Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Main problems when training people to use online software

Main problems when training people to use online software: by Jason Li 2012 ©

Trainers find many problems when training people to use online software as it is a lot different from traditional blackboard, books or PowerPoint. You will find also find that students are not always sure what to expect from online training, and the following reasons will show you why.


When using traditional methods such as PowerPoint or books, training is more in a Linear method. So you will get a PowerPoint slide and follow sentences starting from the top as they arrive on the slide one-by-one until the slide is filled with sentences. And then onto the next slide and the next sentence starts again at the top.

Linear training by explaining key words and short sentences can be quite hypnotic and you will have to use a lot of conceptual skills to help the students visualise what you are explaining.

In order to keep the concentration of the classroom; firstly you have to have explained a concept and managed to get the students to understand; then you have to drag them back from the images that make sense in their heads back to concentrating on the slides; then you need to provide some interaction so that the students don’t fall asleep due to the sequential telling by the trainer. If you just explain sentence-after-sentence one slide-after-another, you will very quickly lose the concentration of the students.

As you can see from the way I have written the five paragraphs so far about linear training, there has been minimal interaction so you might be bored at this point. Imagine putting students through this for an hour of reading slide-after-slide?

So if you are still using old school technology and methods, then at every 5 minute intervals you will need to provide interaction or the information will not sink in. By the way, could you see the word linear is spelt out in the paragraphs above. Just thought I would wake you up. It was boring what I had to write above, but necessary, so the big letters would have given you some intrigue. You might even re-read the above again now and let it sink in.

Problems with online training

The problem with online training is different. It is usually training of a software programme or package. It is hardly ever linear in terms of starting at page/slide one and ending at the final page/slide at the final sentence. So you if you are the trainer that likes to just start at A and just go through the motions to Z you will need to adapt.

With online training, you will need to create a script to make sure you have your own linear training method. So you start in the programme where you want, and take them through the screens in a sequence that best allows the students to absorb the information.

Needless to say, most online training will involve a lot of jumping around, so you must go slow and thoroughly through a section at a time. Miss any steps and your students will not understand what has happened or how they ended up at a certain screen in the software.

In a classroom

Training online in a classroom is different in comparison to using traditional tools, as you would expect. If the students are just watching you: clicking different areas of the screen, typing, amending and jumping into new screens, it can be hard for them to follow.

Also, just watching can be very hard on the concentration. After following you make 10 clicks and 5 amendments or passwords, this can mean the student has to remember 15 different actions in a linear process, but through different areas and different screens; this can also involve flicking between two or more software packages too.

To let you know what this is like, play 15 moves in chess or monopoly and then walk away for an hour and then try to exactly replicate every move and option available chosen. It’s very hard to do and hard to expect any student to remember and put into action later.

So break each section into bite size chunks so that students can master each chunk. So wherever the student is in the software package, they know what to do in that section and can piece together sections they do know well; which will help them know which sections they need to master.

Over the telephone

In most cases when teaching on the phone or a conference call, you cannot see what they see on the screen; so make sure you are more descriptive in your directions.

Here is a way to practise. Describe step-by-step how you would make a drink or pour a drink. Then list all the steps. Then an hour later follow the steps and see if you complete the task without any problems. You might do it well and have a perfect drink. Or you might miss a step such as ‘twist the milk cap clockwise until the cap comes off, then pour the equivalent of three tea spoons of milk gently into your tea making sure it does not splash everywhere’. Forget this step and you have tea or coffee with no milk. Your training will need broken down steps to help students in pretty much the same manner.

If you jump a step, the student will panic naturally as they want to keep up and follow you. They may not even say anything and click around in silence and then before you know it be on a completely different screen to you. Then you will need to stop and reverse the clicks, which means you will be wasting valuable time.

Click and follow

By far the best way is for students to click and follow you on their screen.

I have done this both in a classroom and on the phone with a board room of directors. If a few people are sat around a screen, make sure you have a dedicated person clicking the mouse, and one person on the phone on their side as the main speaker for their group; with yourself on the speaker phone as the sole voice so everyone can hear you giving directions and answering their queries.

Go through each section one-at-a-time, and then give the other side on the phone a chance to ask questions. If you get asked a question, just show small simple things to questions if you know it won’t lead to more questions. If you think it will lead to more questions or take a long time to answer, say you will note it down and come back to it later as it will break up the training sequence.


Just like any job, you need to practise a lot. Training online is not natural, you have to re-train yourself and quickly get students adapted at the beginning of the session to training in an online way.

So set the rules for the students to follow what you say and how you will give them opportunity to speak and ask questions as you go along.


Finally, make sure you have a script that you can test until it works. I have done this many times to ensure it flows smoothly and students can follow you seamlessly. It’s not easy to do. You just have to do it over-and-over again until you get it right.

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