Near the ending of any project where a new system is being implemented there comes a time when everyone looks around the meeting table and groans because at some point users have to be trained to use this great new system that has been developed for them. Hopefully in your project the various user classes that have a stake in the project believe their needs were heard and they feel that the new system will empower them to perform their job better. This is of course the best case scenario.

I like to think of users on the typical bell curve as far as adaptability. There are the early adopters who are enthusiastic about what the new system will do for them, the average user who isn’t particularly excited about the new system but is at least cooperative in learning how to use it and then the laggards or slow adopters. The laggards are the ones that typically require the most attention. This user class usually one of the following issues about training:

A. Believes the old system was good enough and we shouldn’t have to learn a new one

B. Are very resistant to learning anything new or feel self-conscious about technology in general

C. Feel that they don’t have time or should be bothered to attend a training class

In my experience, sales people by far as the worst class of user to train on a new system. These are the guys that are the hot shots of the company. They are the ones that want to be out in front of customers or making phone calls beating on the bushes to find business. They guys feel like they should be out selling instead of sitting around trying to figure out how to use some system. The irony is that sales people are typically one of the most important user classes to understand how to use a CRM system.


The Problem with Thinking in the Learning Box

Traditional education is thought of in terms of the school model. Everyone that attended school knows the drill. You go to class, the teacher teaches, and students are expected to learn. You take a test and then your grade determines if you pass the class. Unfortunately this paradigm is artificial and at best only touches the tip of the iceberg. In real life you aren’t graded on answering questions about material, but how you actually use the knowledge.

If the goal is to make your users adept in how to use a system you have to look at the material from their perspective. If you simply have a class full of people it is quite easy to go off topic from what any single user class cares about as to the functionality of the system. These people are going to zone out as soon as you stop talking about anything that pertains to them and you’ll quickly noticed ESPN and MSNBC showing up on their computer screens.

The information has be targeted, relevant, and hopefully available on a contextual basis within the system itself because it would be a silly to believe that any user will retain much more than 20% of the knowledge gained in a class environment.


Things to consider when it comes to training material

Concept #1 – No one really wants to learn a new system

Look at me. You know it’s true. No one wants to be in your training session unless it’s for the free food and coffee. Who wants to have to learn a new system? Users already feel like they have enough to do already. Now they have to learn this new system that most often was designed without their input and doesn’t solve their issues when it comes to performing daily work. Consider this fact when creating training material. What can be done to make the material more palatable to the user?

Concept #2 – Users hate to read manuals!

The first thought when it comes to training is typically, “Let’s create training manuals that users can reference for learning the system or when they have problems”. For men this is a double bogie since we don’t even like to read the manual on putting things together that we wanted to buy never mind a system that we probably aren’t particularly interested in using. This type of training material makes for great desk clutter because we all know NO ONE reads these things unless they are looking for a way to fall asleep at night.

I worked with a trainer at a previous job that took the time to create some very wonderful looking manuals with very in depth chapters and beautiful pictures. I admit I was impressed with the detail that he put into these documents. It was obvious that he cared about what he was producing. After the materials were passed out he quickly found that people were calling into the IT call center with questions that were obviously addressed in his training documents. We came to find out that no one had even bothered to read past the first couple pages. Needless to say he was very upset that no one was appreciating all the effort he put into creating the training material.

Concept #3 – Irrelevant information to specific user classes causes head bobbing syndrome

Head bobbing syndrome is when a user is trying to stay awake but keeps zoning out to the point where their head bobs up and down. If you’ve ever been in a meeting you know how it is when there are groups of people that want to talk about things that have nothing to do with you. What happens? You zone out. You read your email on your phone or you doodle little cartoons on your notepad as if you are taking notes.

As I’ve said before, if the information being delivered isn’t targeted at specific user classes they will not care about what you have to say.


Reaching Users by Class

My concept of user training is somewhat of a hybrid approach. I know it may sound like I’m saying don’t create training manuals and don’t think that you will get your users to learn anything. I’m not saying that at all. I’m just making a case for a different approach to the problem.

My approach on this is that training should be targeted towards the each user class. I realize that creating training material for 5 groups of users versus just creating one training document is more work, but it doesn’t matter how much work you put in if no one bothers to learn your material.

If you are going to give users training classes, identify the necessary groups. If you have salesmen creating salesman training with input from members of the salesmen group. If you are going to train customer service representatives do the same for them. Do the same thing for documented materials that are created. Everything must be specific and targeted.

In additional to targeted material, the most useful kind of documentation is referential documentation. When a user is in the system and have a problem performing a specific task or have a question wouldn’t it be nice if they could click a context sensitive help button with relevant information on that task? Even better is if there was a video tutorial on the specific topic showing the various options and someone actually performing the task. I consider the referential documentation to be one of the most important forms of system documentation because it will ultimately be the most used by users.



I know the kind of training regimen I’m proposing is probably going to greater lengths then what most organizations are willing to do. Thinking about an actual training plan and taking into considering the kind of users you are training (more/less technical, education level, job function) and the knowledge transfer strategy requires a little more effort than just throwing together a generic training course. I do believe though that with even a little more effort put into training methodology that documentation can become a greater asset and practical knowledge passed on more effectively to the users. It is probably rare for everyone to be happy having to switch to a new system, but at least they should still know how to use it.