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The best way to improve hands-on training is with clear instructions

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on November 15, 2016

One of the biggest mistakes I see made in hand-on training activities is a lack of clear instructions for what to do in the activity. How many times have you been in a training course, the trainers says, “OK. Now you try it.” Most of the class looks up and says, “Wait. What do you want us to do?”

When this happens, the instructor goes through a long explanation about what the class should do in this activity, re-explain the lessons that the class just learned, and explain again how to access the tool and start the activity.

It almost feels like the activity comes out of nowhere. And when you combine that with unclear instructions, you have a confused participant and a frustrated instructor.

Here’s why this happens.

Free us from bad training activities

The people in your class are learning a new thing. Their attention is focused on learning that new concept or skill or task. This is especially true if the material is difficult, like learning new software. To help your customers let that new thing stick, you should provide them an opportunity to practice. But when it comes to giving a class an activity, and this is especially true for a first activity, you need to provide very clear instructions for what task you want customers to perform.

For example, when you start on the first activity, don’t just tell the class: "Now you try it. Change a customer address."

I am using a simplified example. Insert your own use case.

The class is still processing the last 20 minutes of instruction or maybe they tuned out of some of it. Either way, “Now you try it” lacks context and forces students to go into minor panic mode:

Change an address? I know the instructor mentioned where to do that. But I forget where. Weren’t there three kinds of address changes? Which ones does she want us to change? Didn’t she say something about when not to change an address. Does that apply there?

Without clear instructions, you are allowing your customers to have thoughts like this, distracting them from the task of practicing the new thing.

Why would you do that?

Well, there is a reason to do this, but not for the first few activities. I’ll address that in a minute.

What clear instructions look like

For now, let’s focus on the first activity. To reduce that stress (however minor it appears in this example) you must provide clear instructions, so students can practice the tasks and to reinforce what you just taught them.

Instructions for this activity should look like this:

  1. Practice changing a customer address
  2. Step 1: Go to the Accounts Tab
  3. Step 2. In the Contact pane, find the customer name and address
  4. Click the “Edit Button”
  5. Change the address and click Save
  6. Review changes in the Contact pane.

Remember, the goal is to get the class to perform the steps in the task they just learned, not spend brain cycles thinking about how to do it.

The instructions need to be very clear, as listed above. You want to avoid the awkward moment at the beginning of a practice activity during which students panic and or ask for clarification. If students ask for clarification, the instructions are not clear enough.

Challenging activities come later

As your class progresses, you can do activities that require more thought. For example, a final activity of a class could be as broad as scenario-based. “A customer has called in a says they have not received the October monthly statement. What should you do?”

You can leave students to “figure out” that maybe they should double check the mailing address for the customer and possibly change it.

You can do this at the end of a class because you provided activities with clear instructions, and that build on each other, allowing customers to focus on practicing.

Do not underestimate the need to for clear instructions.

Now go through your course activities and think about the times your students asked for clarification. Change your activities. Do it this week.


Webinar: Hands-on Customer Education: From Lectures to Learning by Doing

Speaking of hands-on training, we are doing a webinar called Hands-On Customer Education: From Lectures to Learning by Doing with special guest Seth Payne, principal product manager at Skytap. We will talk to Seth about how to take your instructor-led training and move it to a place where you can offer your customers hands-on practice that can be on-demand and self-paced. Wouldn’t that be great? Join the webinar and learn how to do it.

Register Here