As knowledgeable as they may be, not every tech-minded individual is gifted at imparting their wisdom. And, as tech managers know, the systems they deploy are only effective when they’re actually being used. Training end users to get comfortable with the AV/IT tools that enable them to do their jobs better is crucial to adoption—which means that having skilled trainers on board is just as paramount as well.
Techies often poke fun at themselves for speaking a language that laymen don’t comprehend. While this may expedite conversations between peers, it’s not at all effective during end user training. “One of the skills or characteristics good end user trainers in this area possess is speaking in understandable terms, with minimal tech jargon or industry acronyms,” said Georgina Lopez, project manager at Almo Professional A/V, an audiovisual equipment distributor that offers education to both integrators as well as end users. Patience is a must, she said, and trainers must be prepared for basic questions. “The best trainers go that extra mile ahead of time and explain the basics before the questions arise.”
Stephanie Stilson, PhD, is a cognitive developmental psychologist with a focus on experiential learning. She is the EMBRACE strategist for advanced visual environments at Diversified. Developed to promote tech adoption, the firm’s EMBRACE approach is based on three pillars: discovery (gaining an in-depth knowledge of client use cases prior to deployment); empowerment (helping people understand how to use the technology); and metrics (measuring tech usage and comparing it against desired outcomes). Additionally, she works closely with the company’s ADOPT team, which provides both onsite and remote support. While she shies away from saying only certain personality types make for good trainers (she prefers the word “facilitators”), she concedes that there are certain traits some people possess that make for good learning moments. “People who are a little more capable of stepping away from themselves—getting out of themselves—and making it more about the client,” she said.
Stilson said that a big part of this is investing the time to learn about the user, how they work, and what they need to accomplish. “That individual [the trainer or facilitator] really needs to understand what your objective is in the moment. How do you collaborate?” she said. “Maybe you’re in an executive team and you don’t even want to touch the system. I have to know that about you. Or, maybe you’re someone that’s very hands-on who brings teams together frequently for decision making. I have to listen to your questions; I have to anticipate some of your situations.” The ultimate goal, she adds, is empowering the end user to the point where they have the tools to, in certain instances, become their own facilitators.
One of the challenges trainers face is striking the balance between covering enough material and bombarding end users with too much. “Even though you want them to have all the tools needed to be successful when using the platform, too many details could create confusion and result in post-training support questions,” Lopez said. And, like Stilson, she emphasizes the importance of understanding use case. “For example, if I know an end user will only need the BrightSign platform for full-screen display, then there’s no need to cover zoning and special functions they won’t need to know. The goal of the training is to have the end user feel confident enough with the platform to begin using it comfortably.”
Arguably the biggest challenge these days is delivering effective training in the virtual environment. While remote learning is nothing new, the fact that now most (if not all) education is being delivered via conferencing platforms can be taxing on both trainers and participants. (Not to mention that certain sessions—hands-on hardware training, for one—are difficult to adapt for an online class.)
“If we’re talking about software training, it’s super easy to share your screen or just play a presentation and demonstrate the software,” said Juan Cuellar, MCT, senior training instructor at OfficePro Inc., a firm that specializes in delivering both AV and IT-based end-user training. “But what if I need to teach somebody how to use the [Cisco] Touch 10 panel? Or the reservation panel outside of a conference room? Or how to adjust the drop-down screen for a projection?” When faced with this challenge, Cuellar sets up a multiple camera configuration—one webcam that captures the hardware in question; one on him; and one on the screen displaying the unit’s user interface—and toggles back and forth.
The virtual environment also makes it extremely difficult for trainers to read the room, Cuellar noted. Do the students understand the material that’s being covered? Are they engaged? This is even harder to determine when not everyone has activated their camera, or if they’re dialing in via audio conference. He said that the best way to gauge how the courseware is being received is to ask specific questions (not just “are there any questions?”) and encourage participants to pose questions through the medium they’re most comfortable with. “I encourage people to ask questions through the chat because sometimes they don’t feel comfortable un-muting themselves,” he offered. “If there’s a way for them to ask questions anonymously, that goes a long way a lot of times because they don’t feel shy about sounding silly.” He also addresses attendees by their first names—and not just because it’s widely known that we all like hearing our names. “If you’re calling people by their name, then other people are going to be like, ‘Oh, wait. Is he going to call on me? Is he going to ask me a question? Maybe I should pay attention.’ It encourages people to stay engaged, and stay focused.”
One method that Chuck Espinoza, senior staff instructor at AVIXA, has been applying is the flipped learning model. He said this helps him to avoid long online sessions where participants ultimately lose focus. “Instead of giving the lesson in the class, I give the lesson on a video. I tell the students to watch this video at their leisure to make sure they know the gist of the lesson, and I tell them to write down questions,” he said. This not only helps cover ground before the actual class, it also lets participants digest the course material at their own pace—and, in many cases, pose deeper questions. “Class time is not about delivering content anymore, it’s about exchanging ideas. If we can spend more time exchanging ideas to come up with solutions instead of just going over content … this makes my classroom time so much more efficient.”
AVIXA Provides Self-Service Training
As tech managers well know, end users need basic instruction on how to navigate the technologies for remote learning and working from home. Espinoza highlights the organization’s Learn With AVIXA YouTube Channel, featuring short videos that walk end users through how to achieve good lighting and audio, how to set up cameras (and even what not to wear) for videoconferencing sessions. “We have been working really hard to try and give our technology managers and other representatives that have a lot of end users to train the best tools possible,” he said.
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.