What's the BEST way to teach people new software?

Jan 29, 2016

Okay, here's the deal.  Our organization is on the precipice of a huge software training initiative.  We're transitioning to a new Electronic Medical Record for clinical providers in a 10-hospital system. We're talking thousands and thousands of learners in the ultimate blended learning experience. The vendor has training, but our org is going to influence the direction in which we go. I have a seat at the leadership table that will help inform our ultimate training plan, and I want to show up armed with the best info. 

I have my own ideas (some based on experience and others based on research) of the best ways to teach software, but I'd love to tap into the e-Learning Heroes network for YOUR ideas.  

So, what do you think?  In your responses, if you have links to articles, websites, research, etc., please include those.  

19 Replies
Bob S

Hi Eric,

This may be a broader question than you realize (or not!).  There are a ton of things to consider when determining the best training methods, but here are some broad thoughts on new software training that might help...

  1. Start with the why (briefly) - show context for the change to help address resistance to change
  2. Provide broad overview of navigation/process flow -  be sure to keep this HIGH LEVEL, again you are just providing context before the "real" stuff
  3. Show them just what they need to do most often in the software-  The 80/20 rule here is absolute gospel. One of the places most software training goes off the tracks is trying to cover every "what if" and odd caveat. Instead, assume the perfect scenario and train to that initially; you can always supplement later. Also, here is where you consider segmenting your audience if the have different roles/functions when using the software....why waste someone's time teaching a process they won't be using often, or at all
  4. Provide reference material (only) for the oddball stuff -  Know that even though they want to ask about it, it's so rare they won't remember it when the time comes and will have to look it up anyways.
  5. Provide a means to practice what they learn -  This can be a sandbox environment or a simulator. If you can't provide this during the training, then require "homework" in the form of bogus transactions/entries/et al in the software that they must work on and submit.
  6. Never neglect ongoing support - This can take the form of designated super-users that are on call for the defined rollout period, amazing context-sensitive help, or other methods.  But this is the other big place new software training often falters... Remember, the learning is not done when the course concludes!

Hope these thoughts help.

Eric Kinne

Bob - thanks for your response.  This is exactly in line with what I believe to be the right approach. You've also reminded me of the importance of the ongoing support. I appreciate it!  We have a big meeting tomorrow with stakeholders - I'll spend some time proposing our solution and I'm sure I'll reinforce some of your points.  I appreciate it!

David Jordan

One thing i would suggest, as ive seen it work for software training across a large learner population. Is to gather a representative from each location and give them a more in-depth in-person training experience. Make experts out of them. A sort of train the trainer experience like chris suggested, except, its not to use them as trainers. But rather, as support. That way, when a new learner has trouble, there is already an "expert" in the local office to help. 

Im not sure how many users of the software you have in each local area. If there is only 1 or two per office then obviously this wouldnt be a good fit. In my experience, we had 10+ per location and 1 "Certified" person per. 

David Lindenberg

Hi Eric,

I spent 5 years at a large seven-hospital system helping to train people in their use of the EMR. We brought one hospital up at a time, so while still a big process, it was a little more manageable than all at once. We used a blended approach. Each session consisted of instructor-led training followed by live practice in a test domain.

For the live practice, we started with paper-based manuals the learner would walk through and then eventually built a home-grown HTML template with instructions to accompany the live practice domain. About a week before go-live we printed up job aids for the most used tasks (these fit in a lab coat pocket). We also separated our training sessions based on certain job roles since their EMR documentation would be different (e.g. critical care nurses, NICU nurses, respiratory therapists, LPNs, dietitians, etc.).

During go-live our team would also take shifts at the hospital and make rounds to answer questions and assist if people were having trouble documenting.

I’d also echo some of Bob’s comments, especially #3, #5, and #6. David also brings up a good point about identifying highly skilled users and designating them as “experts.” We referred to them as super-users. They were an invaluable asset because of their knowledge but also to help assuage anxiety about “this new computer system.” They weren’t perceived as “outsiders,” but someone from the learners’ team. If they can do it and think it’s a good thing, why can’t I?

Good luck with your meeting and the planning! Feel free to DM me if you would like more info.

Mohammad  Hassam

I have been working in Smith & Nephew for a while and they almost have had the same situation. One big software training program operates from different locations. Prior to that, I have been working in the college that is connected with eight other colleges and have one software training program.

