Written by Anthony Inae, MD

Any software has a learning curve involved with it.  When you are training users on new software, it is your job to minimize that learning curve by helping them to learn the software quickly and easily.  Health software can have some of the steepest learning curves.   A big downfall of many software companies is that they think that their user interface is so user friendly that they do not focus enough on training on how to use the new software.  Successful software training depends largely on the methods that are used to train.  By following these guidelines, trainers can set up and run successful training sessions that will quickly get users trained on any software.  Here are some do’s and don’ts for software training.

Common Training Mistakes

When training, it is helpful to know what pitfalls to avoid first.  By not making these common mistakes, you can help ensure a smooth training session.

Failure to Plan

This is a common mistake and an easy one to do, because the person training the software knows it inside and out, they do not have a formal plan for training and just try to wing it.  No matter how well you know the software, it is easy to leave out important information that can leave the users confused.

Failure to Connect to the Users

Successful training takes into account who their users are, and what their needs are.  It’s very important to know what their roles are, and know what they actually do, and how the new software will help them in their specific jobs. If possible, try to design the training schedule by role, and the length of time for training, appropriate based on that role. One size doesn’t fit all. If you have a room full of people with different roles, you will disengage people in your audience when things being taught don’t apply to them. It’s not good practice and wastes everyone’s time.

When training, it should be just enough to get them through 80% of their day, and time not spent on esoteric features that they may never use. If users want more specialized training, reschedule more time later for those people. Standing at the front of the room and just pointing out all the features of the new software is not training, that is what I call “Button-ology” training or “The Car User Manual” training. This is when users are taught all the functions of the buttons, knobs, widgets in the car, but aren’t actually taught how to drive.

Telling Instead of Doing

The best way for people to learn how to use new software is by doing.  Instead of just showing users how to use software while they watch, trainers should be walking them through the steps as they do each step themselves at the same time.  In medical school and residency training, we always said, “See one, do one, teach one.” It is good to be able to see what the steps are, but they also need to be doing it for themselves too.  Sitting them down and then just telling them what to do is vastly different from having them sit down and do it for themselves; when it comes to software, learning by doing is the best way. I have seen many trainers do this over the years, and it is not helpful.  The classroom should be used to explain overall concepts of how something should be done, and then training over-the-shoulder needs to occur. Ideally, not on a training system if there are templates and user settings that need to be set once. If it is done on a training system, the users forget by the time they are at their workstations how those initial settings and templates are loaded. It is best to have the users login with their user accounts, and things that need to be setup initially, be done during the training session with the trainer. If this can’t be done in the training room, the trainer should make a point to sit with the users at the users’ workplace, and observe and correct habits that are inefficient from the very beginning.

Steps for Training Users on Software

A successful training session depends mostly upon the trainer, not the trainees.  However, by following some basic guidelines, your training session will go smoothly and your users will be up to speed in no time.

Have a Training Plan

Before training, there needs to be a set list of objectives.  These objectives make up the training plan and the objectives should be centered on the main needs of the user.  What are the needs of the user?  Make a list of the training objects that you will be teaching them, based on their needs.  You would not go over the bookkeeping aspect of software with users that are using customer service aspects of the software.  The objects should be set specifically for each group of users, so that they learn the most relevant aspects of the software for what they will be using it for.

Once you have set objectives for what you will be training them to do; you can set an agenda.  Objectives are just the basic guideline; you need to now set up an agenda for the sequence of steps that you will be going through with the training.  Keep in mind that the trainer may not know up front how computer savvy the trainees are, so part of the agenda should always be to get to know the trainees a little bit, find out who has a little and who has a lot of computer knowledge.  When setting your agenda, take into account that you might have to spend more time with some trainees who might not be as computer savvy as others are, so your agenda should be slightly fluid and when you are setting up the steps, you should always include pauses where you ask to make sure everybody understands.

Never rush through training, so as you set the agenda with a sequence of steps, include time after going through the training for each object to make sure that everybody understands.  It is easier to do this after each objective, rather than at the end of the training session because it is easy for the trainees to forget about questions that they have for one objective, if the trainer has gone onto another objective. 

Start with the Basics

It seems too basic to have to list, but many trainers tend to skip the basics, because they assume that it might be common knowledge or common sense and that by going over the basics, it will be a waste of time.  Start with the easiest objectives first, and then work towards the more advanced once; the sequence of the objectives should be the logical sequence that the users themselves would be following when they are using the program. 

When you train using a logical sequence of objectives, the software will make sense.  Skipping around, which is very easy to do when you do not have a set agenda with clear objectives, will only confuse the trainees and when they go to use the software later on, they will not know to get to point C, if you have skipped around.  Think of training like a stacking puzzle, unless the pieces are in the correct sequence, it will not make sense.  Start with the easiest, the base of the puzzle, which is the most general aspects of the software and then work up to the more detailed and specific aspect of the software.

Remember, most trainees will have questions at some point or another after training which is why one of the objects should always be to show them how to access and use any help features included in the software or through the software’s website.  The last objective should always be to show them how to find answers for themselves once they start using it.

Once the trainer has gone through the objectives, remembering to take the time to ensure that the trainees are following along and have no questions, always go through and do a review of all of the objectives and then have time scheduled to go through any additional questions.

Training users how to use new software can be done easily and without mishaps when you follow a set plan.  Unless there are defined objectives and a training agenda, no training session will be successful, no matter how well versed the trainer is with the software.