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Training Participant Interaction: How to Get It with Limited Resources
Submitted by Leslie Allan on October 22nd, 2010
Have you ever been in this situation as a trainer? Your company wants to roll out systems training for all employees on a new finance system that has just been installed. The objective of the sessions, you are told, is to familiarize staff with the new software. However, you don’t have proper computer rooms with access to computers. Participants need to bring their own laptops to the sessions and there just aren’t enough laptops to go around. All you can do mostly is to demonstrate the new system and you have a tight three hours to do it in. How can you make the most of your limited resources and time to create an interactive session that participants will find useful?
Let’s start with the learning objective of the session. If your objective really is to “familiarize employees”, then perhaps your objective is already being met. You can give employees some familiarity simply by showing them some pictures pertaining to the system. If you simply want them to be familiar with it, then you may even be able to cut the session time from three hours to less than one hour.
Think seriously about the real learning objective for your session. What is that your employer wants the participants to be able to do with the system once they get back to their jobs? Do they want the participants simply to be able to name system components (cognitive objective), or do they want them to be able to enter a new supplier, create an invoice, make scheduled payments, and so on (behavioral objectives).
You may be worried about how you can build in interactive exercises during each session. Get the learning objectives clear first and the why and how of interaction will follow more naturally. The point here is that introducing interaction simply because we have always heard that interaction is good may make your training less effective, not more. To begin with, using interactive exercises merely for the sake of having some interaction may come across to your participants as patronizing.
For much of training, some form of interaction with participants is essential. However, the type and frequency of interaction employed needs to be relevant to the learning objectives and the subject matter. One way that interaction promotes learning is by allowing feedback. The participant tries something and the system lets them know directly whether they were successful. Imagine trying to teach someone how to ride a bicycle without a bicycle, or learn to play the piano without a piano.
If you want to teach people how to use software, then they will need to interact with the software during the learning process. This really is a non-negotiable aspect of your training design –unless you just want them to be “familiar” with it. So, if you want them to be able to do things with the software and you don’t have access to a computer lab or laptops, here are three suggestions:
Find a room in which to set up one computer with running software or access to the network. If your class is small enough, get your class to congregate around the one computer and have the participants take turns at accomplishing set tasks. If you have access to one or two more computers, break the participants up into groups to take turns in completing exercises.
Set the class a pre-session exercise that they complete on the job. During the class, get your participants to discuss how they completed the exercise, problems they encountered and hints and tricks. Make sure you send out whatever instructions the participants need to complete the exercise before you assemble for the class. Repeat this process weekly.
Create a set of on-the-job aids. These could include a keyboard shortcuts card, macros, quick start guides, templates and forms, and online help. Assemble the class weekly for one half hour at a time to review one task and to share tips and tricks.
The first suggestion necessitates you cutting some content from the session to make way for the practical exercises. If your employer objects to the cutting of content, impress on them how including interactive exercises leads to more beneficial outcomes overall. You can incorporate learner assessments or follow up surveys to demonstrate your point. The last two suggestions, on the other hand, use less continuous class time and capitalize on the advantages of pacing the sessions for easier learning.