Successful technology training has less to do with technical knowledge than with other abilities such as communication skills, patience, interpersonal skills, flexibility, and empathy towards learners struggling with new technologies. It is more useful to know how to train than to just have technical expertise. Keeping it simple and relevant is often the most important thing you can do.
Why be a tech trainer?
Through training you can give people new skills, improve their performance with using a computer, and even show them tools and how to connect through social networking communities. It is a satisfying job, both professionally and personally. You can help provide the skills and experiences needed to become full participants in the social, cultural, economic, and political future of our information-based society.
Training is an art more than a science. There is not one right way, and no two workshops are ever exactly the same. There is quite a bit of creativity that goes into good active training. We need to teach people how to learn, not just give them step by step instructions that will work only in one software program, and only for one task.
Whether you are a new trainer, a trainer wanting to improve, or if you need to hire or mange a trainer, it is important to know what skills are needed to be successful. We recently conducted a survey on this topic and found the following skills and attributes were recommended the most: subject knowledge, communication skills, interpersonal/customer service skills, patience, and adaptability/flexibility.
A great trainer is also enthusiastic; they have a passion for learning, and a passion for passing it on. They are interested in people, they are engaged in the topic and are able to help their participants be engaged. They examine how people learn and they are interested in building the self-confidence of their participants. It isn’t what the trainer says that influences the amount of learning; it is how the learner is helped to create their own knowledge. Getting participants to talk, think, share, and act is the most important goal.
When teaching Introduction to the Internet for the thirty-first time it may be difficult to be enthusiastic. So try to find a way to make it more exciting for you. Use a new exercise, or bring in a guest trainer, use a different fun review activity, incorporate a topic or decorative theme; somehow shake things up a bit. It will keep it fresh for you and also for the participants. Otherwise your boredom with the curriculum will be shared with the participants and the learners will suffer.
Although subject knowledge was the most recommended skill in our survey, usually there was a caveat in the answer that the trainer needs to be “not 100% geek-like,” or “not necessarily an expert.” Often new trainers are fearful of teaching a class when they don’t know it all and are afraid they won’t know all the answers. As long as your knowledge is enough to cover the content of the class, don’t worry! You can always look up answers later and get back to people, or ask the other class members if they know the answer. Having a volunteer or local expert help teach can also be helpful in this area.
Be the Guide on the Side, Not the Sage on the Stage
Spend less time talking. Your learning objectives should focus on what a person can do for themselves as a result of the training. You don't want them to just walk away being able to follow step-by-step instructions from a handout, but instead, they should have the ability to think through a situation on their own to find a solution.
It means learners need to interact with the technology, with each other, and even their own brains. You can do this by encouraging independence and interaction. They need to practice it and think through it themselves. Step by step instructions just won’t stick in long term memory. Giving participants time to do exercises on their own, or just time to explore is still a way of learning.
Use open ended questions to really encourage participation. Don’t just ask, Does everyone understand? or Are you ready for me to move on? I was asked recently, "No one has questions, right?" You’ll probably just get mumbled responses to these questions. If they aren’t ready to go on, or don’t understand, they may be embarrassed to draw attention to themselves. Instead, ask for questions related specifically to the topic or ask them what they think they next step might be. At the end of a section or a class, ask if there is anything you didn’t cover that they were hoping to learn. Then wait a full 10 seconds. They need time to formulate their answer in their brain, and time to figure out the best way to phrase it.
When you do talk, keep your communication style practical and easy to understand. Try not to assume knowledge, use acronyms, or unfamiliar vocabulary. Try to be explicit when using directional language, such as when drawing attention to a screen (for example, the Start button is in the lower left-hand corner). I try to view training situations as more like conversations than presentations. You can be personal; you can be yourself and be a lot more effective.
When we are infants, we are constantly learning and constantly trying new things. Some attempts are successful, some aren’t. Infants fail often, and don’t mind. Adults often have a fear of failure. This is one reason it is often difficult for adults learning to use computers, they are scared they will do something wrong, that they will break the computer, or they don’t like admitting they don’t know something. You should try to be as patient as possible, and remember that technology training may be intimidating for them. Try to be empathetic. Remember the first time you drove or a car, or learned to swim, or jumped from a plane, or whatever new ability you learned that was daunting at first. Offer praise and try to incorporate successful experiences.
You do need to plan your training, and we will have another blog post about creating a lesson plan, but you also need to be able to be flexible. You may need to adjust your agenda based on the needs of the participants. You won’t always know their skill level. The participants and their learning should always come first--not the content. Having beginning and advanced exercises prepared can be a helpful way to deal with varying skill levels. There isn't any point in just getting through the content if learning isn't going on.
Let Them Do It!
You must let them explore and use the technology as much as possible. This means these skills—empathy, patience, and flexibility—are really doing to be needed. But by letting them practice and make mistakes while you are there to help them, they are much more likely to actually use the technology when they leave the workshop. Be supportive and help them feel successful with their efforts.