Applications that have been around awhile are easier to teach than new ones. After all, by the time Word 8.0 comes out, your trainers can build on their experience using and teaching versions 1.0 through 7.0. But when new software comes along, how do you come up with an expert trainer to teach it?

For example, Trelix, a very cool, unique kind of software, is making its second appearance, though most training companies are just now working on it. Sun, the computer people, just announced there will be training available for its free product, Star Office. Adobe just released InDesign 1.0, a new product designed, as Adobe might like to say, as a Quark killer. All of these products have something in common: there are no older versions to build on, no educational preface, and, in InDesign’s case, not very much real-world experience. So how do you get an instructor up to snuff on a new product? Here are my suggestions.

Be a beta baby
Get your instructors access to beta versions of new software. To obtain these versions, you may need to sign up with the vendor, pay a fee, or even sign the standard non-disclosure agreement. Often, you’ll need to do a combination of the three.

The opportunity to play with the new versions and be the first in the department to have access to the software is one way to reward your best instructors. You can use the opportunity to teach new software as an incentive for your training staff. For example, if an instructor consistently receives high marks in his or her student evaluations, then that instructor should get first pick at teaching the new applications.

Welcome to the real world
Nothing sells like experience, so once your instructors have the beta version of the software in hand, they should put the program through the paces. They should open every menu option and click every button. They should try to import and export data. They should crash the program and observe what happens. Most important, your instructors should experiment with using the software the way students will use it in the so-called “real world.”

The release date
When the software is publicly released, see if your company can obtain a link from the vendor to your site offering training on this new product. After all, you know it inside out by now. By staying ahead of your competitors and gaining experience early, you earn that critical “out-of-the-gate” advantage that will allow you to rise above the competition. Keep those beta-balloons floating; they do pay off.

Take it on the road
With new software, your instructors must take steps to see how the software interacts with other devices such as scanners and printers. New software has no legacy knowledge base to pull from, so your instructor becomes the investigator. In the case of new page layout software, your instructor should understand, if possible, how the software will interact with raster image processors (RIPs, the devices that construct the page from the PostScript code created by the application). Testing of this nature may involve the instructor going to a local printing shop and trading training for a chance to see how the new software will interact with the local printer’s professional equipment.

The software’s compatibility with scanners is also an issue. As any instructor who teaches graphics and page layout applications knows, people will ask whether the software works with such and such printer or scanner, and how it changes when crossing platforms. I cannot stress how critical it is for instructors to address these questions from customers whose business lives or dies on the response. Obviously an instructor’s word is not to be taken as the final answer, but an instructor should be able to answer these kinds of questions, if only to gain the trust and respect of the customers. As I’ve noted in my columns before, and as you know, respect is the key to a successful training business. Your customers MUST believe their instructor knows the software, especially when it’s new to the market.

Schoun Regan is a consultant to training firms and travels across North America educating people for Complete Mac Seminars .

If you have any additional tips you’d like to add for handling new software with your trainers, please let us know by posting your comments at the bottom of this page. If you have a training topic you feel needs to be covered, please let us know by sending us a note .