The point is that I have almost 5 years of experience implementing and teaching software to crowd from different locations. I think the best idea that really works in this situation is to offer a certification course.

Here is my process flow .

Pick few people who knows software better than most of them --> schedule a five days virutal session (Webex or gotomeeting) where you will be explaining about the software? --> Redirect them towards simulations for three days --> take a break and after two days give them a short assignment --> Tenth day, conduct an assessment.

After attending 10 days of certification course, you will have few people who knows about the software within the same locations. Based on their scores one or two will be Super users. Schedule another batch like that but this time these super user will conduct sessions and support the rest within their location.

Based on the project requirement, I always recommend LMS that will help to manage content and training record.

DM me know if you need further clarifications on this.


Ilona Hetsevich

Hello everyone,

There are two rules I advise you to follow:

1. Leave Lots of Documentation Behind

According to the studies the amount of information that is produced every month exceeds the amount people in the XVII century imbibed in a life time. The fact that we live at the age of information overload leads to selective information absorption and makes lots of documentation compilation a time-waste. That is why we recommend you to abandon providing documentation in favor of engaging training techniques.

2. Don’t Let Chips Fall Where They May

There is no sense of giving users software without proper explanation and await the desired results. Self-training isn’t a productive approach and can be even irresponsible. Without proper motivation and a whole software potential discovery its implementation goals achievement becomes a time and money consuming process. Describe the software adoption benefits both for the business and each employee so that the training will not look like a compliant one.


Assess the Employees

The first step is the future users’ assessment. By the assessment I mean checking users’ knowledge about future eLearning solution and how comfortable they are with the future technology usage.

Create a “How to use software” Course

The easiest way to get your employees to get acquainted with the software is to create an interactive and engaging course explaining main software  tools and usage practices.

Creating the course you should remember the following:

·         Start from the basics;

·         Make it logical;

·         Make it short;

·         Make it diverse (include different content types);

·         Add discussions (No matter how extensive and detailed your course is there is always something you can miss that is why discussions boards will give users an opportunity to clarify their questions.)

Apply Blended Learning Approach

Compiling Software Training it is wise to take into consideration different learning styles and ways people prefer to learn. Instead of adherence to one teaching delivery method use the Blended Learning approach when online training is complemented with face-to-face activities, live webinars or class/office discussions. 

Measure Effectiveness and Get Feedback

Once the training is finished and the employees are about to bring received knowledge into practice training effectiveness needs to be measured. By means of surveys and questioners you can evaluate employees’ learning, reaction, behavior and results – so called Four-Level training Evaluation Model.

Measurement will help to determine gaps and make future training more effective on achieving the established business goals.

I hope it will help!

Sabine Whipple

Great conversation everyone!

I have a similar project on a smaller scale, but it is mission critical so it's important that we train it right. We are doing change management first, getting people used to the new system (log on favorites, searching for vendors, etc.) so they aren't afraid of the software when it's time to implement. Then we are using ILT, with BA support as well as peer experts (who tested the software) who we do some train the trainer work with before the implementation. We are following the 80/20 standard for the ILT, then using procedures and micro learning videos as virtual support along with our peer experts and BAs. 

Tim Danner

I've conducted software training for a wide-range of age groups, from seventh-graders to retirees, that included a variety of programs, like Adobe products, Microsoft Office, LMS's, etc. From those experiences, much like has been suggested, I've found blended approach the most effective.

If you have the staff and resources, offer:

  • Larger group training (which I hate but understand it may be necessary)
  • Smaller group training (like with a few individuals from the same department)
  • Individual training (good for a needs-based training)
  • Online training, making use of screencast video tutorials that are available 24/7

Similar to what Ilona Hetsevich said, organize the face-to-face training on based on levels and need. If possible and if the software lends itself to it, offer beginner, intermediate and advanced training and assign people accordingly. If "role" training is required, offer training for those roles (admin, regular user, etc.).

Carolyn H

Hi Eric,

I train staff and clinical students on the EMR at our hospital and one suggestion I would have is to use your pilot training sessions to determine the most common questions that come up in the training session and make sure there is an easy way to access that info on-line either in a knowledge base or intranet etc.  One of the big issues we faced was nursing staff needing assistance with questions such as how to order bloodwork at 2 a.m. and technical support can't really help them with that type of question.  We use a LOT of screen shots to show our users how to do various tasks.  Hope this helps ! 

