They like paper, no plastic
September 29, 2007 5:42 AM   Subscribe

TrainingFilter: How to remotely train tech-challenged people?

I am responsible for planning and executing ongoing training for a group of workers who would love to go back in time to oh, say 1975 and wallow in a paper-full, computer-free world.

They specilize in forgetting instructions, refusing to adapt to systems and ignoring all attempts to make them live in the real world. These are folks whose particular area of expertise makes them essential to our business, but that same level of experience makes them of a generation and mind-set that refuses to embrace the need to stop hating and learn to love the computer.

Physically traveling the 2,000 miles to where they are is just not possible. They, in turn, have made it clear that that's the only kind of training that "works."

I've created manuals with screenshots, online videos and am available on the phone (but there's a 3-hour time difference so that affects availability).

We have interoffice videoconferencing, but that also is affected by the time difference because our whole company uses it and the best window of time is hard to nail down.

Anyone have any advice or recommendations?
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Technology (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The best thing would be to hire someone local and more technically adept who could assist them.
posted by grouse at 6:11 AM on September 29, 2007

The best thing would be to hire someone local and more technically adept who could assist them.

I'm thinking, by your dismissive attitude toward these people, you don't have any actual training in teaching. It definitely would serve your efforts best if you could source an actual training service that has experience (and success) training the less-than-tech-savvy.

I would also suggest you have said service review the materials you prepared. Videos and manuals featuring screenshots are meaningless if they are written/produced as if the user has the same level of knowledge as the preparer.

You might be surprised that these people you so quickly deride aren't so much adverse to learning new ways as they are adverse to the way they are being trained.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 AM on September 29, 2007

You think you're dealing with one problem- (Dammit, I showed them twice! Five times!) Why won't they learn/remember/understand?

You have a second problem that you have to deal with, if you want these people to be successful. And you've stated exactly what the problem is: They're resistant to something new, and you're not dealing directly with that.

Find a way to motivate them that doesn't feel threatening. Three hours away? They need to have this? Get on a plane and go there for several months. "It's not possible to go there?" I guess then the training doesn't need to be successful. Hire someone local to go teach it, if you can't go there.

The problem with technology (for most of us) is we don't remember what it was like before. Think Zero. Think back before you learned your first computer. Start there. Go 1/4 speed for someone who knows computers, but not your system.
posted by filmgeek at 6:45 AM on September 29, 2007

Nthing finding someone local. If your company is big enough to have to do business with a distant company and have to have them use your software, your company can contract a trainer. There may need to be one trip involved on someone's part - either you or whoever you contract, unless you feel you can confidently train that person over the 'tubes.

It is impossible to train Luddites to use a computer over a computer. These are people who will take notebooks full of notes during a training session and that will work for them. Let them be someone else's headache.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:45 AM on September 29, 2007

Best answer: Most of the teaching (echoing what has been said) works best in face to face settings.

How to Help Someone Use a Computer by Phil Agre.

Computer people are fine human beings, but they do a lot of harm in the ways they "help" other people with their computer problems. Now that we're trying to get everyone online, I thought it might be helpful to write down everything I've been taught about helping people use computers.
First you have to tell yourself some things:

Nobody is born knowing this stuff.

You've forgotten what it's like to be a beginner.

If it's not obvious to them, it's not obvious.

A computer is a means to an end. The person you're helping probably cares mostly about the end. This is reasonable.

Their knowledge of the computer is grounded in what they can do and see -- "when I do this, it does that". They need to develop a deeper understanding, but this can only happen slowly -- and not through abstract theory but through the real, concrete situations they encounter in their work.

Beginners face a language problem: they can't ask questions because they don't know what the words mean, they can't know what the words mean until they can successfully use the system, and they can't successfully use the system because they can't ask questions.

You are the voice of authority. Your words can wound.

Computers often present their users with textual messages, but the users often don't read them.

By the time they ask you for help, they've probably tried several things. As a result, their computer might be in a strange state. This is natural.

They might be afraid that you're going to blame them for the problem.

The best way to learn is through apprenticeship -- that is, by doing some real task together with someone who has a different set of skills.

Your primary goal is not to solve their problem. Your primary goal is to help them become one notch more capable of solving their problem on their own. So it's okay if they take notes.

Most user interfaces are terrible. When people make mistakes it's usually the fault of the interface. You've forgotten how many ways you've learned to adapt to bad interfaces.

Knowledge lives in communities, not individuals. A computer user who's part of a community of computer users will have an easier time than one who isn't.

Having convinced yourself of these things, you are more likely to follow some important rules:
Don't take the keyboard. Let them do all the typing, even if it's slower that way, and even if you have to point them to every key they need to type. That's the only way they're going to learn from the interaction.

Find out what they're really trying to do. Is there another way to go about it?

Maybe they can't tell you what they've done or what happened. In this case you can ask them what they are trying to do and say, "Show me how you do that".

Attend to the symbolism of the interaction. Try to squat down so your eyes are just below the level of theirs. When they're looking at the computer, look at the computer. When they're looking at you, look back at them.

When they do something wrong, don't say "no" or "that's wrong". They'll often respond by doing something else that's wrong. Instead, just tell them what to do and why.

