A well-executed IT training program can be an invaluable resource. A strong and thoughtful program can expand the use of a new software or system which increases productivity, efficiency, and consistency. A training program can expand an existing system to new customers to increase revenue or demonstrate a commitment to employee’s professional development, which can increase employee engagement and pride. A program can even explain processes or expectations to smooth pain points and minimize errors.
Unfortunately training programs often need to be created very quickly to address a significant problem, fulfill a federal or corporate training requirement, or meet a customer need. Without the appropriate planning and forethought, training programs can be short sighted and reactive, which limits their effectiveness. Due to the lack of structure, these training programs can fail to have a clear focus, contain minimal rigor, or require enormous re-work efforts in order to add new information. IT training programs can become dated and useless even more quickly than other training materials because of the constantly changing nature of technology and the systems that are used.
Creating a thoughtful and structured IT training program does not require large amounts of money or years of preparation, but it does require careful planning. To design a strong IT training program, make sure to consider the following four questions:
Question #1: What do you expect the trainees to be able to do or know once they complete the training?
The most important aspect of any training program is the expected results. What do you expect the trainees to be able to do or know at the end of the training? Conversely, what do you expect them not to do? The SMART mnemonic acronym can be helpful in defining the expected results from a new training program by helping you make sure the expected results are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-sensitive. For example, perhaps you need to train 12 program officials on their role and responsibilities in the next two months to support the implementation of a new project, or maybe you need to train 50 team members to use a new system for recording and tracking open tickets to reduce the average ticket open time from 10 days to 5 days over the next six months. By defining the expected results during the planning phase of training, you can accurately measure how effectively the training program met your goal after the training effort is complete.
Defining the expected results can also help streamline the content creation phase of training development. By using the expected results as a compass for the training content, trainers can quickly determine whether specific topics or information align with the expected results and therefore should be included in the training program or cut out completely.
Question #2: How quickly will the content in the training materials change?
Because of the ever-evolving nature of technology and the systems that are used, IT training materials have a tendency to require constant updates. In some cases these updates are both necessary and useful, but in many cases these changes are costly and provide little benefit to the trainee. Before creating a training program, spend time considering how likely it is that the content of the training materials will change. Have there been recent discussions about system changes? Is there an enhancement list or backlog available for review? Is the company, division, project, or team planning to change its business processes or switch software vendors in the near future?
Once you consider all of the potential sources of change and how quickly those changes may be implemented, think about how the materials can be designed to require minimal updates to accommodate those changes. A few common solutions to ensure the longevity of the materials include grouping the information that is likely to change together in a separate module or lesson so it can be easily removed/replaced, or removing detailed information that may change and replacing it with higher-level descriptions that will still be accurate.
Question #3: How could trainees continue to use the training materials after they initially complete the training?
Return on investment (ROI) from training materials increases significantly when materials can be used more than once. To ensure the future usefulness of training materials, think about how materials can be used again. Can materials be re-used to fulfill training needs in future years, such as for training materials that meet corporate or federal requirements? Can materials be re-used by other divisions or projects within a company, or perhaps for another client? Can the materials be created so that trainees can easily use them as a reference or guide after training is officially complete? Once you determine how training materials can be used in the future, design the materials to require minimal rework to meet those needs. A few simple ideas include removing dates and references to releases or current progress, using generic terms when possible such as saying “log into the system” rather than repeatedly giving the name of the system, and providing an easy-to-use navigation tool (such as a table of contents) so that users can quickly navigate to a specific topic without re-taking all of the training materials.
Question #4: What additional training might be created in the future?
For the purpose of future planning, let’s assume your new training program will be a great success—after all, that is the goal! Once your current program is a success and the company/client sees that the expected results have been realized or even exceeded, they will certainly want to expand the current program. What additional system functionality could be explained or what new enhancements might be added to the system? Are there complementary or related business processes that need to be explored? How could the materials be expanded to accommodate trainees with other roles? Finally, how can the training materials be structured so that adding this new information is both simple and seamless? By considering scalability, you can ensure your training approach will easily accommodate a growing set of training materials with minimal rework.
By carefully considering these four questions, Dovel has improved the expected results, longevity, scalability, and future usefulness of our IT training programs both internally and for clients within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Our clients are pleased with the training materials, our training programs are more robust, and most importantly the trainees have benefited from strong training materials.