Why Hands-on Training is Vital for Software Products
From videos on YouTube, taster sessions and talks at conferences, how-to guides on both vendor websites and community blogs or articles, online software training is everywhere. With so much out there, you want your own training to be to best.
What Makes the Best Training?
The best training is engaging, provides good value for time, and provides a high level of understanding of your software. Let us take each of those and expand a little.
Your learners need to remain engaged with your training, otherwise, they will either leave, or stay in the class but lose attention, and not absorb the knowledge being conveyed. Without being engaging, the training is ultimately useless.
Value for Time
Time is limited; either a learner is taking time out of their otherwise free time, or is spending time that would be producing value for their business in order to follow your learning materials. It is critical this time spent in training provides value sufficient enough for it to be prioritised, else the training will never actually happen.
The training needs to provide more than raw isolated facts, but also needs to provide a deeper understanding of your product in the context in which it is designed to be used. Without this deeper level of understanding, the training cannot be considered meaningful.
The Problem with Traditional Training
Many common traditional training methods, like tutorial videos, pre-recorded demos, and written blogs provide useful information but only allow learning in a very passive manner, storing information but not gaining any greater insight. They will store information for simple recall, but passive learning does not allow the learner to apply the knowledge to new scenarios.
This type of content is still valuable, as some knowledge does need to be simply passively conveyed, but more is needed to really boost the time value and understanding gained for a well-rounded training program to be complete. The key to this in technical training is to include activities where the learner is able to apply the knowledge delivered by your materials, also known as hands-on training.
Why Does Hands-on Training Work?
Hands-on training in its simplest form brings the opportunity for the learner to apply the knowledge they have gained in a practical scenario. It can be highly directed, so the learner is given the precise steps to achieve a result, but even more importantly, it can allow the user to experiment, take the knowledge gained and try other things to see the result. This experimentation is important, because rather than just being able to simply recall the knowledge and solve a single specific problem using your software, the learner will gain the ability to apply the knowledge to new scenarios outside of the training scenario, which is crucial for your training to succeed and fulfil the tenet of understanding discussed above.
Hands-on training is so vital that it is simply not possible to adequately train learners in advanced software without a practical component.
How Do You Build Hands-on Training?
Building hands-on training takes a few steps.
Firstly, as with any training, it’s vital to make sure you understand the learning objectives — why the learner needs to complete the activity, and what the activity is designed to teach them.
Then you need to create the hands-on environment — this could be a set of instructions for the learner, a machine image to download, or having the learner create a trial account on your SaaS cloud. Once this process is complete, you then need to make sure the environment is set up in the state that is required for the training, and a clear understanding of the steps to complete in that environment need to be provided. At this point, the learner can start to follow the material.
This setup stage can be problematic, as there is a risk of it being completed incorrectly, which will cause frustration or a learner walking away before they’ve even reached the learning part of the activity. Worse still, the prospect of a complex or long setup stage can put potential learners from even beginning the training in the first place. This may seem unlikely for training where the learners are forced to use the software for business reasons, but it’s an extremely common problem when using training as a tool for lead generation. In that scenario, the perceived barrier to entry will cost you a lead, and potentially more than one thanks to that learner spreading the word about how difficult it was to get started with your software.
To get the best out of hands-on training, you need a mixture of:
- Self-contained scenarios
- The learner should have minimal setup steps to get to the task at hand
- The tasks for the learner should be short and focused
- Clear goals
- The learner needs to understand what they are doing, and most importantly, why they are doing it.
- There shouldn’t just be an open-ended ‘experiment with the software’ but provide specific tasks to complete
- This doesn’t mean spoon-feeding them the answers. The point is to ensure the learner is focused on exactly what you want them to achieve
- It’s important that the learner knows if they have performed tasks correctly, and importantly if they have not as quickly as possible. Depending on the scenario and level of guidance, this can be as simple as providing the expected output of commands and actions so that the learner themselves can compare the result they achieved
Appsembler’s Virtual Labs product allows you to build a sandbox environment where learners can get going with the specific training scenario you have designed at the click of a button without installing anything. By providing an entirely web-based hands-on platform, you ensure that your learners are able to get started training with minimal effort. Combined with our Tahoe Learning Management System, or embedded into your docs or blog sites, you can add the hands-on element to enhance your user’s experience all around, and ensure that what you’re trying to teach actually sticks.