by Kendall Callas

You've done your research, written the specifications, chosen a vendor. Finally, personal computers arrive. Now what? Training ... is it really necessary?


Henry Adams once said "They know enough who know how to learn." Unfortunately, learning takes time, and time is the one truly limited resource. Especially in a fast-paced office.

In some form, training or self-training must take place for your staff to learn to use their new tools. If you coordinate training, perhaps hire a trainer, a professional will direct the learning process. If you don't sponsor training, it will be directed by amateurs -- the learners themselves. Then, the success of your PC implementation will depend on the learning skills and motivation of each user.

Think of training as a way to buy time. Your investment in training will reduce the initial learning time and improve the time savings later reaped from automation. Training offers multiple benefits, but it has its costs, too. The key is to arrange a course of training long enough to create solid time-savings and short enough so that the impact on work flow is minimized.

No doubt about it -- one way or another -- you pay for training. You can pay for it visibly through your training or systems budget, or you can pay for it invisibly through down-time and frustration. Remember to consider the "opportunity cost" of non-productive time while users teach themselves, or while they waste time getting themselves out of trouble.

If you think training is expensive, try ignorance. If you take the "Here's the manual, good luck!" approach, users will probably learn to function eventually. But this path takes its toll on morale; learning through mistakes is painful, frustrating, and time-wasting. When the firm devotes resources to make learning easier, students feel rewarded. They are excited to embark on a journey of discovery and "graduation" brings feelings of satisfaction and achievement.


Don't forget training when drawing up your budget for hardware and software. Plan to spend at least $200 per user for training of one form or another. Of course, this is per program, so double that for people you want to use both WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3, for example. Over the long term, plan to spend between 10% and 25% of your automation budget for training.


I posed this question to a group of consultants recently, and you should have heard them howl! "How motivated are the learners? What do they need to do with the system? Have they used a typewriter or word processor before?" Clearly, the amount of training needed varies with the individual's ability, background, and needs.

Like many things in life, training offers what economists fondly call "declining marginal returns". Just as the first bite of dessert is best, the first hour of training is far more valuable than the last. And each additional investment yields a lower return.

To get the most bang from your training buck, you must balance 3 factors: the cost of training, the value of students' time, and the time-saving benefits of the training. These factors are different for each type of training, each software package, and each individual, so the right type and amount of training is highly variable.

A simple answer to this question is of limited value, but I can try to estimate some minimums:


                 (1)         (2)          (3)
              Manager      Secretary   Key user

PC Intro         :30         1:00         2:00
DOS              :30         1:00         2:00
WordPerfect     4:00        10:00        18:00
Lotus 1-2-3     6:00         8:00        14:00
               --------     --------    --------
Total          11 hours     20 hours     36 hours

Job titles head these columns, but actually they represent assumptions about the target level of functionality and the value of the learner's time. Column (1) needs basic skills only; column (2) needs to be self-sufficient for heavy, daily work; column (3) is a heavy user who answers questions and supports other users, does routine re-supply of the PCs, and performs backups. Also assumed is that the system is already installed, good reference materials are available, and users have a consultant or phone support for the tough problems.


On-line help. The closest learning aid -- right at your fingertips -- is the help function offered by the software package. In WordPerfect, it's the F3 key; in Lotus 1-2-3, the F1 key; in dBASE, the HELP command. Exercises with the help function should be mandatory when a trainee is first introduced to a computer program. Show them how to teach themselves and their own momentum can carry them onward, allowing them to learn at their own pace and convenience.

The manual. The most basic form of assistance available to PC users is the software manual. Unfortunately, these are usually reference oriented and encyclopedic -- and deserve the reputation they've earned. At the very least, purchase a third-party book for each software package in use. Even better, purchase a workbook for self-teaching. These books are lesson oriented and contain at-the-keyboard exercises. (For WordPerfect students, WordPerfect Workbook is available directly from WordPerfect Corp.)

Tutorial software. Software that teaches you how to use the program now accompanies many major market packages, including WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, and dBASE. These are good for introductory training, but can't finish the job. Make completion of the tutorial program a pre-requisite for the next step in your training course.

Video. Video adds another dimension to print or audio media which can improve retention. Seeing conveys more information and is more motivating.

Audio. To learn while driving -- a car or the keyboard -- try cassette tapes. FlipTrak Learning Systems (800) 222-3547 is a well known supplier of audio training.

Vendors. Here's a sampler of the major firms that produce training software and videos for the major DOS applications:

(213) 823-1129, American Training International (ATI)
(408) 434-0100, Anderson Soft-Teach
(312) 369-3000, Applied Learning International (formerly ASI/Deltak)
(213) 318-2561, Comprehensive Software Support
(415) 595-8855, Individual Software
(800) 982-1213, Intellisance (formerly CDEX)
(800) LEARN-PC, Learn-PC Video Systems
(407) 645-2995, Seminar-on-a-Disk

Instructor-led. Training from a live instructor offers strong benefits. Print, audio, and video instructional materials have the benefit of permanence; you purchase them once and can use them many times. However, they lack flexibility and become outdated. The examples don't fit your work very closely, and you can't ask questions.

On-site training offers convenience and lends itself to tailoring. It assures that students will learn on the same equipment that they'll later use, but it also requires an investment at least temporarily in training equipment. Generally it pays to have on-site training at least for your top people.

Using off-site facilities insulates learners from the phone and other distractions. A trip off campus is more of an event and can help motivate the students.

