<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=344430429281371&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Motivating Skeptical Students in Software Training

Written by Kristine Xu

Published on June 28, 2016

After designing a software training course and implementing performance-based certification, customers should come to the course bright eyed, bushy tailed, and willing to learn how to use the software, right?

Not so much.

Unfortunately, the reality is that even after designing a highly-engaging and instructionally-sound software training course, the motivation of your software training students is still beyond your control.

We all know the type. They’re unwilling, bored, suspicious, or threatened by your authority. These are not ideal students to work with, which makes your job of teaching; as well as their job of learning; more difficult. Software training instructors need to be equipped with the right tools in order to motivate students who are skeptical about the necessity of a course or who just don’t want to be there at all.

ServiceRocket Software Training for People Who Don't Think They Need it Webinar

In the webinar, How to Design Customer Training for People Who Don't Think They Need It, we interviewed Peter Bell, an expert GitHub trainer about ways to motivate skeptical students. A challenge many of us face.

It might be a daunting task to deal with students who lack the motivation to absorb your carefully curated and designed learning experiences. However, Bell embraced the challenge of skeptical students by turning it into something beneficial. After interacting with his training and keynote presentation audiences, he reconsidered his previous assumptions about teaching software, incorporated feedback from his audiences, and strived to develop the best training courses possible.

Bell saw this as an opportunity to effectively motivate students and change his own teaching methods. Though the process of teaching software can follow a traditional instructor-led path, Bell realized teaching should be more of a decision tree where students decide their own path and the instructor adapts to that choice.

In that way, the instructor-student interaction morphs into a symbiotic relationship for both the instructor and student to learn. Students learn how to use the software from the instructor and the instructor learns how to teach the software to the student, allowing both parties to know what they don’t know.

Bell identified four methods to motivate students, which include considering in-person instructor led classes, creating a baseline, recognizing different learning styles, tightening the knowledge, and recruiting the troublemakers. Through those steps, Bell made sure students and training courses could reach their full potential.  

Consider In-person Instructor-led Classes

Between eLearning and in-person instructor-led classes, it is infinitely easier to motivate students face to face than from behind a screen. eLearning is simply not as effective for teaching because the lack of face-to-face interaction prevents students from asking questions and instructors from assessing student progress. It should be reserved solely for testing out the quality and depth of subject material.

For all other reasons, in-person instructor-led classes are the best option because it allows you to recognize recurring problems and adapt the material to the needs of the students. Even though you may think you know how to teach the software, that doesn’t necessarily mean you know the best way of teaching it.

Motivate by Creating a Baseline

On top of worrying about motivating students, another uncontrollable factor is the varying experience levels of students. Bell suggested to remedy this situation by asking each student for their name, job title and expectations so you can assess the students ability and adjust the course accordingly.

By recognizing the existing competence of students, this helps locate a balance where everyone gets the most out of the training course, regardless of experience level. In addition, more experienced students will understand why you’re taking time to teach a simple concept to those who are less experienced, instead of growing impatient and losing concentration.

Recognize Different Types of Learning Styles 

Understand that students don’t all learn the same way. Students will be more engaged and likely to participate if they are comfortable with the learning style and understand what’s going on. Bell suggests brainstorming ways to engage different styles of learning, such as a combination of visual and auditory or hands-on activities. For example, some students prefer storytelling and pictures while others prefer a more logical approach by focusing on the overall structure.

In addition, different learning styles may also mean varying levels of interest. Some may be shyer than others and require a bit of encouragement. Others might be trouble makers who constantly make comments and disrupt the class.

Recruit the Troublemakers

Troublemaking students might seem like the most challenging students to deal with, but their interjections in class should be incorporated in the class. Troublemaking students are disruptive because they’re either not convinced they need training, or they believe they’re more knowledgeable about the subject than the instructor.

Point blank, they think you’re wasting their time.

Acknowledge their doubt and try to sell them on the value of learning the software. In the same way instructors can adapt their perspective of teaching methods, students can change their opinion about learning a skill even if they think they don’t need it.

Students may also be doubtful of the course especially if they’ve had years of experience in the field. Draw attention to their years of experience and use it as a teaching aid for your class. The troublemaking student will appreciate the acknowledgement, and the other students can reap the benefits of another expert in the field. By recruiting them as a sort of “co-instructor,” they become part of the training and receive the authority and voice they were seeking in the first place.

Don't let skeptical students decrease the quality of your software training courses. Improve the learning experience for you and your students by using the methods discussed by Peter Bell in this webinar—your students will thank you.


This is just a short recap of the webinar. If you are interested in learning more about how to motivate skeptical students, you should watch the recording of the webinar. 

View Webinar 

Subscribe to the Learndot Blog