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Best Practices in Software Training
2 October 2007, by , in Data Management, 2 comments

I've done a lot of training on using software, and I've sat through even more in conjunction with implementation projects for my clients. The typical software training program consists of day-long sessions (and often multiple days) covering all aspects of the software. This is especially true during the implementation of a new association management system (AMS).

But what I've learned over the years is that if a student is expected to sit in class for a full day, there are diminishing returns for retention after lunch. Put another way, I think most students are fried after about three hours of software training, and very little of what is taught after that point is retained. This is probably true for most any software program, whether it's learning Word and Excel, or learning how to use a new AMS.

But the current practice among AMS vendors is to schedule five full days (more or less) of training for end-users just prior to go-live. I believe this is a waste of resources, for the reasons noted above. The primary driver for this process is "efficiency." That is, it's more "cost-effective" to do all the training at once, since the vendor will likely charge a minimum full-day's training whether you use a full day or not.

In reality, this approach is not cost-effective, because most of the training is actually wasted and will have to be repeated at some future date (usually after go-live, when staff discovers they still don't know how to use the software, even though they've been trained on it).

I believe a better way would be to provide a series of half-day training sessions, including "homework" for attendees to complete once they've left the training room. Training could still take place in a series of days, but the actual in-class time would be limited to three or four hours. Study after study suggests that retention is significantly higher when students are taught something and then immediately apply what they've learned. Unfortunately, when training is scheduled for five straight, full days, there's no time for application of what has been taught.

What do you think? Why don't the AMS companies train this way? How does your organization approach training of this type?

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2 Comments on "Best Practices in Software Training"

Dean Comber - 23 October 2007 Reply

We were actually slated to have 5 consecutive days of training for our AMS. We changed it to 3 days one week and two the next. That's still quite intensive, but it gave people a break. I asked our staff to (immediately) write down any issues or questions as they went through the training. This helped staff members return the next week with their questions and they had them answered. The other thing we did was have our staff ask specific questions as to how they would handle day-to-day entry aspects in the system per our association. This also helped demonstrate how the system would work per their needs. In some cases, it challenged the trainer as it was specific, but it was better to have it answered on-site versus corresponding with support or a follow-up email.

Wes Trochlil - 23 October 2007 Reply

Dean, that's definitely a step in the right direction. As for challenging the trainer with questions, isn't that what they're there for? The training should be specific to your needs, not generic; otherwise it's a total waste of time.

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