Why Aren’t Online Training Supports the Norm?

A little while ago I was interested in a rapid eLearning authoring tool, and a sales rep did a web presentation for me, showing how it worked. He then encouraged me to download this software for a trial period. His demo was 20 – 30 minutes long, and only provided a very quick overview. I was concerned about how much time I would need to get to know the software in order to give it a really good test. So I asked if there were any online tutorials that could walk me through things as I familiarized myself with the product. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the answer was “no.”

The sales rep pointed to product manuals in PDF format that could be downloaded and read. And the company did offer webinars on their product (for which they charge a fee). I wasn’t interested in the PDF option because of the amount of time I calculated it would take, and I wasn’t interested in the webinar option because I didn’t want to spend money to decide if I wanted to spend money on the product (if you get what I mean).

I don’t want to call out this particular software company. It would be unfair to do so, as it seems to be the norm these days that companies offer amazing and feature-rich products, but then do so little to help people learn how to use them. It is also rather ironic that a company can offer a tool that allows the user to create highly engaging and interactive online learning, yet they rely on static print to teach people how to use their tool. It is like the apocryphal tale of the shoemaker’s children going barefoot.

I really wish that more software companies would provide always-available online multimedia “how to” tutorials on the use of their products. I realize that most of what we learn about software is via trial and error, but I still feel that there is a need for a “head start” at the beginning to get going, and then specific guidance on specific problems on an on-going basis as you get to know the software better, or need to perform a specific task with it.

Even when software companies do go beyond the PDF manual approach to client education, they tend to fall back on some fairly traditional approaches – in-person classroom sessions, or scheduled webinars. However, self-study online tutorials have advantages over these methods, as illustrated in the following chart.

Traditional Approach to Software Training Support (e.g. In-person Class or Webinar) Online “How To” Tutorials
Timeliness / Convenience Rigid, scheduled for a specific time, relies on having all the right people in the right place at the right time / set time for everyone Available 24/7 from anywhere with an Internet connection, and learner devotes as much time as is necessary
Focus Course-based, follows a set curriculum Solution-focused, learner finds the answer to a specific question when needed
Depth One size fits all Learner delves into training only as deeply as is required
Pace One size fits all Learner moves through training materials at own pace
Relevance Information dump, hope it is all relevant Learner focuses in on what is relevant to him/her
Retention Difficult, too much covered all at once More retained, as learning is accessed in bite-sized chunks and applied as needed
Review Difficult, have to wade through course manual or replay an entire webinar Easy access to exactly what is required
Cost High and on-going (e.g. trainers, materials, travel, out-of-pockets, etc.) After start-up costs for developing tutorials, marginal costs are extremely low for supporting an almost infinite number of learners

Although addressing software training here, the same principle can apply to any sort of product or service. An educated client is likely to make better use of your product or service, get better value from it, and, therefore, be a more satisfied client. Our firm is finding that more and more of our work is centred on helping organizations use online education to provide better client service.

And I say put such online training supports right on your website and freely available to all. That way these resources can serve two purposes – added support for your existing clients, and an excellent marketing vehicle for your prospective clients. Smart companies are also posting such training resources to YouTube, for even wider distribution.

Don’t treat training supports as an afterthought. By putting them online and available 24 x 7 x 352, you are making it easier for clients to use your product and for prospects to understand it, and by doing so, to purchase it.

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