From Pupils to Einsteins

An Individualized Approach to Training Methods Makes a Difference

boss demonstrating to employees on whiteboard

Believe it or not, I just bought my first smart phone. Learning the basics was extra challenging due to social distancing. Luckily, I was able to find a decent manual online because the sales rep in the store was a horrible trainer from any distance; he wouldn’t even let me touch the phone!

Whether you need to train your employees, or if you want to teach your customers how to use your products like a pro, you need to keep one important thing in mind: no two people are alike. If you try to train them all in the same way, everyone (including you) will be frustrated. Here are some tips that can help every student seem like Einstein, whether you train in person or remotely.

First, Get to Know Every Trainee

Whether you train one-on-one or address multiple people in a class, you need to know their current abilities before the first day of training. This can help prevent advanced students from being bored by sitting through beginner information. Of course, beginners will also benefit because your training will introduce them to basic terminology and concepts so they will not get lost because the material is too advanced.

The best way to collect this information is to ask them some pointed questions before training begins. Using my own new smart phone example,  I’ve gotten fairly advanced in my smart phone use over the last two months because I have at least some technical aptitude. But, here are a few examples that might have helped me to gain a better start from the first day:

  • Have you ever used a smart phone or even a tablet before?
  • If you use a laptop computer, does it have a touch screen that has taught you the basic gestures?
  • Do you understand the differences between “tap” versus “tap and hold?” How about “Android” versus “iOS?”
  • Do you know what “airplane mode,” “avatar,” and [insert your terms here] mean?

If you will be doing one-on-one training, getting this information is as easy as making a phone call prior to your session, but you still should work from a script to make sure that you cover all pertinent training questions. For classes, send out a pre-class survey to capture this information. You will probably have to allow more time for online responses, since you’ll need to follow up with non-respondents to get the best results possible.

Finally, don’t forget that your support team has a great deal of experience with issues that are common to many people. Be sure to get their input into topics that need coverage during training.

Modify Your Training Methods to Best Guide Your Students

Now that you know more about your students’ prior experience, your training needs to be designed in ways to bring everyone to the same page. If I attended a training class for my smart phone, I would have needed to learn (and practice) swiping and tapping properly to get the desired results before moving on to advanced operations. Experienced users would have fallen asleep during this type of basic training. They might be more interested in learning how to take advantage of all of the cool attributes of the phone’s operating system. Or, if their last phone had a different operating system, they might need to know the differences between them.

To bring classroom or online students to the same level, beginners should go through introductory training to explain terms and concepts. More advanced students might choose to sleep in during this part of the training, unless they want a refresher. The overall goal is to get everyone on the same page before providing more universal training.

Of course, online training poses special challenges because you can’t see a student’s puzzled facial expression while you’re making important points. By requiring completion of a preliminary quiz for each module, you can better determine which lessons they need.

Sit On Your Hands

Demonstrations are reasonable ways to show students what to do, but only practice allows students to internalize the new information so that it becomes a skill. While the sales person rapidly slid his finger all over my phone to show how to remove apps from the home screen, it appeared very easy. When I tried it at home, all sorts of unexpected things happened on the display. With each errant swipe, I became frustrated and started longing for my old flip phone.

Similarly, remote learning should never seem like students are sitting in an online version of a lecture hall. Particularly when teaching complex subject matter, how-to demonstrations should be followed by “Now You Try It” exercises. In a perfect training experience, those exercises should be monitored for correct completion. Students should not be allowed to move on until they master each lesson.

You will benefit directly from this advice if you are teaching someone to take on parts of your job. When they perform tasks correctly under your supervision during training, you’ll sleep better, knowing that they will do things right when you’re not around.

You Get the Best Results by Training People Where They Are

I’m not talking about physical location , so much as beginners need to learn the basics. More advanced learners will get bored and maybe even abandon the class when you try to teach them something that they already know.

When you know each student’s knowledge and skill level, you can design flexible modular training. Bring the newbies to the level of the knowledgeable students, and then train them together so that they all arrive at a place of knowledge and confidence.

Then, understand that few people can learn every detail in a short training class. Your goal is to primarily teach them important concepts. They are more likely to remember that a specific activity is possible, than the exact steps to accomplish it. They will have those steps close at hand if you send every student home with some form of easy-to-use reference material, whether in hard copy or online form. As Albert Einstein said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.”

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