How to get the best out of the software trainer: There’s no substitute for experience and preparation

What do you specialise in?

Designing and delivering tailored PC training for bespoke systems and Microsoft Office upgrades, incorporated with organisational best practice.

Name some of your clients

Lloyds TSB Corporate, The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Department for Transport, Marks & Spencer, and the NHS.

What are the information must-haves you need before conducting a software training course?

Which version? How long will the training session be? What training facilities are available, and what’s the PC password? Is the training to be instructor-led, classroom-based, or a theatre-style seminar?

How can the training manager who books you help you deliver the most effective training?

There are many things to do, including: conduct a training needs analysis and provide relevant details to the trainer; for standard classroom courses, ensure delegates have seen a course outline prior to the session and that their skills meet any pre-requisites; for tailored training, give me a statement of requirements and relevant contact details so I can get further information if required; ensure the length of the session allows time for hands-on skill practice; provide training equipment that reflects the kit used by delegates; and ensure there is one computer per delegate.

What do you need to know about delegates before a course?

Their general computer skills and what they know about the package in which they will be trained. Plus, the work-related tasks they will use the software for.

What’s the best way to get delegate evaluations of your courses?

I think evaluation should really be reserved for measuring the effectiveness of the training for both the individual and overall organisational benefits. This requires a well-structured questionnaire, where someone is responsible for gathering and analysing the data. This is probably best conducted via an online form, where the information is requested about a week after training. Delegates are more likely to give useful feedback if they feel their comments are reviewed and followed up.

What’s your opinion of happy sheets?

They’re usually fine for quick feedback, which should be followed up by the training team, if necessary. Some delegates feel intimidated when completing a form with the trainer there, but experience shows that unless they are completed before the delegate leaves, the return rate is low.

What’s the most effective way to maximise the impact of your training in terms of follow-up actions?

Offer desk-side or floor-walking support to assist with using the new software skills on work-related tasks, or identify a local ‘super’ user who can fulfil a mentoring role. Ensure the delegate has the opportunity to use the new software skills as soon as possible. Also provide quick reference guides and other relevant training materials. Many organisations use their intranet for this purpose, which reduces printing costs and allows updated materials to be made available at the touch of a key.

What’s the most challenging software course to run?

It’s usually the training facilities that provide the greatest challenge, rather than a particular software programme. I recall having to provide group training for a Blackberry PDA, but there were no Blackberries available for the training session even though 500 delegates were to attend the training during the project. The challenge was to make the training as interactive as possible when the only training resource was a PowerPoint presentation with screen shots.

What’s your top tip for a software training exercise?

A software exercise should be challenging but achievable, relevant to the session objective, completed by the delegate unaided and, above all, fun. Exercises are often ‘skimmed’ by trainers due to time constraints, but they are essential in setting up learners to succeed back in the workplace.

What delegate behaviour annoys you?

When someone arrives for a three-hour session and asks if they will miss much if they leave an hour early.

How can training managers judge the competence of a software training specialist?

Ask to see example objectives and session plans. Look for Trainer Assessment Programme (TAP) accreditation and membership of the Institute of IT Training, which benchmarks the trainer’s delivery skills. This can be applied to any session whether bespoke or Microsoft. If you want a Microsoft Applications specialist, look for Microsoft Office specialist and European computer driving licence qualifications. Best of all, observe the trainer delivering a live session to see it from the delegate’s perspective.

Amanda Ridge, a freelance software training consultant, has run desktop software courses for more than 10 years.

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