The Learning Game

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Does this sound familiar? You've tried it all – classroom training, internal training, books, videos – and still your staff are fumbling with their new software. They KNOW there are easier ways to complete their tasks, yet they say they're so busy there's no time to learn how to do things more efficiently. Why is this happening? It's not because you've been unwilling to provide training, it's not because your staff doesn't want to learn.

As a consultant, I have the opportunity to observe computer users at many different organizations. Everyone recognizes that training is more important than ever before, so there's a rush to provide all kinds of training. I also hear – from both management and staff – the inevitable disappointment. With one exception.

At one of my client's there's a woman, Kelly, who's been required to learn a number of new software products over the years. In some cases, she's the first one in the organization to learn a particular product. Sometimes she goes to class, other times she receives one-on-one training, and sometimes she just has to puzzle it out herself. This woman, who was originally hired as a data entry clerk, has mastered more software more quickly than any of the other users I've watched and worked with over the years.

Would you like to know the secrets of her success? It's because she knows the difference between watching a Dodger game and playing on the company softball team. Most training is handled the same as a Dodger game. Management recognizes that someone needs or deserves the opportunity to attend some formal training. The office manager decides on a class, and announces the schedule. The staff member goes, just like they're going to watch a game. They might get something to eat (a muffin rather than a Dodger dog), they'll be entertained a little (or have a nap), and have a little break from the office. When they return, a few minutes are spent chatting about how good or how bad the class was, the workbook and diskette are tossed into a drawer, and the user goes on as before. Several times during the first week after class the user can be heard muttering “I really should try to use macros, but I have to get this out, so I can't take the time right now.” Eventually, they stop the muttering, but rarely do they use any new techniques.

Kelly doesn't treat the training opportunities as Dodger tickets; she approaches them as if she's been asked to play catcher on the company softball team. She schedules practices, learns the rules, lines up teammates, plays the game full out, then rehashes it afterward. She internalizes what she learns, then schedules more practice. She's participating, not observing.

Here are Kelly's guidelines to learning a new software product:

  1. Find someone who already uses the product and ask lots of questions.
  2. Find out how the product might simplify your job.
  3. Find out how it compares to other products you're already using.
  4. Install the software on your system.
  5. Glance through the manuals.
  6. Take the tutorial, if there is one.
  7. Schedule time for a very brief introduction with a user of the product.
  8. Identify several simple, specific tasks and try to use the software to complete them.
  9. Make a list of questions to ask in class.
  10. Attend the class with questions in hand.
  11. Ask questions, getting the instructor to commit to finding answers, if necessary.
  12. The day after training, try the simple tasks again.
  13. Print sample screens, review notes from class, organize and file them, and follow up outstanding questions with the instructor.
  14. Review the manual again, make notes, copy important pages.
  15. USE the product right away.

Here are some steps to start the process:

  1. Treat training as a valuable benefit to your employees.
  2. Establish responsibility for training within the organization. The office manager may be the logical choice. They don't need to do the training, just organize it. This will include setting up a training area and library, identifying and scheduling classes, and following up with attendees to see that they're using the material they've learned.
  3. Clarify your expectations for this new role as well as your new expectations of your staff.
  4. Announce the new training guidelines to the organization – use Kelly's process as an example.
  5. Offer options depending on learning style and current level of experience.
  6. Let the employees participate in selecting the training they'll attend.
  7. Recognize and reward them for their success.

If you require your staff to participate in the learning game, to take responsibility for learning, rather than being taught, you'll find your score improving dramatically! Your staff will be energized by their new skills, and productivity is sure to increase.

This article has been provided by Kathy Marlatt. Kathy supports the users of MAS90 accounting software, and has published the CD-ROM based training program, TakeCharge! the Bookkeeper's Crash Course in Accounting. To learn more about TakeCharge!, go to or call Kathy toll-free at 877-272-7429.

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