Software Training Myths Rebutted

By: Joe Maresca

What's Your Excuse? Dispelling the Myths about End-User Training

In 1999, Intraware, a growing online source for IT and software solutions, decided to implement a new sales force automation application. The implementation failed. One of the major reasons for the failure was Intraware's failure to provide end-user training.

"We trashed the whole thing and seriously thought about walking away at that point," said Shaun Fenn, director of sales information systems for Intraware in Emeryville, California.

Once Intraware provided customized outsourced training for their end users, the software worked well for the company and they finally felt like the migration was worth it.

Unfortunately, Intraware's story is common. When most companies purchase new software, the purchasing decision is made based on the software's features and its potential to increase productivity. Rarely do decision makers consider that employees must know how to use the software for it to deliver what it promises.

To keep your company from making the costly mistake Intraware did, we at BrainStorm, Inc., the Novell Authorized End-User Training Partner, have addressed the most-common excuses for not training end users. So whether you're upgrading or migrating to GroupWise 7, read below to find out why you shouldn't skimp on end-user training.

Our employees are too busy to train.

Your users may complain that they don't have time for a half day of on-site training, but they'll end up spending time learning the new software with or without training. The only difference is the amount of time they'll spend.

According to a July 2000 Gartner Group study, "twelve hours of formal training equates to 72 hours of self-paced training." So, users will spend six times as long figuring out the program on their own as it will take to train them to use it.

Formal training won't only save your users the time it would have taken to figure it out on their own; it will also give them extra hours of productive time. An end user survey conducted by Novell and BrainStorm in 2002 found that 90 percent of end users saved at least an hour per week as a result of the training they received, and the majority of those users saved three or more hours. With the time employees can save and gain by being trained, they actually can't afford not to invest the time to attend a training course.
End-user training costs too much.

With all the costs associated with a software migration, or even an upgrade, you may think your budget can't justify training. The fact is your migration will end up costing more if you don't train your end users.

A July 2000 Gartner Group study found that "wasted end-user time, due to a lack of training, accounted for the biggest piece of the software spending pie."

Not only does the wasted time contribute to higher software cost, but when your employees don't use all the features included in the software, you end up paying for features your company doesn't use. A September 2001 IDC study found that without training, employees use an average of only 13 percent of the features in their desktop software tools. That means the other 87 percent of features you purchased are a wasted investment without spending some money on training.

Further, the return on investment for end-user training shows that without training, you won't capture the productivity gains you were planning on when you bought the software. If you use the results from the above mentioned BrainStorm and Novell study and say that conservatively, each trained employee saves at least one hour per week, then training one employee making $40,000 a year will save the company about $1,000 in the first year. Further, for every 100 trained employees that make $100,000 your company will save $250,000 a year. (See chart.) That's saving ten to twenty-five times more than a half-day instructor-led training course costs, which may be more justifiable than even your original software purchase.

We can train our users in-house.

When justifying the total cost associated with an upgrade or migration, you may be tempted to think you can decrease the software budget by taking care of training in-house. After all, you have a budget to hire extra help, but your training budget is spent. When you look at the total cost of developing training courses and materials, however, in-house training doesn't have as many benefits.

Although a professional training company like BrainStorm can spread out the cost of developing training courses and materials among several clients, when you develop and implement in-house training, your company absorbs all the associated time and cost. Plus, because in-house trainers usually lack training expertise and experience with the software itself, in-house training quality is usually quite poor.

According to a 1997 Gartner Group study, the following are costs associated with poor training: dissatisfied employees, lower productivity, poor customer service, the need for extensive follow-up training and support resources, decreased efficiency, less efficient business processes, and increased administrative expense.

Companies like BrainStorm that cater specifically to end-user software training, and even more specifically to GroupWise training, can help eliminate most of the costs of poor in-house training. Having trainers with more than 1000 hours of experience teaching a program, and solid research to back their training methods, reputable training companies know how to help users get excited about software, increase their productivity by using it, and retain what they learn. In-house trainers cramming to learn a program that don't have training experience can't provide that quality of training.

Additionally, reputable outsourced training companies like BrainStorm, will provide follow-up training and a variety of training materials to make sure new hires are trained and employees have resources to which they can turn.

Users can learn from the help files

From the volume of "how to" help calls your IT department gets, you probably know that help files aren't enough to help your users.

Several studies, including a June 2003 study published in Information Systems Research show that "behavior modeling yields better training outcomes than other methods, such as lecture-based instruction, computer-aided instruction, and self-study." This behavior modeling training method, which is watching an instructor perform a behavior and then attempting to reenact it, is also the best method to use for all learning styles.

A study in the Spring 2000 Information Technology, Learning, and Performance Journal showed that trainees taught with a behavior modeling approach "were not influenced by learning style and . . . had the highest levels of satisfaction and computer use." This behavior modeling method is the one that independent training companies, like BrainStorm, use to help employees learn and then retain what they learn.

These studies also show that hands-on training that mimics everyday tasks is more effective than abstract training. Help files are abstract and are not designed to help users accept all e-mails from their bosses, schedule constant office meetings, or create unique work schedules, for instance. To effectively use help files, employees must first determine what language the software uses to define the task. Only then can they search for the help file. This is not only less-effective; it also decreases productivity.

