The People Side of Software Training

By Donna Payne

Many organizations have either scaled back or eliminated traditional software training in the past five years. Reasons cited include the lack of budgetary dollars, but also that software has changed and is simpler to figure out as you go. I’d argue that companies eliminate training because a lot of training is ineffective. And perhaps duller than it needs to be. But it need not be this way. Here are ideas to help reinvigorate your training program.

Handling Distraction

It doesn’t matter if you provide eLearning, traditional classroom instruction or something between—it’s nearly impossible to maintain concentration during training. One reason for this is there are simply too many other things available that compel us not to pay attention. It could be checking the Inbox for new messages or surfing a social site or news feed. Whatever the cause, dealing with distraction is an important area that needs to be addressed. 


A cause of distracted learning is that learning sessions are often too long, too dry, or are recorded in poor quality. Here are a few tips for lessening the distraction.


  1. Make training shorter – we live in a quick-click society and most of the basic functionality of any software should be self-discoverable because the experts that specialize in user interface designs have made them more intuitive. Because of this, you can dramatically shorten your training to be small sprints rather than the longer durations. If you create eLearning, try to keep each video or learning segment between three and five minutes. And don’t just copy your class manuals into eLearning. Take time to rethink your learning strategy.
  2.  Spiral learning – Repetition is the key to retaining information. Instead of going down an agenda list of subjects on which to train, instead build lessons on specific topics and spiral back around to reinforce the memory muscle. For instance, if you’re training on Microsoft Word styles, you teach styles by having people work with styles. Then when you move on to tables or another topic, you spiral around and have them create a table and apply a table style.  
  3.  Train your trainer – Smart people don’t necessarily make great software trainers and may need some help in learning how to train adult professionals.  And most software trainers could do with a refresher on making the learning experience better. To see this illustrated, record a video of yourself or your best trainer teaching a lesson, then play it back. A good trainer varies their voice with inflection, smiles, makes eye contact, blinks normally, engages the learner and knows how to take advantage of pause in speaking.  
  4.  No question is stupid, but they can derail your classroom – Preplan a time when you will take questions. If the session is one-on-one allow questions at any time but if it’s your job to get the learners from x to y in a short period of time; having a plan for interruptions will serve you well.                                       

                         Good Training = Short, Focused and Enjoyable

Handling Distraction

Ideally, we could control what and how much information enters our brain. The permanent memory receptacle would contain things like personal and family information, cautionary facts, and other types of important information. Things we can dispense with include those commercial jingles that can be recalled in an instant but otherwise serve no practical purpose. 


Software learning becomes muscle memory, like recalling the positions of each key on a keyboard. The more we use software in a repetitive fashion, the better we know and remember it. But don’t try to master things too quickly. There have been studies that show that spending just 15 minutes a day learning a new language is far more beneficial than spending an hour of time each day doing the same thing. The reason for this is that we need time to digest what we are learning – especially if the subject is more complex. 


An example of complex learning for software regarding cognitive overload is software development. You might be a strong programmer in C# or another language but learning something like Python, because of its differences might prove to be a challenge. Here’s where spending 15 minutes a day learning the new language might be preferable compared to hours of less productive learning. At some point, we reach cognitive overload and forget things otherwise retained. 

                         Cognitive Just Right = You Are Progressing but not Overwhelmed

 Qualitative Element of Virtual Training 


If you want to see the best and worst of virtual training, look no further than YouTube. There are several things that all successful YouTubers possess. First, the segments are generally short. They cover popular topics, and the presenter will usually have followers because they are interesting and, dare we say it, fun to watch. YouTubers also understand their audience, engage with them, and know how to monetize their efforts. 


Do it Like YouTubers:


  1. Forget about following a slide deck and put yourself on camera
  2. Keep each segment short, engaging and easy to follow
  3. Don’t let yourself get too deep in the details. Leave the learner interested enough to want to watch more
  4. Quality counts – get a decent headset/microphone and camera if you don’t, you are guaranteed failure off the bat
  5. Don’t take yourself too seriously – Yes you have a job to do and lesson to teach, but that doesn’t mean you, and the viewer can’t have some fun.

                          Do It Like a Youtuber = Presenting Yourself as an Entertainer and Working for Views 

Although software is becoming more intuitive and less training is required, there is still a human needs-based element to be considered. They may figure out how to use the software but at what cost? Without a well thought out learning plan, user adoption and by extension learner success will be more difficult to achieve.