soon as I realized Frank’s skill level, I would have asked him, politely and quietly, to keep working on the first exercise. “I’m going to get the rest of the class going on these other exercises, and I’ll come back to help you, okay?”

Then I’d have covered for Frank with his peers. “Frank’s still getting used to our keyboard,” I’d say, “so I’m going to get you folks going on the next lesson, and then I’ll work with him individually.”

With that approach, you’re not saying, “Frank can’t type and we’re not going to wait on him.” You’re saying, “I recognize that Frank needs a little extra help, but I’m not going to let it interfere with the goals we’ve set for the class as a whole.”

Then, when the instructor spends the breaks hand holding Frank, it looks like he or she is going the extra mile to help a needy student—not acting out of desperation.

In that scenario, you’d wind up with three students who come away feeling like they got their money’s worth, and one student (Frank) who comes away knowing he needs to brush up on the basics. Instead, three students came away feeling like they’d been cheated–and they blamed Frank when they should have blamed the instructor.

Who else is responsible?
I realize I’ve come down pretty hard on the instructor, and some of you are going to think it wasn’t her fault. You’re going to suggest that the people who booked the training should have done a better job of identifying who was coming to class and what their skill levels were. And you’re right.

If you’re the school, you need to make it clear what the bare minimum skill sets are. Tell your clients, “Someone who can’t type will have a very hard time completing this class.” Sell them a Typing 101 class.

If you’re the client, ask the school what the bare minimum skill sets are before you spend good money on training. Ask your employees if they can type. If they can’t type, send them to Typing 101 first.

Share your training stories

How do you deal with students who hold back the class because they can’t type (or click)? I want to hear about your victories as well as your frustrations. Follow this link to send me a note .