image I’m curious…when was the last time you went into one of the large bookstore chains and bought a reference book, took it home or to the office, and read through it to “get up-to-speed” on a topic?  What about the last time you sat through a multi-day training event (that you were actually excited about attending)?  My guess is that it’s been a while, am I right?  I certainly know that’s true for me; in fact, I can’t even remember the last time I bought a book at a big box store.  Let me ask a final question: for those that do still conduct training sessions such as this within your organization – what feedback have you received?  Has it been positive, negative, crickets?

The truth is, these “training” methods are dying. And if your organization or department is still hoping to train users on SharePoint, CRM, or any other technology, by sitting them in a room to watch recorded videos or a live individual, I want to offer some suggestions that I believe will transform the way end users adopt and learn new technology.

Think Differently

If you’ve heard me speak in the last few years, you have undoubtedly heard me talk about how our organizations are changing. From Millennials making up a majority of the workforce by 2020, to an 80% growth in telecommuting over the last 10 years.  Our organizations are not the businesses of yesteryear (or even yesterday).  We’d all agree that knowledge is growing at astronomical rates, right? And nearly 100% of this knowledge is on the Internet or at our fingertips in some form or fashion.  So with this increase in knowledge, the sharing of it, and the ability to quickly find it later via our favorite search engine, has caused us to become a culture that is more interested in resources than courses.  In other words, “just Google it” (or “Bing it” if you like) has become the go-to answer for so many of our questions today, and here’s a secret: this doesn’t stop once you enter the walls of your company.  Ask around – my guess is most of your colleagues (and executives) are Googling or Binging a lot throughout the day. 

 imageSo what does this have to do with training end users?  I’m glad you asked.  First, I think it’s important to talk about this phrase “end user.”  I’m a SharePoint user. I’m also a CRM user, an iTunes users, a PowerPoint user, a OneNote user, a Roku user, and the list  goes on and on. So what I would like to propose is that we stop calling people “end users.”  We are all end users of something, right?  But no one has ever called me an Outlook end user or a Yammer end user.  These are just TOOLS that we all use, as part of our daily duties, to accomplish specific goals and objectives.  In fact, someone you are calling a “SharePoint end user” may only use SharePoint for 10 minutes out of every day, but uses another tool for 6+ hours of his/her day.  So why then do we think that this user needs to sit through a 1-2 day training session on everything SharePoint?  One last thing….how many of you can retain and remember everything you heard in a 1 or 2 day training course?  Another way in which we humans have changed is that our attention span is now smaller than that of a goldfish – yes, a mere 8 seconds, and that’s a 25% REDUCTION of attention span in the last 10 years or so (  To be honest, I’m surprised any of you have actually made it this far in my post without moving on to something else!  Try it sometime – ask a few of your users how much they remember from the last class they sat through.

 So here’s the deal – our users need us to think differently.  Sally in accounting doesn’t need to sit through a lengthy SharePoint end user training where she learns all about creating personal views, new fields, and Boolean search operators.  All of which, she’ll never use.  When we use these tools, be it SharePoint, CRM, Yammer, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc., we are using that tool for a specific task; we are task-driven.  So I think it’s a better plan to help Sally understand what tool she has, what it’s good at, what’s not good at, and where to find help when she needs it.  If you do this, here’s what will happen: Sally gets back a lot of time in her schedule by not attending that multi-day class, she has a basic understanding of how to use the tool, and she knows how to “Google it” when she hits a roadblock.  After all, this is how Sally already works every day, so it will be natural to her.  She will work on her tasks, use the tool as directed, and begin to learn it just as she has with everything else.

A Better Way

Now that we know a little more about what our “end users” are expecting and the way they operate, let’s look at a few practical things that you can do to train those “end users” in a much more effective way.

  1. Start by giving them an overview of the tool.  This can be anywhere from 1-2 hours, but the goal of this is to help the user understand what the tool does, does not do, what is off limits, where to go for help, etc. Most of this we actually get from the governance plan (you do have one of those, right?).             

  2. Next, develop some resources. Take that time, energy and investment you were spending on the multi-day class prep and put it toward things such as tip sheets, short videos (e.g. How to upload by drag-n-drop), and FAQs.  We find that short videos in the 30 second to 2 minute range work best (probably because we can’t hold a thought for more than 8 seconds!). 

    TIP: Make a long video on all sorts of things and then split it into multiple videos using a tool such as Camtasia, Microsoft Movie Maker, etc.

  3. Create a Lunch-n-Learn calendar and begin to have other users deliver lunch-n-learns.  These should be about 30 minutes to 1 hour in length, and as named, can be held over the lunch hour.  Setup a way to do these remotely as well via GoToMeeting, WebEx or Skype.  We also find that these are better received when delivered by peers and not IT or the “SharePoint guy”.    

  4. Showcase lesser-known functionality.  What I mean by this is focus on the things that could add a ton of value for a user, but if they never used them they wouldn’t know they were missing them.  Examples: Alerts, personal views, social features (if enabled), search alerts, etc.  Users tend to get excited by hearing about these hidden gems in lunch-n-learns, etc. 

  5. Lastly, remember that context is just as important as content.  When a user is working on a task, and let’s say they are in a document library, if they need help, they don’t necessarily want to learn about how to build a better search query.  Make your help contextual for where they are.  The guys at VisualSP have done a great job with this.

I hope this post has shed some light on a few things we’ve learned over the years of training our users.  Times are changing, and we must always remember to change with them.  I’d love to know what you think.  Please share your feedback or experience with training users in the comments.