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How to Run a Computer Based Training Session: Three Indispensible Techniques

At Strategic Urban we tend to do a lot of work with large institutions: Cities, Non-Profits, Schools, etc. Typically, these institutions will need to move on from their old paper-based methods of doing business and adopt an organizational system. Let’s face it, this is usually long overdue and necessary.  When an organization’s staff need training on these new systems, it can be both rewarding and challenging to be in the position of the Trainer. I will be honest and say that I have not always been good at this. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to offer up any of this wisdom if I haven’t been thoroughly beaten up along the way. After many years and nearly 100 training sessions, I’d like to offer up three techniques that I have found indispensable.

1.) Don’t Be a Policy Middleman

Many times when you are introducing a new system or process, it is due to big changes in an organization. It is inevitable that you, as a trainer, will be seen as the middleman between staff and management. In order to prepare staff for the new system, you might have to give them an overview of recent policy changes. Make sure they also understand your role and purpose: to help them adopt new technology. Don’t let your training session become a place for the airing of grievances. Negativity about an organization’s changes can carry over to negativity about the technology that you are introducing.

If you are consulting for an organization, and are not management yourself, you can position yourself as an advocate on their behalf. Show sympathy for the staff, while also maintaining positive representation of the management. One way to avoid becoming the policy middleman is to have the contact information of the policy expert(s) on hand. Inform the staff that they can direct specific questions to that contact so that you don’t get off track. Even better yet; if a policy expert is available to address the policy implications in person, during the introduction, you’ll be free to focus on technology for the rest of the session.

2.) Positives Before Challenges

Showing staff a new system or process and then asking for questions can sometimes, understandably, lead to a wave of complaints. If one person comes up with a complaint the rest of the staff in the room might feel compelled to pile on. This is why it is important to take a few breaks throughout the session to discuss Positives and Challenges. I always start with Positives by asking “Now that you have seen some of the system features, what do you like most? Why is this system an improvement on what you have done in the past?” You’ll want to discuss Challenges as well…but hold those Challenges hostage. I won’t move on to Challenges until someone can offer up something positive about the system.

For Challenges, I like to ask “Do you anticipate any challenges in applying this system to your work?”. When you frame it this way, you’ll get thoughtful anecdotes from the Staff instead of complaints. They will help you to understand what they are dealing with when they go back to work, and you’ll be better prepared to use that context for the rest of the session.

3.) Demo Before Practice

If you have a room full of staff with a computer in front of them, good luck getting their attention. I’ve been in the front of many training sessions, but I’ve also been in the back. A computer is not only an invitation to check email and social media, but also an invitation to explore the system ahead of the instruction. Getting ahead of the class in a focused computer training session sometimes means getting lost. Each section of the system comes with explanations, demonstrations, and discussions…all of which will be missed by someone who is staring at their computer and going on their own personal journey. How many times have you tried to get through an entire demonstration, only to be interrupted at various stages because someone is trying to click on this or that and it is not working? The solution is: clearly state when you are demonstrating and that the opportunity to practice coming up next. Demo before practice.

Before you introduce a part of the system, explain that you are going to first do a demonstration. More eyes will be on you (More, not all…I’m realistic, you can’t get everybody) and those staff will clearly see the current system component, they will hear your explanations and guidance, and will have an opportunity to ask questions. THEN, you can put them on a mission: “Now that you have seen how this component works, go ahead and complete this step on your own.” The beauty of this is that you can free yourself up to walk around and help people individually, before you command their attention on the next demonstration.

I hope you find these techniques valuable and that you experience the reward of a successful training session. Happy training!

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