A Different Approach to User Training


As an IT professional, the concepts and functionality of what you do come naturally.  You easily negotiate your way through the firewall for remote access and easily set your email to replicate to an offline folder.  Excellent for IT folks, but many of your users have a very different experience trying to do the same thing… yet another frustrating run-in with the unreliable, overcomplicated and murky IT systems.  What does it take to resolve this situation and get your user on track?  Training!  Unfortunately, too many IT training sessions wind up as futile efforts, primarily due to two factors: low expectations of the users and traditionally ineffective IT training approaches.


Increasing Expectations:

Especially as we are in a new and very technology-oriented millennium, excuses such as “I’m just not an IT savvy person.” or “Computers don’t like me.” need to be unacceptable.  Our expectations of the users and their own expectations of themselves need to be significantly raised and rigorously adhered to.  Naturally, getting your organization’s management to embrace this concept ahead of time is critical.  Initially, few will be happy about raised expectations, but it is a short term issue with massive long term benefits.  Everyone needs to keep in mind that using an IT system is a skill like anything else; negotiating, riding a bike, whatever.  It takes practice, familiarity, understanding and repetition to be able to do it smoothly.  Although no one expects a user to learn system administration, accountability to engage IT and develop strong system skills needs to be enforced.


Providing More Effective Training:

In addition to increasing expectations, the way that we traditionally train users needs to be revamped.  Working primarily on the “how” with step-by-step, click-by-click methods is incredibly ineffective.  We need to provide a dual-focus that helps users understand not just the “how,” but also understand the “why” in very general terms.


I know what you’re thinking.  I gave them documentation full of print screens.  I even clarified it by adding text and arrow to show them where to click and what they should see.  I gave them printouts and also put it on the intranet!  The inherent fallibility in this approach however, is that with one wrong click or keystroke, the user is suddenly seeing screens that are not in the documentation.  The user’s PC might also be configured slightly differently than the one you used to make the screens.  Besides, regardless of how much effort you put into it, no one reads documentation.


As we work to raise expectations of users and hold them accountable for developing stronger skill sets, it will make a big difference if they learn some about the basic concepts of the systems they are using.  For example, understanding the general principles of vpn validation and firewall authentication will make a huge difference in terms of how reliable the can connect remotely.  I have been successful presenting remote access structure to users simply as <Laptop-Internet-Firewall-Internal Systems>.  Just because they cannot get to the Internal Systems does not mean that all of remote access is broken.  If they are able to use their Laptop, but not connect to the Internet, then they will never be able to reach the Internal Systems.  Knowing only these basic principles of what they are doing will greatly help users to get back on track much easier and faster.


What does this all mean? 

You and your users need to meet each other half way.  As user skill expectations increase you need to do everything that you can to make the technology accessible, understandable and available.  Streamline processes and procedures where you can, but if things go wrong, you all be significantly better off by helping your users learn the principles of what they are doing.  Although technical processes are generally not too difficult, it just takes time and sometimes a lot of patience to manage the learning process.  It especially is good to think in terms of long-term gains and mutual benefit for you and your users to meet each other half way.  You will see support calls reduce while your users will be able to focus on doing their own job.  As handsome and charming as you are, they would prefer not to call you anyway.