Try not to ask yes-or-no questions. Nobody wants to look foolish, so their answer is likely to be a guess. "Did you attach to the file server?" will get you less information than "What did you do after you turned the computer on?".

Explain your thinking. Don't make it mysterious. If something is true, show them how they can see it's true. When you don't know, say "I don't know". When you're guessing, say "let's try ... because ...". Resist the temptation to appear all-knowing. Help them learn to think the problem through.

Be aware of how abstract your language is. "Get into the editor" is abstract and "press this key" is concrete. Don't say anything unless you intend for them to understand it. Keep adjusting your language downward towards concrete units until they start to get it, then slowly adjust back up towards greater abstraction so long as they're following you. When formulating a take-home lesson ("when it does this and that, you should try such-and-such"), check once again that you're using language of the right degree of abstraction for this user right now.

Tell them to really read the messages, such as errors, that the computer generates.

Whenever they start to blame themselves, respond by blaming the computer. Then keep on blaming the computer, no matter how many times it takes, in a calm, authoritative tone of voice. If you need to show off, show off your ability to criticize bad design. When they get nailed by a false assumption about the computer's behavior, tell them their assumption was reasonable. Tell *yourself* that it was reasonable.

Take a long-term view. Who do users in this community get help from? If you focus on building that person's skills, the skills will diffuse to everyone else.

Never do something for someone that they are capable of doing for themselves.

Don't say "it's in the manual". (You knew that.)

posted by mecran01 at 7:07 AM on September 29, 2007 [10 favorites]

Use VNC, or one of its derivatives, like LogMeIn IT Reach, to log into their computers and show them how to do stuff. You could also ask them to try a particular task and coach them through it.
posted by ori at 7:57 AM on September 29, 2007

My thought is that they don't understand WHY this will ultimately be easier for them. YOU know it will be easier, because you've been exposed to the magic that is computing. They just see this mountain of learning that they have to climb, with who-knows-what on the other side. They need to be made aware of the potential benefit of the program. (I also find that older folks are really, really afraid they're going to break something expensive.)

Do you have ANY allies in the other office that these folks will respect? Can you swing one person over to your side who can then convince the others? Can you or higher management promise them any rewards for learning the program? If task X will now only take 30 minutes instead of 2 hours, can that be used as motivation?
posted by desjardins at 8:08 AM on September 29, 2007

Sounds like when they use a computer, it makes someone else's job easier. Find them a way to use a computer that makes *their* job or life easier. A lot easier. If it just complicates matters for them, why would they be motivated to learn?

If you get them their own laptops with good internet access and let them take the laptops home at night (so their kids/grandkids can teach them), you may find that their opinions about computers change quickly.
posted by Eringatang at 8:12 AM on September 29, 2007

Sounds like when they use a computer, it makes someone else's job easier. Find them a way to use a computer that makes *their* job or life easier. A lot easier. If it just complicates matters for them, why would they be motivated to learn?

A lot of truth in that.
For people to change their time-honed methods, they have to be shown how the new methods will improve things. Does the introduction of technology actually improve the results of their labor? Does it, at the very least, make their work easier or more effective? Does the new method offer any relationship whatsoever to their established methods? If not, why not?

Basically, they need to be shown, in real terms, why the new method is an improvement...beyond merely because it's done with a computer. Believe it or not, there are actually times when the old way is actually still more effective.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on September 29, 2007

1. Change your attitude. Sounds like there may be an age difference, cultural differences, and poor communication. Try to see things from their perspective.

2. VNC, windows remote assistance or Webex are the next best thing to being there. Teach 1 skill at a time; answering questions as you go. You may need to change your schedule to match their hours so they have full coverage for assistance.

3. Break the new skills into groups & the users into groups. Each group nails a set of new skills, and serves as a resource for the others. That gives them an opportunity to have some mastery, be experts and feel better about this.

4. There's a reason Windows comes with solitaire. It's the best way to learn to use the mouse. If you can build any games that use the desired skills, it will help.

5. What gets rewarded, gets repeated. Reward progress.
posted by theora55 at 2:50 PM on September 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to all who had good suggestions and advice instead of slamming me for the horrible derisive ageist scum I must obviously be.

To clarify:

This branch office is 2000 miles away (and a 3-hour time difference).

The software in question is a web-based application used to track and pay invoices electronically. We purchased and use this system, we didn't create it and we don't support it.

Going to their location is not possible, nor will it solve the issue in the long run because there are always new people to train.

I understand my mindset needs to change but after 2 years of their resistance, it frustrates me to the point of madness that they still seem to think if they hate it enough, it will magically disappear.

How can Luddites be convinced that they will be assimilted, resistance is futile and they should quit their bitching?

It's part of my job to train them, but overcoming this hurdle has to happen first.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:26 PM on September 29, 2007

After a weekly progress assessment, whichever member of the group is making the least headway in the new system gets kicked off the island. After a few folks lose their jobs, the rest will realize that to remain on the payroll, they have to remain relevant.

You are paying them, right? This isn't a charity? I don't see what other motivator there need be. Money talks.
posted by Myself at 7:02 AM on September 30, 2007

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