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Bob Mosher

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Technology training needs to shift from ‘just in case’ to ‘just in time’


Bob Mosher thinks that for training to be at its most useful, it's all about timing. 

Technology is key to business. Upgrades, such as the move to new versions of Windows or Office have the potential to improve productivity in the long run, but they also have the potential to cause a lot of lost productivity during a migration. Few would disagree that training is important to making the most of this. But the way we train often misunderstands how people use technology and how they learn over time.

Traditionally, we have spent a day or so teaching new software, possibly followed by some elearning modules. While these are important, they are insufficient. Classroom training is soon forgotten if practice does not follow. Hermann Ebbinghaus, a psychologist who pioneered experimental studies of memory, showed people usually forget 90% of classroom learning within 30 days, with the majority beginning to forget within a few hours of the lesson. Current training is well designed to enable the user to acquire new knowledge, but poorly suited to when the user returns to the workplace and has to apply this knowledge.

This is compounded by the fact that the way we interact has changed. The likes of Google and Facebook have created a culture where people expect to have intuitive programmes that allow them to problem solve themselves. Imparting new knowledge is of course necessary, but the majority of learning needs to be done on the job when an employee comes across a problem they can’t remember how to solve or apply, when something goes wrong, or when they come across an unexpected change.

In these situations, no one wants to sit through an elearning module on Word to find the bit they need, or wade through discussion forums discussing similar problems. So usually, they call the help desk or ask their colleagues. This costs time and defeats the purpose of the initial training. We need to wean people off the ecosystem of peer and helpdesk support and show them how to help themselves.

"...the majority of learning needs to be done on the job when an employee comes across a problem they can’t remember how to solve or apply, when something goes wrong, or when they come across an unexpected change."

Simple tools which reflect how people interact with new systems can be developed and easily taught. Dell Education Services is leading the way here through the development of intuitive tools for a range of software such as Microsoft Office and Windows 8, called LEAP - Learner Enabled Assisted Performance. Both enterprise and consumer customers buying or replacing their computers can have this software included for as little as one pound, but potentially saving thousands in lost productivity.

Such tools must be developed carefully. Research shows they must be embedded in programmes so employees to get what they need without interrupting their workflow. They must take into account the employee’s role, so users quickly receive the most relevant information at their moment of need. And they must give just enough information, starting with quick reminders and escalating to increasing levels of detail as necessary.

LEAP uses these ideas to great effect. In Microsoft Office for example, LEAP is embedded within the ribbon. The user searches for their query and will be given an overview which allows them to simply navigate to the area they want. They are then taken through the process step by step, allowing any problem to be solved in as little as two clicks and ten seconds.

If a user can’t work out how to mail merge, they look it up, and they will see an expanded list of all mail merge features, written and pictorial guides to what you want to achieve, a step by step guide to using these, and videos guides, to reflect different learning styles. Basically it will give the same information they would get if you called the help desk – in a format and timescale to suit them. In effect LEAP becomes the first line of support for the user, relieving the IT helpdesk of high volume help calls during and just after migration 'go-live'.

Using an ongoing training tool empowers staff to take responsibility for finding a solution for their problems, leaving them more productive and more confident. Rather than teaching employees everything just in case they need it, we should give them the basics, then give the access to all the tools they need to solve problems as they come across them – solving problems just in time.

Bob Mosher is chief learning evangelist at Ontuitive and an influential thought leader in the L&D industry


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