Change of paradigm, folks: Don’t formalize training from the start

Let me preface this post by saying that when I refer to tools and process, I’m primarily referring to company-internal tools and processes. I’m not referring to tools or products that should be released to market.

When I attended a webcast with Elliot Masie earlier this year and first heard of the concept of “Democratization of Content,” I too balked at the idea of countless non-training professionals delivering ‘training content’ via wikis.  At work we’ve been talking about how to better employ wikis at work for collaboration and initial content design. The biggest problem we’ve been facing is that a great number of the ‘old timers’ and also even people my age or younger who don’t want to give up control of content. They feel that using a wiki as a documentation tool just isn’t kosher because it gives up too much control over content management and definition. 

So after having a change of heart about how useful and powerful democratizing content might be, my response to this assertion is simply…

So what? Give up control.

Several posts back I’ve argued that giving the end-users the ability to manage content or better record it in it’s informal form. Elliot Masie and others have been asserting for the past year (or more) that the new technologies are making it more possible for control of content to be put in the hands of the actual people who use it.  There’s some initial lack of control, but who would be best at contributing to the development of the usability and training of a tool than the end users themselves? Of course, I’m making a big assumption that the tool is initially designed to be usable and intuitive. Getting IT groups who develop tools to embrace usability of their design is another battle that I will leave to the skilled and knowledgeable hands of the Human Factors Engineers. 

But returning to the idea that end-users provide good understanding of how to use a tool successfully, perhaps what we should be doing is running betas on tools or systems using the following model with assumptions:

  1. Assuming  that the tool/procedures are not too complex and that the design is fairly stable. Provide initial training including walkthrough & simulations on key areas or critical path items of business process and supporting procedures. This training however, should not be considered ‘finalized’
  2. Hand select and train or prepare a set of “Super Users” as guides/experts
  3. Set forth wiki content buckets around major areas of the business process (outlined in the original training)
  4. Allow end users to participate in adding/supplementing or adjusting current training. Super Users act as monitors and mediators to discussion or wiki population as well as social networking conduits/or initial experts
  5. The Human Factors Engineer (HFE) conducts a Survey of Usability Success (S.U.S.) after the tool/process has been in use for a period of time. They also conduct Job/Shadowing interviews and a painpoint analysis on the tool. The work completed by the HFE, hopefully, will help determine problematic or difficult areas of process/tool
  6. After this period of time is over and the SUS has been completed, Training reviews SUS results with HFE, and reviews end-user populated wiki content and discussions to evaluate which areas of the tool could use enhanced training. Perhaps they can even leveraging content/discussions developed in creation of next revision of training content
  7. Assumptions: managers and business groups see and embrace value of end-user/staff participation in wiki development and super-user participation.  (Of course this is always a hard sell for the more traditional folks)

I know some would point out right away that it’s Training’s job to anticipate all areas where people will need training support and content.   However, I have to point out that the cycle for the development of tools and the push to deploy them in a timely fashion doesn’t allow Training teams sufficient time to be this thorough.   Google and other innovative companies, from what I’ve seen, actually employ a model where they use their employees as actual end-user testers.  So why not employ them in that end-user testing to help develop or contribute to the training and usability of the tool from an end-user perspective.  I am far from finished with being able to outline or explain this concept and work out some of the holes,  and would like to pursue it further. But I feel that I need to help and collaboration of others including the Busines Process developers, and Human Factors Engineers (HFEs) to work out the details of a working plan.

Before ending for now, I might add, that there are two important things we need to address in setting up a model where your end-users are your beta-testers (because you don’t want to piss off the end users entirely…. even if you are paying them). First, you need to make sure that people have the time built in for needed participation in discussion and documentation. Second, you set expectations on their level of involvement (i.e. they are expected to provide feedback and discussion/maybe even light documentation, but if they feel the need to take up a great deal of time to provide more detailed documentation they need to work this out with their manager and justify the cost of time to do so and make sure that their other tasks/deliverables are not at peril).  Believe me I know having been a beta-tester for MS Sharepoint.


1 Response to “Change of paradigm, folks: Don’t formalize training from the start”

  1. 1 Rory December 20, 2006 at 10:53 am

    I’m going to have to use the mantra: So what? Give up control!
    Considering that most learning on the job is informal – we really don’t exert much control in how people learn anyway.

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