Three Tips for Teaching Successful Software Training Classes

As Artisan’s resident E-Learning Authoring Tools Trainer, the primary focus of my job has been to teach other e-learning professionals how to use programs like Articulate Storyline and Studio either in person or online. Each learner comes with a different level of experience with computers, and some learners require more attention than others. Making sure each participant walks away with everything he or she needs can sometimes feel like a juggling act.

Although I learn something new each time I teach a class, here are the three main tips I’ve learned for teaching a successful software training class.

1. Practice with real-life examples.

The key to learning any software is understanding how you’ll apply it in the real world. For example, I could explain AutoFill in Microsoft Excel and have everyone copy the word “hello” from one cell to the 10 cells below it. The participants would understand the mechanics of the feature, but might not really understand how they’d use it in real life. If, instead, we practiced with a list of phone numbers where they use AutoFill to copy the same area code down several of the rows, they’ll walk away not only knowing how to do it but also why and when.

Successful software training requires the learner to see and use the features of the program in a real-life context. This is easily accomplished by using practice files that demonstrate real-life use of the features being taught.

For example, when I teach new Articulate Storyline users how to use motion paths, I could have them add a rectangle to the slide and make it move from the left side to the right side. But that only teaches the mechanics. Instead, we might build a slide where disorganized elements move into the proper order. Now they are learning an instructionally valid reason to use motion paths.

2. Demonstrate before letting the learners try.

If I’ve learned anything about software training, it’s that many learners are deathly afraid of falling behind. Many of my learners attempt to follow along with me, step-by-step and click-by-click. This might be due to their own insecurities about learning new software, or from past experiences enduring a poor facilitator that moved too quickly through the content.

Although many learners feel that their attempt to “keep up” is benefiting them, I’ve found that this makes their learning experience far more stressful. After all, it’s not easy to watch two screens at the same time!

When I’m facilitating a software training class, both online and in-person, I specifically ask my learners to set their mice down and watch my screen. This lets them see the process and listen to the explanation of the feature we’re learning without distraction. Once I’ve finished explaining a feature or process, I then turn it over to the learners to try on their own computers. This keeps their attention focused and lets them take their time performing the steps themselves.

3. Let learners fix their own mistakes.

As with any new skill, successful software training requires the learner to explore the cause and effect of their actions. Although most learners don’t like making mistakes, they can be used as a helpful learning tool.

In all of my software training classes, I have a few ground rules. My first ground rule is that the learners must embrace exploration. If they’re not sure what a button does, I tell them to click on it and see what happens. Although this evokes anxiety in some learners, they’re often relieved when I tell them that there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a simple click of the Undo button.

Although every learner will make mistakes along the way, mistakes usually let the learner gain further understanding of the feature being taught. When learners are forced to fix their own mistakes, it gives them a better sense of how that feature should and should not be used.

These three tips are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned about software training over the past few years. If you’re also a software trainer, what lessons have you learned to make your classes successful? If you’re a student who has attended a software training class, what methods did the facilitator use to make your experience more enjoyable?

Tim Slade

2 Responses to “Three Tips for Teaching Successful Software Training Classes

  • Hi Tim

    great article. I’ve been a software trainer for many years and echo your tips. One thing I do is a pre course ‘where you think you’re at’ survey – then try and match up the stronger participants to oversee the weaker ones.

  • Diane Elkins
    7 years ago

    Hello, Wendy,
    That’s a great suggestion! I think when you can pair up new and experienced students, both parties get more out of the class.

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