Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Training the unconfident: reading first or experience first?

Last week, a colleague urgently needed training in Elluminate (a synchronous audiographic conferencing tool) in order to support a live Elluminate session. I arranged for us to meet to set up a live online session together, working on separate machines in adjacent rooms, and on the advice of our local Elluminate "champion" urged her first to read the basic introductory guide so that she would "get the most out of the session", as we learning designers say. I also suggested that she prepare by going into the Elluminate "room" on her own, so that she could practice finding and using all the tools and buttons, even if there was nobody there to talk to.

As things turned out, she wasn't able to do any of the preparation - and I wonder if in fact this wasn't for the best. She was a very unconfident explorer of new software, despite being an experienced computer user, and perhaps the most useful thing I was able to do for her was to sit by her and take her on a tour of Elluminate - which I could do quite briefly, because I could say "and you can follow that up later in the documentation which I sent you".

Many computer users are confident enough within their regular everyday comfort zone but are paralysed when attempting to move outside it for fear of something going wrong which they can't repair. It's mistakes and difficulties which IT training never seems to address (unless it's following John Carroll's "minimalist" approach): trainers only tell you the procedure to follow, not how to recover when things go wrong. For many users, our standard "read first, experience afterwards" will be fine, but for such unconfident users it may be the company of a person (or the support of a personal relationship) which they need first to take them over the threshold. Then, once they have the experience and the confidence, they can explore and read on their own.

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