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Best Practices in End-User Training

End-user training, when well done, will increase employee productivity, build credibility for the IS and training organizations, and even reduce TCO. Here are some best practices.
Bottom Line
Key Issue: How should companies build and optimize their training capability?

Deploy E-Training: E-training has become the learning tool of choice for some organizations (see Note 1). For enterprise outposts (with less than a dozen employees), it remains the primary alternative to walk-in public classes. Of the myriad variations of e-training, the two that are best-suited for general end-user instruction are off-the-shelf, self-paced courses and synchronous, "virtual classrooms." Where off-the-shelf, self-paced courses exist, and the culture, infrastructure, marketing and tracking are in place, they are a highly cost-effective and flexible strategy (see Note 2). Where off-the-shelf content does not exist, such as for a rollout of a custom application or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation, many companies use synchronous, "virtual classroom" technologies and services (see Note 3). Each synchronous session must be kept to less than two hours. Unlike self-paced courses that take less time than classes, synchronous sessions take more time because they must be highly interactive to work effectively.

Many enterprises consider developing their own custom self-paced e-training courses to teach custom applications, but in most end-user training situations it is not practical. If companies are actually creating the content themselves by using tools from vendors such as Macromedia or Asymetrix, the course must be used by more than 250 students to provide a sufficient payback for the investment required over using virtual classrooms. If companies use outside firms to create the content, the course requires an enrollment of more than 500.

Note 1
Easing Into E-Training
Teaching people who are uncomfortable with technology how to use new operating systems or applications as their first exposure to e-training is almost always destined to fail. Consider using high-quality, non-IT courses to help students through the transition and more quickly embrace this new learning medium, and then present the more tactical material.


Note 2
Some Off-the-Shelf End-User E-Training Course Vendors
  • CBT Systems
  • DigitalThink
  • DPEC
  • Instruction Set
  • NETg
  • Teach.com
  • Ziff-Davis University


Note 3
Some Synchronous Technology Vendors
  • Centra
  • Horizon Live Distance Learning
  • Interwise
  • LearningSpace
  • Learnlinc

Use Personal Trainers: For people "too busy to be trained," for reluctant users, and sometimes for everyone during a big rollout, best-practice companies use personal trainers floating teachers who spend from 10 to 20 minutes with each end user. For big implementations, companies have reported that it is essential that: 1) the IS department keeps a master spreadsheet of when people are to have their machines installed. Stickers should be affixed to each cubicle when its machine has been installed, which indicates to the personal trainer that it is time to introduce themselves to the end users and be available to answer questions. 2) End users have the option of saying, "I'm too busy, come back." 3. If the end user is not there, the personal trainer should drop off an "I'm sorry, I missed you" note with the handouts. 4. The personal trainers are the same people who teach the courses, so they get to know the enterprise culture and common issues. They also keep logs of user questions.

Create Paper-Based "Cheat Sheets": Most companies have done away with handing out big instruction books and binders to all class participants. Best-practice organizations still make these materials available, sometimes through redeemable coupons handed out at training. Instead, organizations are using handouts. These are an inexpensive channel; however, enterprises should avoid cutting costs on design and production, which limits the value. Handouts should include quick references, high production and marketing value, color, easy access to information with contents on the front, revisable modularized structures, coupons for additional information, well-tested content, special symbols to indicate what users should type, phone numbers and help references, "trifolds," consistent use of fonts and symbols, logos to help differentiate material and cubicle cards. Handout should not include irrelevant graphics, high-production values for the throwaway documents, bulky manuals, or manuals that are written too technically.

Complete the Curriculum: End-user training must have three primary components: 1) How To's cover new features. 2) Policies are often left out of curricula, but clearly explaining corporate policies can lead to behaviors that reduce the total cost of ownership (see Note 4). 3) Future Help is the single most important content area to teach end users. It details how end users can get their questions answered, both through self-help channels and help desks.

Note 4
Five Goals of Policy Material
Professionalism: To avoid behavior that is inappropriate in a business environment or which distracts staff from their business focus.
Business: To prevent users from increasing corporate computing costs without business justification.
Standardization: To increase the level of consistency in computing to improve efficiency.
Security: To eliminate the occurrences of vulnerable corporate information.
Maintenance: To reduce the wear and tear on hardware.

Use Marketing: Marketing has to be run as a project, with tight goals and timelines. The important messages include class times, location, enrollment instructions, the cost to the budget center, optional ways of taking the course, and the e-mail and phone number of a contact person.

Common Questions About End-User Training
Should the training be optional or mandatory?
Two best practices are to not let the users use the new application until they are trained, and to give managers rebates from IT for end users who successfully complete follow-up training.
Should the training be a whole or half-day?
With the growing time crunch, best-practice organizations squeeze end-user training into no more than a half-day.
How do we minimize no-shows?
Overbook one extra student for every 12 students enrolled.
What is the ROI of end-user training?
Careers have been lost pursuing the ROI of end-user training. Determining the ROI of any training effectively doubles its costs, which is hard to justify for anything but the most experimental, strategic training. Furthermore, the number turns out to be highly controversial and pragmatically useless. More significantly, it is the IT project managers, not the trainers, who are responsible for the ROI. All training can do is greatly increase employee satisfaction and compliance with the new tools while reducing "how to" help desk calls, which are all valid metrics of program success.
What is the budget of end-user training?
Reducing the cost of end-user training beyond a threshold should not be a goal of the training program. Instead, best-practice organizations consistently spend around 10 percent of the total project budget on the training (except for ERP implementations, which require about 20 percent of the cost of software and implementation). They then work to optimize the effectiveness of this constant sum.

Bottom Line

Enterprises that only use traditional end-user classes and "how to" curricula to support IT rollouts are suboptimizing their improvement capacity. Adding e-training, personal trainer, and paper-based channels along with expanded processes and available help material will enable and even increase the IT application benefits.

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