Over-the-shoulder tutoring is an excellent way to get the work moving. A consultant or skilled user can offer problem solving and on-the-spot training precisely tailored to each user's needs.


People learn in different ways and have different needs. For instance, you wouldn't send a top executive on a bus ride to a downtown classroom. Nor would it be wise to mix together a class of tax attorneys and billing clerks.

Learning from print or audio takes time and motivation. Precious resources in any business. But workbooks and audio tapes are cheap and very effective with younger members of the staff, especially new graduates.

Instructor-led training in a classroom or small group helps inject enthusiasm and assures consistency and completion.

Especially for busy managers and executives, self-directed training methods have advantages. They allow privacy and let the learner control pace and timing. Make available manuals, work books, and audio and video tapes.

The most effective form of training is instructor-led small group training. Interaction with a live instructor is motivating and allows focus on the learners' specific work needs. The smaller the group the faster and more flexible this kind of training can be.


"Try training after hours or on a weekend," recommends Lynne Odell of the law firm Goldberg, Stinnett, McDonald. "That way there are no interruptions. It's worth paying the overtime."

Let students rest and practice between classes. Consider training in phases, allowing students to try out what they've learned between introductory, intermediate, and advanced classes. "After beginning training, stop for at least 30 days to let them play with it," suggests Kay Maybry from a San Francisco law firm. "All-day intensive courses aren't worth the money. You just get saturated and the learning curve goes down."


You can do your own training. It's a matter of choosing a skilled user or someone with a training background, and developing some instructional materials. Budget about 20 hours of preparation for each classroom hour.

Structure 60 to 90-minute sessions around a single PC with 2 or 3 students, or setup a classroom. Wherever you do it, announce and enforce a "no calls" policy. Focus on tasks and encourage questions.


By developing your own training materials, you can be sure that they "speak the language" of your firm. But to save time, you might want to design your course around professional training materials. For major software packages (WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, dBASE, etc.), you can buy prepared instructor kits and course workbooks from several sources:

(408) 559-3006, Computer Skills Center in Campbell, CA
(716) 232-6650, Instamation, Rochester, NY
(800) 727-7964, Know How, Inc., San Francisco
(800) 4-LOGOPS, Logical Operations, Rochester, NY
(800) 322-MTDC, Micro Training & Development, Atlanta, Georgia
(800) 441-5441, The FastDoc series of manuals come in the form of PageMaker template files that allow easy customization (requires PageMaker and a laser printer)


Sure, it's best to maximize hands-on time. But people learn in different ways, by doing and by watching. You can cut the requirement for training equipment if you use one PC for each two students. By teaming up learners and using structured exercises to split keyboard time fairly, students help each other to progress. By appropriately pairing students, you encourage peer-to-peer sharing and forge lasting bonds between learning "buddies".


Whatever form of training you use, the transition from learning to applying is delicate. During this implementation phase, training is reinforced and clarified. It is very important to protect learners from work pressures so that they have time to practice and complete the transition from classroom to work place.

A recent study of Fortune 500 companies found that a majority of users don't take full advantage of their software, because they didn't have time to learn it thoroughly. Many new users complained that they didn't have time to practice, and that managers had unrealistic expectations about how quickly new users could become proficient.

Consider using temps to ease the workload during the transition. Temp agencies can readily provide people with skills in major programs such as WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. This will help get the work done during the training period, and provide a source of cheap answers to the easy questions posed by beginning users.


Introductory training should concentrate on the skills learners will need most immediately. Later, though, higher level skills become important in boosting productivity. Make sure new users see a demonstration of these advanced features. That way, users can ask for training in advanced features when they encounter the need. The key is for users to be able to recognize opportunities to improve their productivity.

Many PC users are resistant to advanced training. They have work to do and they figure that since they use a program, they know it. However, many programs offer useful features that are not obvious. Sometimes these abilities stray quite a bit from the program's general purpose.

Software quiz. Did you know, for instance, that both WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 can sort and comb through lists? ... use "stop codes" that can display a message while waiting for input from the keyboard? ... record keystrokes into a macro to speed and simplify tasks? WordPerfect offers two other handy features: it can search a library of documents for a word or phrase; and it can switch blocks of text to uppercase.


Use it or lose it. Unless you work with elephants, it's obvious that one's memory of software codes and commands can't last forever. It's natural for some decline in skills to occur over time. Software skills will degrade rapidly if usage is light or concentrated within a narrow range of simple tasks. A user of several programs can easily become confused, especially after a period of disuse, and make mistakes by blending together the commands and keystrokes from different programs.

For these many reasons, occasional renewal of software skills has a large productivity payoff. Generally, brush-up training sessions require the flexibility to focus on each user's specific applications -- maybe even at their PC. What's best is tutoring or small-group sessions with lots of question and answer opportunities. This involves a lot of problem solving, so the best solution is a consultant or skilled user.


If "I can't find the time" has become a pat excuse at your firm for failure to complete a course of training, consider a policy of training first. To grab control, don't install a PC until the user has finished your prescribed course of training. If passwords are in use, don't issue one until training is completed.

* * *

Any lion can roar, but it's the trainer who gets them to do tricks. Whether you choose a trainer on tape, live, or via the written word, don't neglect to budget resources to help your people learn. Help them grow, and your staff will show gratitude in ways that boost the bottom line.

Questions, suggestions, and topics for future articles are encouraged.

Copyright (C) 1989 by microCounsel, (415) 921-6850. All rights reserved.

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