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Ask the Expert: Top Tips for IT Training


The question:

I am fairly new to my ICT trainer role and have to plan out and deliver training of Office 2007 to 250 people within the London office and also to numerous other international offices. I have no idea where to start! Does anyone have any tips/documents/roll out plans etc. I can use for inspiration? Thanks! Natalia Wykes.


Jooli Atkins replies:

The starting point should be to find out what the business wants from the upgrade. Do they want users to be able to use Office 2007 in the same way as they use the current version or do they want to use this as an opportunity to upskill the users?

"Just because someone uses a product it doesn't mean they are competent in its use or that they're aware of how much more they could get out of it."

Jooli Atkins, chair of the British Computer Society (BCS), IT training specialist group and author

Stage two is to find out where the users are already. This may involve a detailed learning needs analysis (LNA) but in the real world this hardly ever happens. Just because someone uses a product it does not mean that they are competent in its use or that they are aware of how much more they could get out of the product. An example would be Microsoft Excel where users may be used to formatting cells but may not be aware of the benefits (or otherwise, dependent upon their requirements) of conditional formatting, where Excel formats cells automatically dependent upon conditions set by the user.

Compare what the users know with what they need to know and then design workshops based on the needs of groups or individuals.

Another big question is whether the implementation is phased or ‘big bang’ as this may impact the approach.

It is probably safe to assume that although users may have a good understanding of the system they currently use they will need at least some orientation training on the new version, so one of the most effective ways of upgrading a number of users is to use an organisation-wide communication programme, supported by floorwalking to capture individual requirements.

Plan a number of one hour demonstration sessions run two to three times a day (around lunchtime is always a popular one) and then invite all existing users to attend in groups of between 20 and 50 (dependent on the available room size). Use these sessions to demonstrate the new look and feel of the system – dipping into each application within Office 2007 to highlight the new features. This acts as a stimulus and allows users to decide which areas they feel they want or need to know more about. Make sure that they have something to write on so that they can capture their questions and consider their real learning needs as the demonstration goes on.

Whether an implementation is phased or big bang, floorwalking is a great way of supporting individual users following go live. The only difference between the two implementation approaches is the number of floorwalkers you will need to have available at any time. Particularly useful after a formal learning event, but can be used instead of, floorwalking involves a trainer literally walking the floor where the learner is working to coach learners in their real world applications and the issues surrounding them.

Floorwalkers should be recruited with a range of subject-matter expertise and, if you plan your demonstration session follow-up correctly, you should then be able to make sure that an individual with a specific learning need is seen by a floorwalker with the relevant skills.

Floorwalking is often unplanned, delivered at the learner’s workstation and involves a learner ‘bumping into’ a trainer or going in search of one they know is around on a particular day. Where learning needs are known, it is useful for a floorwalker to plan the day by making short (15-30 minute) blocks of time available to people to book during the day. The trainer then goes to the learner’s workstation at the allotted time.


"Rather than offering an individual service, where the same question could be answered hundreds of times, get users to post their questions to a forum, where other users and trainers can provide answers and share experience."

Surgeries can also be used for longer one-to-one or small group coaching sessions. These are pre-booked appointments and are often held away from the learner’s workstation, perhaps in a side room. This allows for the learner to gain from the coaching away from the distractions found in many open-plan environments.

Involve the IT helpdesk where possible throughout a rollout as they often keep records of calls and this data, if collected and available to trainers, is invaluable in supporting users through on-the-job coaching and support. It may even identify someone who needs further training. Develop links with IT helpdesk staff to fully benefit the organisation by working together to reduce user problems.

Internet or intranet forums are a great way of ensuring that everyone has access to best practice, questions and answers etc. Rather than offering an individual service where the same question could be answered hundreds of times, get users to post their questions on to a forum, where other users and trainers can provide answers and share experience. It is important that this is a managed process, however, as potential abuse could lead to the facility being removed and the benefit being lost.

Supporting materials should be in the form most readily accessible to the users and in line with corporate policies. Printing reams of user manuals that no-one ever uses is hardly in line with either the user requirement or the corporate environmental policy. Use the intranet to place quick ‘How To ...’ sheets onto users’ desktops. Make sure that they are indexed and searchable PDFs to gain maximum benefit. A small printed ‘What’s New ...’ quick reference guide showing the main differences – like how to access menus that were there yesterday – is always well received. Place posters on noticeboards and add screensaver or mouse pad messages reminding people of the key changes.

Inspire learners to want to learn more by making the new product accessible to them in their everyday work and then add to their skills when the upgrade is completed.

Jooli Atkins is chair of the British Computer Society (BCS) information and technology training specialist group and author of 'The IT Trainer’s Pocketbook'.

Jooli has been involved in training for the past 25 years, mainly in the IT sector. An experienced trainer and project manager she combines training and facilitation skills with structured project management methodologies working with both public and private sector clients, managing training for IS and business change management projects. She also designed and developed the 'Excellent Learning Facilitation' programme for Matrix FortyTwo, which is endorsed by the BCS for their trainer qualification, ACTT. Her style is based on her personal methodology known as 'structured pragmativity', a unique blend of creativity and pragmatism within a structured event.



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