Users don't need training to e-mail.

When you were sold on GroupWise, chances are it wasn't its capacity to manage e-mail that impressed you. If that was the only feature you needed, you would probably buy a lesser program. Similarly, if you want users to get as excited as you are about GroupWise and if you want GroupWise to deliver on the promise of making your office more productive, you should provide a way for your users to learn about its other features.

Collaboration software is used more often and by more people in your organization than any other desktop application. Therefore, end-user training for this software will be the most useful and increase productivity the most. As mentioned above, studies have shown
that employees use an average of only 13 percent of the features in their desktop software tools. When the most powerful features in the remaining 87 percent go unused, your company essentially wastes the money spent on those features.

Plus, the goal of a reputable training company isn't to make all your users advanced, it is to teach them to use software tools and get them to an intermediate level, therefore making their software use productive, not just functional. (See Training Curves, above.) When employees know how to use their software to be productive, the company saves money.

Training can't help my users accept the new program

Often one of the biggest obstacles to migrating or upgrading is the level of user acceptance. If users have preconceived negative notions of what the upgrade or migration will mean for them (loss of time, increased frustration, loss of productivity), they will be less likely to use and accept the program.

A study published in 2000 in Information Systems Research, concluded that there were at least six factors associated with helping reluctant employees accept a program: (1) users'
confidence about their ability to learn and use new technology, (2) an IT-supported work
environment, (3) how much users actually use computers for enjoyment, (4) the level of general computer anxiety, (5) how much computers actually contribute to job ability, and (6) how much satisfaction users gain from simply using a new system. Hands-on training from a motivated, experienced trainer solves at least four of these factors.

Training can't change some of the attitude factors like how much employees use technology out of the office for fun. Training, however, can help with the other factors: increasing confidence in learning ability, having a supported environment, decreasing the level of computer anxiety, increasing how much an application actually contributes to job function, and increasing the level of perceived enjoyment.

Not all types of training can accomplish these goals. First, trainers must be experts on the
software. This expertise makes users feel like they are in a supported environment. When
trainers are experts, it also makes it easier for them to make using the program look easy,
decreasing the level of computer anxiety in the trainees. Second, when trainers use real-world, hands-on examples, they increase how much trainees actually use the software for real job functions. And third, when trainers are motivated and excited about the software, they increase the level of enjoyment for their trainees simply because trainees pick up on their excitement.

At the same time, when users accept a program quickly after effective training, they also retain more information about the software, and start using it immediately. This makes their program use stick. When users know how to use the software from the beginning, they're happy to use it for as long as is required.

Because we're upgrading, users can figure out the new features.

Although it's true that most features of an application stay the same in an upgrade, enough new features are introduced and enough of the user interface changes to merit end-user training.

If untrained users use an average of only 13 percent of the program they're currently using and don't know about many of the advanced features in the current program, chances are they won't know about the new features in the upgrade and also won't know how to use them. It's hard to justify the cost of an upgrade if your employees don't use the new features you're paying for.

Also, for most users, just switching a few buttons on the interface in an upgrade can be confusing, let alone changing the entire interface. It may be true that your users won't need as much training for an upgrade, but they still need to be trained to make the upgrade investment worth the cost.

We've had bad experiences with outsourced training before.

Poor training experiences can definitely cure a company of paying for end user training again. When training isn't effective, it's hard to justify its necessity. But, training methods and the quality of trainers differ significantly among training companies.

For instance, the job description for a prominent training company's instructor position reveals a lot about what kind of trainers they hire. The company says the trainer position is entry level and the instructor will teach several software applications. Previous knowledge of the applications is not required, nor is previous education or training experience. When you hire this company, therefore, you can expect to get a trainer that has minimal knowledge about the application he is training on and may or may not know how to manage a classroom. The trainer may feign excitement about a memorized lesson from a workbook, but he won't know how to answer the toughest questions because he isn't an expert.

A study published in the Journal of End User Computing in 2002, found that trainer behavior had much to do with how effective end user software training was. In fact, the study identified 53 characteristics effective trainers should have. The characteristics were summarized as follows: "Effective end user software trainers [should be] able to design and manage a course in such a way as to communicate [their] knowledge to a group of trainees, in an atmosphere that is sympathetic to their needs and feelings, using appropriate training techniques."

In addition, a company's training techniques should be designed to get the maximum amount of learning and retention in the least amount of time for the most people. As the above mentioned study in the Information Technology, Learning and Performance Journal found, this best method is behavior modeling.

The behavior modeling style of training, the one BrainStorm uses, is a method in which trainers show trainees how to perform real-world examples and then ask trainees to mimic their actions. This hands-on, real-world experience helps users retain what they learn and use their newly acquired skills.

There's no excuse for not training your end users.

With all the myths about end-user training dispelled, your company no longer has an excuse not to train your end users. The cost is justifiable after you look at the return on investment. The time to train is minimal when compared to the time your employees will save, and inhouse training can't compare to outsourcing when you consider training effectiveness. Because you can't assume all your users are on the same level as an IT professional, you must assume they need training. As Intraware learned in 1999 and countless other companies have learned the hard way, there's no excuse for skimping on end-user training.

Brainstorm, Inc


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