Dedicated to the giants who enabled us to see the world by letting us stand on their shoulders.

Teaching tech to digital immigrants.

Many years ago, I started my first job as a Computer Literacy Trainer at the University.  It was around the time that E-learning became a buzz-word.  It was debated non-stop by the Academics, taking on various definitions about what it’s supposed to do and accomplish.  During this time, the University established an E-learning division.  The University redeployed me from the IT division to the E-learning division.  One of my first jobs was to train health care practitioners, from the deep rural areas in South Africa to be computer literate.  The reason for this was to get them up to speed with new technologies.  This training was before continuing professional development became mandatory.

I was supposed to train these people to log into the brand new learning management system (LMS) and give them a quick tour of how to do an online assessment.  I had two hours at my disposal to do the introduction to the LMS, and then they had 30 minutes to do the evaluation.  I started my training with the usual joke: “Who hasn’t worked on a computer before?” When the whole class before me raised their hands, I realized I’m in trouble, big trouble.

I was supposed to be the teacher, but instead of teaching, I have learned a valuable lesson.  I have gained the following that I apply to all my training sessions to this day.

1. Know your audience
In this fast-paced world, we want results and quickly.  We sometimes skip this process to gain time.  Make sure you know what skill set to address.  If you over- or underestimate your audience, you are going to have a lot of frustrated delegates.  Try to separate the different skill-sets in beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

2. Work the problem
In the above scenario, you have two issues.  The first problem is that the audience has never worked on a computer.  The second problem is they need to be able to do an online assessment.  You first need to address the first problem before you can move on to the second problem, which is your primary goal.

3. Start with the basics
It would be best if you defined the tools they will need to operate with, to be able to resolve problem one.  Mouse, keyboard, and screen.  Just enough information to understand the functionality of the hardware.  They are not going to be power-users.  Not yet, anyway.  They need to operate a computer.  After that, you can move forward with software training.

4. One step at a time
Use a step-by-step guide.  If you add a ridiculous story, as I do, they will never forget the steps. “Mickey Mouse is a wizard.  Whenever Mickey Mouse makes a move, he moves an arrow on your screen with his mind.” or “Click on Mickey’s left ear, and see what magic he can do.” I know this sounds ridiculous, but trust me, it works.

5. Go slow
We are always in a hurry.  Remember to stop and ask if everybody’s on the same page.  Adjust your pace to accommodate the slowest group.  I will rather spend an additional 30 minutes on training, instead of sending someone back to the office, with a lot of confusion and uncertainty.  Or worse, come back for a redo.

6. Paper is still king
Give them paper-based class notes.  When you are working with technology, it’s better to add a quick roadmap on paper, with a couple of step-by-step guides to get them going.  They can add their notes as well for better understanding.

7. Language: keep it simple
Please don’t throw the Glossary or Dictionary at them.  Tone down the words, especially when you present in a language that is not their native tongue. When you teach a technical course, try to keep the vocabulary as comfortable as possible.

8. Less is more
Information overload is sometimes the culprit that confuses the audience.  If they only need to do an assessment, do not try to teach them advanced procedures about Word processing and Excel spreadsheets.

9. Patience
When you work with beginners, make sure you are patient.  Remember, the information is all new to them.  They don’t know what they don’t know. You don’t know what they don’t know. Make time to transform this challenge into knowledge. When you are impatient, you tend to make the environment toxic.  Learning does not flourish in a toxic environment.

10. Support
A nice add-on is if there’s support available afterward.  I give all the attendees a week where they can contact me during specific hours to help them when they get stuck.  How you do your support doesn’t matter.  Whether it’s email, forum, or face-to-face support. Support provides confidence, and confidence transforms into an eagerness to learn more.

About the Author: Waldemar Blanché

Learning Specialist at BlackTieLearning