Not-So-Basic Training

School's In

Classroom-based technology training is one way to teach employees computer skills, particularly when implementing new or updated software. Hundreds of computer training companies offer courses for one or several days on topics such as how to build databases, use word-processing programs and surf the Internet. Check your local Yellow Pages for computer training companies near you.

Keep in mind, however, that classroom-based instruction can be expensive and time-consuming. Difficulty applying the newly learned computer skills to an existing job situation is a common complaint as well.

In some instances, computer-based training (CBT) can be cheaper and more effective than classroom instruction. CBT, which includes online tutorials, CD-ROMs on how to use software products, and courses offered through the Internet by universities and computer training companies, allows employees to solicit feedback, develop projects that are relevant to their jobs and work at their own pace.

Bonds, for instance, spent just a few hours with the manual and online tutorial that comes with Peachtree Office Accounting. From the main window of the product, he was able to access a screen-by-screen explanation of Peachtree Office Accounting's main features and capabilities. The Quick & Easy Start-Up wizard also contained audio instructions to make setting up less of a hassle.

Many experts say the best way to learn new technology is through hands-on experience in real situations. "We've tried outside seminars, videotapes and books to teach our employees how to use software, and those really didn't help," David Elles admits. "They weren't a total solution because they didn't address our company's environment and how we wanted to use [the software]."

Begin with an onsite introduction of the new equipment or software for all employees who will need to use it. As Caster Technology found out, one-on-one training can be too expensive and time-consuming, so find a way to bring everyone together at one time. At the meeting, clearly demonstrate how to use the technology, outline company procedures and policies, and be open to employee questions and comments.

And don't exclude remote employees from the training. Elles, for instance, uses a combination of desktop audio, video and data conferencing tools to introduce his remote employees to new technologies.

Limit the gap between the initial training and on-the-job availability of the new equipment to one week so the training will remain fresh in everyone's minds. And provide your employees with some computer practice time on projects that aren't time-sensitive. The idea is to reduce the pressure involved in learning new software and equipment while providing practical, hands-on experience. Elles, for instance, had all his managers contribute to and edit the areas of the company's intranet that related to their departments.

Through the experience, he hopes they'll become familiar with the technology and, in turn, instruct and encourage their employees to use it.

Establish reasonable expectations and goals about the time and effort involved in learning new technology. Devise methods to track employee progress, and provide incentives for workers who use the new software and equipment.

If at all possible, don't make any radical changes to technology programs you've just implemented. "You can confuse or frustrate your employees by changing your software or policies too often," notes Elles. "You need to have stability in your system so everyone has a chance to learn it."

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This article was originally published in the November 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Not-So-Basic Training.

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