Riding my bike

tricycleThis blog is usually about matters e-learning as that is what I do for a living and the main purpose of this website is to promote my business. However, I work to live rather than live to work so this time I have decided to write about something else.

It still includes a shameless plug, though!

When my dad was in his forties and I was still a youngster he woke up in the middle of the night with chest pains. I was in the bedroom next door and I well remember the sounds coming through the door. His laboured breathing and panicked voice; mum running down the stairs to the telephone in the hallway; her side of the conversation with the emergency services. Then a little later, the blue lights sweeping through the curtains in my room and across the walls. Mum runs downstairs again to open the front door. Now there are strange new voices and heavier steps on the stairs. These are reassuring voices going to work to help dad, get him to hospital in time to save him.

When he recovered there were a few changes in our family life. Dad’s (and our) diets had changed a bit. For some reason this now included cottage cheese and natural yogurt. We also started cycling. As kids we had always ridden bikes (or trikes as in the picture at the top) but now dad, under the direction of his doctor who told him he should take more exercise, joined in. So cycling came a big part of our family life, heading out in convoy most Sunday afternoons. Dad would also start cycling to work, a twenty plus mile round trip, and we would occasionally ride out to meet him on his way home at the end of the day.

These days I am still very keen cyclist, a member of a couple of cycling clubs, and a modest time triallist. It was a close run thing, though. Dad’s other choice of activity had been golf. On the whole I think he made the right decision.

So, here is the shameless plug bit.
JustGiving - Sponsor me now!
On July 31st I will be taking part in the Prudential Ride London event for the British Heart Foundation. It’s a 100 mile cycle ride out of London and back. Heart disease affected my dad. It has affected the lives of other people close to me and it will have an impact on many other people’s lives.

Please do consider sponsoring me if you can. Click on the link to go to my justgiving page.

Systems training – dealing with the systems owner

Last time I introduced Jayne, a new joiner to the company, to understand the end-user’s take on systems training. This time, meet Georgie. She is in charge of one of the systems the business uses. She has worked with it over many years and has got to know the ins and outs of it very well, including some of its little foibles.

Your job, as the instructional designer, is to somehow get all of that information out of her head and translate it into e-learning that will help people like Jayne use the system more effectively.

Here are my top ten suggestions for how to do just that.

Get the system owner to focus on what people really need to know

Ask the systems owner to focus on what people really need to do and try to keep the explanations as simple as possible. Sometimes they have spent so much time with the system they know it inside out and they may forget others are less familiar with it. They can get carried away with all its intricacies and want to tell you all about it when the end users might need to know the basics.

Ask them to sell the system to you!

Encourage them to provide you with an introductory overview of the system. Get them to sell it to you!  This content could be included in a short and punchy animation or similar at the start of the training.

Talk storytelling with the systems owner

Storytelling is a great way to engage learners and there is usually a story to be told with most systems. There is a process that needs to be completed. Discuss scenarios with the systems owner to put the training in the context of the user such as Jayne. These scenarios could be used for the final training.

Have meaningful data.

In which case you will need to make sure there is relevant and meaningful dummy data. It will make it easier for the learner if the data appears relevant

Can you create just-in-time demos to go with the training?

Consider creating demos for “just-in-time” training as well as for the e-learning module. This will minimise the need to go into too much detail in the formal training. This shouldn’t need the ‘story-telling’ context learning where the learner’s own need creates the context and relevance. You will need to consider where it will sit, though.

How will you capture the steps of the process?

Consider how you will capture the steps of the process with the systems owner. At the very least take screenshots of each step and include copious notes. If you have screen recording software such as Captivate or Camtasia that’s even better although bear in mind that these could be the rough shots and might not be appropriate for the final output – you might need to re-record them when you have a finalised script.

Take lots of notes!

Whether you use screenshots or recordings make sure you include copious notes so that you know not only what button to press but why.

Are you recording from the most up to date version?

Make sure that you have an up-to-date version of the system. You might be able to get away with slight differences such as a paler shade of green on the menu but not if buttons have a different name.

Give realistic timings for the project

Designing and developing systems training is not a quick process (although the time required will depend on the complexity of the system). Let the systems owner know how lengthy the process of going through the steps and reviewing them all could be.

Make sure you have an easy way for the systems owner (and others) to review the training

Consider how the review process is handled. One way is to create short demos (rushes?) of the steps and share these with the system owners and other stakeholders, possibly in conjunction with a Word document listing all the steps.

If you have any comments, feel free to add them below.


Counting down

See that timer down there? That’s not counting down to Christmas or to the end of the year. On Monday 18th January 2016 I will return to the world of freelancing after several years of contracting.

It has been an exciting and rewarding few years.

It has been an exciting and rewarding few years. I have worked on lots of interesting projects designing and developing e-learning on a range of subjects. I have been able to hone my design and development skills. And most importantly I have got to work with a great team of people who I hope will continue as my friends.

