Friday, December 19, 2008

Best Practices for Software Training?

mousecapture This has been the year of software training.  I've been involved in I don't know how many training modules, ranging from the overly long to the shorter chunked variety. 

(Remember, all I do is online, self-paced eLearning).

We've taken scenario-based approaches, so the learner can sit with an expert and watch how he does his job using the software. 

We've inserted pictures of these characters to give a course more life and interest.  

We've added thoughtful, process-based questions in the middle of the software demo to break things up.

Some of it's been cool stuff; some of it's gotta be grueling and not so much fun to sit through.  Sometimes there's just time to make it good enough.

The next project I'm about to take on is going to be more of a just-in-time performance support tool.  Short demos (some with practice) linked right from the software itself.

What have you been doing in the software training world of late?

What are your best practices? 

What's working best with today's crop of software learners?

Photo credit:  Hey guys, I captured the mouse! by Darwin Bell


Clark said...

Cammy, thanks for doing this! One principle that should be incorporated but often isn't is invoking, during training, the underlying 'model' of the software. For instance, in using FreeHand, I took the tutorial, but it was only later I found what I really needed, that the objects were composed of paths. Help learners see the model, show some examples of how the model explains the steps, then have them perform some tasks by predicting, from the model, how to do things. If you train the model (and I'll bet there is one), you don't have to train all the activities because it's inferable from the model. Should lead to longer retention & better transfer, on top of shorter training times. Good stuff in your other suggestions, too.

Cammy Bean said...

Is the "model" the same as the "process"? I'm thinking that teaching in a scenario-based mode (e.g., watching someone else do their daily tasks using the software) gets to that model point you make. Or am I missing something?

Rupa said...

I am completely into developing training material for software products.

I primarily develop software demos that show screen captures of tasks being done on the application or tool and they are very effective for training purposes.

Simulations are also very useful when it comes to software training.

Using scenario based mode for software training is an excellent idea.

I have seen software demos that use scenarios. However I haven't seen tutorials use scenarios.

I appreciate this idea. This would make the tool or application relevant to the user.

Cammy Bean said...

Hey Rupa,

I almost always go with that scenario approach -- not teaching every single drop-down menu, but teaching the task-based process through a scenario. Putting the software into the context the user can understand. Let the user watch a demo and let the user interact and practice (a simulation).

What are some other tips you have for software training?

I've been thinking about how to make it more of a challenge game...

Rupa said...

Hi Cammy

I have included some tips to create software tutorials here Quick Tips to Create Software Product Tutorials

These are some tips to create a basic software tutorial :)

Coming to your point of software tutorials as challenge games....i guess it will work well as far as it doesnt deviate from the tasks and steps to be taught to use the product :)

Unknown said...

Re: what I've been doing in elearning:

Over the last approximately two years been mostly doing software simulation along with policy and procedural training (all self-paces online). Delivery has been with Flash, PowerPoint, Flex and video. Never seems to be enought time to make it as good as I imaging it could be.

Blair Bonnema said...


I found this conducting a Google search and found this very interesting.

I am the only client trainer at a company that specializes in enterprise legal management software. In short, the software is very complex and comes with a gigantic tool box for our users to completely configure and customize a solution to meet their needs. We have internal staff that struggle a year into the job with functionality - there is too much to learn in 1 course.

The trainer role is normally a 'catch all' position. I work across every department - Support, Product Management, Sales, Services. Know how the product is supported for users after they receive training, be aware of enhancements that will change your training modules, know how Sales is selling the software (expectations), and know how services is delivering the software.

I teach a 5 day onsite course (also delivered via online instruction if desired). I have found that online instruction is best capped at 4 to 6 hour sessions with breaks. Any longer than this and you will lose your audience. The key to online instruction is engaging the class and directly asking members questions. I have a 900 page powerpoint for this course but if I simply read it to them via WebEx I would lose them at slide 10. At this point, they would be paying me to read a PowerPoint I leave with them anyway. As others have mentioned, a key to making the training relevant to the attendees is use cases. I work closely with our Business Analysts who are responsible for building client environments. Along with having training numerous clients that all use our software in a very unique way, I have large stable of examples and use cases of what our clients have done in the past.

I use the powerpoint as a guide and elaborate on each piece of functionality with a real world use case. I then ask the group if they can think of a way that this applies to them.

In the end, the goal is to teach the tool box and spark their imagination with how they can use the software for themselves. I cannot convey the entirety of our software in 5 days (or 30 for that matter). I can, however, leave them with the building blocks to go on their own way which leaves me to another point. FOLLOW UP sessions. Schedule these ahead of time. After a 3 hour course or a 5 day course, users go back to their desk and back to their normal routine. If they don't have a chance to 'play' with the software, they may forget the content all together. Plan a follow up session for reinforcement and leave them with activities they can try on their own if applicable.

Tutorial videos are great if you have a team that can manage them. Until I began to make videos, I had not idea the time it took to create these. We have a project at the moment that involves a list of videos no longer than 10 minutes each. For every minute of delivered video you can count on about 2 hours of editing\recording\audio recording. Our other challenge is making these videos flexible enough to account for product enhancements. I spend 200+ hours creating videos only to discover that within 6 months they would be obsolete because the software was receiving a face lift - hard lesson learned. Speak with your Product management team and get ahead of upcoming enhancements, I greatly suggest this.