How do I put together these training programs for work?
January 8, 2004 6:24 PM   Subscribe

I have recently been asked to put together some training programs for work, technology related. Looking for some advice on how to proceed... [more inside]

I have been told in the past that I have a certain lack of 'finesse' when dealing with computer novices, so I am looking for a way to present the information in a non condescending manner.

These will be 1.5-2 hour training courses on things like Word, Excel, Windows, etc.

Anyone have experience with training PC novices or non-computer people that could give me some tips.
posted by benjh to Education (5 answers total)
I have spent years teaching tech stuff to non techie people and, in many cases, people who didn't speak much English. It can be tough if you don't have a knack for it. My short list of advice, for what it's worth...
  • set aside at least 25% of the time for questions. this doesn't have to be at the end, just assume that questions will take some time
  • along those lines, figure out what you want to cover and then chop it in half. I always think I will get through more in a class than I do. the less you try to force-feed people, the better
  • with that in mind, figure out why you are teaching the class -- do people need skills to do their jobs, to teach others, to lessen strain on support services -- and then try to teach to that.
  • make it very clear at the outset in as friendly a way as possible that if people don't understand you they should make it clear. I usually say "if I use a word you don't understand, do this [spazzily wave hand] PLEASE"
  • Try to make it plain that you don't think people are dumb just because they don't know anything about word processing or whatever. With my ESL classes, this was easy since I just asked them how many languages they spoke and the answer was always more than my measly 1.5
  • use actual examples as much as possible, it's tough for computer novices often to visualize something you tell them about a computer without being able to see it. if you can let them do it so they can see that, hey, it really does work, so much the better
  • breaking things down into manageable parts can make it less daunting to novices. think powerpoint, then try to expand on that.
  • patience and smiling go a really long way
Speak slowly and try to make it plain to them that if they aren't learning, you're not doing your job right [even if it's not necessarily totally true] and try to make their learning into a group achievement, not just you knowing something that they don't. Try to engage students in a bit of back and forth, even if it's only "Hey who here knows what the right mouse button is for?" and learn some stupid Windows tricks for showing off.
posted by jessamyn at 7:24 PM on January 8, 2004

One thing that I have found very important when delivering education is to remember that people have different preferences. Some people like keyboard shortcuts. Some people like selecting from the menu bar. Some people like right click / context sensitive menus. While you can't elaborate every possible option for doing each action in your typical bloatware word processor, explain at the beginning that you're going to try to show them different ways of doing things, and then do. Don't allow yourself to default to your preferred mode of operation. In your written documentation, try to document all of the possibilities for at least the most basic operations so that people are aware that they have choices.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:48 PM on January 8, 2004

I am in almost the exact same situation as you. I teach technology to non-computer people. My advice to you: Lots of handouts to take home. Make an easy to follow hard copy of your instruction that they can refer back to when the class is over.
posted by yangwar at 7:51 PM on January 8, 2004

As a former corporate technology trainer, let me give you some advice and also rant a bit.

First, the rant -- not everyone can, or should teach. Its a skill, just like painting or running fast or making computers go, that not everyone has. As with anything practice and preparation are the two things that will have the strongest effect on your performance. Companies that expect employees to simply step into a training role without having had any training in the skillset necessary for training are doing all their employees a disservice and (IMHO) don't really care very much about employee performance. Often they're too cheap to hire a 'real' trainer, hiding behind the misguided notion that 'anyone can teach' because 'teaching is easy'. Its not. Doing it well is very hard, and there are specific skills-sets involved in doing it well.

For most people who, like you, 'lack a certain finesse' in teaching, the cause is generally that the skill they are teaching (dancing, drawing, computers, whatever) is something they are innately and instinctively good at. The best teachers are often those people who had to learn a subject by hard study rather than those who can simply sit down at the computer and do it. This is because those for whom the subject was more difficult had to themselves test and try a variety of learning strategies, whereas those folks to whom the subject came naturally never had to take time to understand how they learn. So, my first bit of advice is to think hard about something that you've had to learn that you had difficulty with, and think about the strategies you would have liked the teacher to use when teaching you that subject.


Read some about learning theory: I'd recommend the following:
Instructional Design for the Corporate Trainer, by Dan Chauncey; The Trainer's Handbook, by Karen Lawson; Instant Trainer, by C. Leslie Charles;


1) and most important - have a measurable objective for each learning session. A measurable objective will read something like: "At the conclusion of this session, students will be able to turn on the PC, list three methods of navigating in windows, will be able to define the terms folder, hard drive, and mouse, and will be able to successful open, begin and save a document using notepad." Notice the words that are measurable - behaviors that you can observe and critique. "Students will know how to use a PC" is not a measurable objective because you haven't defined 'know' -- how do you know they know. Understanding what your objective is and how you will measure it -- and sharing this information with your students -- is a big part of a successful training session.

2) Make sure that every student can learn each topic you teach in three different ways: Visually (by seeing it written down or watching a live projection, Auditory (by hearing you explain the specific steps involved), and kinesthetically (by actually practicing the task). Not everyone learns in the same way, and by making sure you present your material in all three ways you'll make sure to 'hit' all three learning styles. Pure lecture is only an effective learning tool for about 25% of the population -- the other 75% will retain very little from a pure lecture format.

3) Be prepared to explain each task in at least three different ways, and to give very specific directions. Nothing is more frustrating for a learner than to not understand something, to ask a question, and to get the exact same explanation again. You, as the teacher, need to be able to explain the same steps in a variety of ways. Practice this. Or, ask five people you know to describe the steps they take in doing a task. You'll find you get many different answers. Don't be afraid to use those explanations as backup answers.

4) Don't give too much information, or to little. Learners will retain more if they understand why they're doing a task, but they don't need the entire background - just enough to give them context. If, for example, you were to teach me how to save a document into a folder, you would probably need to explain a bit about what folders are and maybe about memory, but not so much about what steps the computer takes 'behind the scenes' to actually perform the save. A common mistake for 'expert' trainers is to give way, way more information than the student needs to perform the task.

5) Use proper names for things, and use them consistently. Don't just say "then you click here" - especially with novice users you need to be much more specific (go back to the V,A, and Mk list above - pretend the person you're give direction to can't actually see what you're doing) -- you might need to define the terms "click" and "right click" at the start of the class and let them practice doing it. Then say something like "then click the button labeled 'spell check' that's below the text box".

6) Ask the students, often, to verbalize what they know and what they don't know. If they feel lost, or feel they don't understand, ask them to say out loud the steps that they do know, until they get to the point where they're unsure. Often, you'll find that when they say it back to you, you actually forgot to describe a step. Also, saying what they do know can be a huge morale boost. Also, praise them. Make the classroom a place where everyone is sharing knowledge, not just you. Adult learners bring a wide swath of skills and experience to the classroom and its important that we both acknowledge those skills and put the new learning in context with the student's past experience.

7) Finally, ask for specific, anonomous feedback from your students. Use their feedback to improve your performance next time.
posted by anastasiav at 11:48 AM on January 9, 2004

Everyone here is giving fantastic advice! I second with enthusiasm just about everything.

Something important to consider is what your students do. Don't teach them anything they won't use, or they'll have trouble absorbing what they need.

For example, you may think network architecture is cool, and that it's important for every user to know how they are connected to the server. It isn't. They need to know exactly what steps to take to do their jobs. Beyond that, they need to know what little else will make them a bit more self sufficient.

I've had great success teaching in tiny chunks--one or two focused skills at a time in a 20-minute session. Adults love it because it doesn't steal their work time, and it's to the point.
posted by frykitty at 12:06 PM on January 9, 2004

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