The time is right to return to freelancing

I feel the time is right to return to the world of freelancing, to take up new challenges, learn new things and meet different people.

So here’s the plug. If you’re looking for an experienced freelance e-learning designer and developer then do get in touch. My contact details are below. I am currently in the process of adding my portfolio to this website so do come back again early in the new year to find out what sort of work I have been up to.

Look forward to hearing from you.

In the meantime, I hope that you all have a peaceful break over the holiday period and that 2016 is a wonderful one for you.

You can get in touch with me by phone +(0)447977 235 735 or email stephen@taylored-training.co.uk.

You can also find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Systems training – the user’s perspective

word cloud representing systems training

This is one of two postings on systems training. The second one will look at some of my experiences of working with systems owners to develop training. In this case let’s begin by looking at systems training from the point of view of a new user.

Jayne holding CV
Meet Jayne – she is just about to join the company

Meet Jayne. She hasn’t joined the company yet but she will in just a couple of weeks. She has worked in the same industry before but she is joining a much bigger organisation this time with more complex processes. When she arrives what will she need to know to do her job well and when will she need to know it?

On day one she might have attended an induction programme that would have given her an overview of, amongst other things, the systems she will soon be using regularly. At this stage I would suggest all she needs to know is that the system exists, what it does and the part it will play in her day-to-day work. She doesn’t need to know the minutiae of the system.

It’s a couple of days before she gets access to the system. She doesn’t need to do anything with it right now as she is already getting busy with other stuff. And this is just one of several systems she is having to get to grips with. All she does is log in and take a quick look around. Perhaps she had to complete some online training in order to gain access to the system.

Now it’s week four. She’s had her induction training which referenced the system. She completed the mandatory e-learning to gain access to the system. Only now does she start using it in earnest. What support is there now?

By now, in many organisations, she will have two options. The first one is to ask the guy in the corner. He knows the systems and has experience of using it in the real world. That can be good but it can also have its problems. He might know the system well but he may have picked up bad habits along the way that he is now about to pass on to Jayne.

The second option is to log back in to the company’s LMS (another system!) and find out the e-learning she completed all those weeks ago in order to be granted access. That included a lot of demonstrations of the system including one of the process she wants to complete now. It’ll tell her the correct way of carrying out the actions. Trouble is she has to log in to another system and work her way through the original e-learning module to find out the information she needs.

So how can the experience be made better for her?

To suggest a possible solution I am going to reminisce a bit about my early days as a trainer.

My earliest experience as a trainer was in a market research company where I was responsible for the IT and systems training. One of the programmes I inherited was a two-day course on how to complete a series of forms in a Lotus Notes database at the key stages of a market research project. These included the initial client enquiry, a specification for the work to be done, costings, through to requests for invoices to be sent out.

The course consisted of an overview of the system on the morning of day one, after which the delegates were taken methodically through each form and shown how to complete every field. At the relevant points they were also shown how to create new versions of the forms. This would take them up to lunch-time on day two. After lunch they were given a practical exercise where they had to complete all the forms themselves. By the end of the two days they had had a thorough grounding in all the stages of the process.

Whilst the training met the business’s needs at the time, when I joined the department it was recognised that it was due a revamp for a number of reasons.

First of all the business was becoming reluctant to lose members of staff for two whole working days (and the staff were calling out for shorter more focussed training). Secondly whilst the training was detailed it was aimed at one specific job role – quantitative researchers. The responsibilities of other roles with regard to the system was touched on but only briefly. Finally the training took place early in the researcher’s career long before they were likely to start completing the forms on the system.

There were three steps to making the training shorter, more relevant and timely. The first two of these involved making greater use of existing resources.

Firstly I tapped into a network of existing users around the business who would be able to coach new joiners in completing the forms. The business already had a network of “super users” who already had a coaching role – a more formalised version of the guy in the corner.

Secondly I beefed up the online help available. The system had been created in Lotus Notes and a separate database consisting of a series of help pages had been created alongside it. However it had been created a long time ago and was not very user-friendly. It consisted of a series of text heavy pages describing in detail lengthy processes. I broke the help pages into smaller bite sized pieces of information adding, where appropriate, screenshots to illustrate the process. I also created links from within the sections of the forms to the relevant help page, making it easier to get the just in time help the learner needed.

My third and final step was to revisit the original training course cutting it down from two days to just two hours. All that remained was the overview section alongside a new section on how to get help, which was delivered in the first week or so of the new joiner’s arrival.

My experience is one example of how Jayne’s training needs could be met. The training in whatever form needs to be relevant to their needs at that moment. Keep it relevant and timely. Ask two questions:

What do people really need to know?
When do they need to know it?

I hope you found this interesting. As mentioned I am currently reflecting on my experiences of dealing with systems owners and will share with you shortly. In the meantime I would be very interested in other people’s experiences in this field. Please add your comments below.

This posting first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on December 2nd 2015