Tim Danes

Hi everyone,

I'll keep this short (the conversation is a little dated).  I use 'Principle-based' learning for IT.  The idea is that you teach people how become intuitive users rather than the 'step-by-step' process.

Principle-based IT system learning design enables two things:
1. It reduces the need for experts (less support costs, even if they're hidden... i.e. 'super-users' aren't free, it's just that the costs are hidden).
2. It reduces the dependency on software staying the same.

I've worked on some very big systems, across very big organisations ... but I haven't come across a system yet that could justify more than 1 day of training with smart supplementary learning opportunities.

The trick to making it successful is to clearly define all the Principles of using the system that would enable successful use of all the required tasks.  It's a little like teaching Karate kid how to paint a fence, but on the way through, you keep the learners well informed about why they're doing it.


Bob S

Hi Carolyn,

Hopefully Tim will correct me as needed and add more color, but I believe he's talking about teaching learners underlying concepts and standard operating principles rather than just wrote steps.  For example...

"In the ABC system, every time you want to submit your work, you must first go through an on screen review page. That page can always be accessed by this button and looks the same each time...."

I have used a similar approach to good effect on occasion. However..... I personally have found it most effective when two things are present; 1) Users have a broad set of responsibilities/tasks they are responsible for in the software. Not just key tasks they need to accomplish as part of their role.   2) Users are more experienced/savvy in terms of system usage and ability to learn operating concepts in general.  

So....  perhaps it may not be the best choice for teaching a health care practitioner this way  when all they have to do in the software  is enter bed check info and confirm meds were given. But teaching an HR Employment Specialist that has everything from position creation, hiring data, benefits interfaces and more to handle in a system might be a great choice.

Tim Danes

Hi Carolyn,

The term 'Principle based' is just a phrase I use to describe what I do... so that'll be why you can't find it anywhere (sorry).  

It originated for me when I was teaching Yr 10 students how to use Engineering CAD software.  It's complex software, with multiple step-by-step processes.  However, when I stepped away, they'd forget how to do it, and while they could complete complex tasks with me in the room, they weren't exhibiting the critical thinking skills that I wanted them to have with key decision making.  i.e. WHY would you do 'x' instead of 'y'?

I'm a relatively intuitive user of software, and I'm self taught in nearly everything I've picked up (including Articulate).   I began to pay attention to HOW I learn, and WHY I learn, and didn't worry so much about the WHAT (I've got a memory like a goldfish sometimes).

For WHY, it's generally because I have a task I need to complete (including creativity as a task).  I'm also proud of the work I do, so understanding the WHY is important for me because it helps me constantly improve.

For HOW, I noticed I move my mouse around a lot more than non-intuitive users... and then I noticed I look for visual cues... and then I noticed I think about the logic of the system...

These formed some of the key Principles I now plan out before tackling systems training.

Here's a quick example (off the top of my head so please excuse):
Principle 1: Articulate Forum's are a discussion that occurs amongst a community of people.
Result: The learner will Google words like Articulate, community, discussion etc. rather than looking for a specific link.  This means that if the link becomes broken or lost, they'll still be able to go to the Forums.

Now... the WHAT.  I think Bob has got a very salient point.  If you have a small number of key tasks, then I think it's important to create 'go-to' materials.  My preference for that tends to be super-fast tutorials (<30seconds) or 1-pager items. 
My inspiration for compressed information delivery came from the 7-second Windows 7 tutorials and again, I won't extend too much on the concept, but I believe it creates a Learning eXperience (LX) that results in better memory retention.

I want to flag one of the risks with this kind of thinking though... in a risk adverse environment (like Health Management), a new approach like Principle-based IT training is often looked down on and traditional models are adopted instead.   As Bob mentioned, it can't be stand-alone, and I would advise exploring it and testing the theories in small pilot projects before jumping into a large project.  

But give it a go.... start by mapping all the Principles required to respond in a Forum (there's not many), and compare it to what it might look like if you taught it step by step.  Then take into consideration the concept of change... what if the forum GUI changes?  What if access points change?  etc...    How much effort would be required to retrain given each model?

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Pamela LeBrun

I have trained doctors and their staff inside and outside of hospital settings for many years and with mulitple software products and the biggest thing I have observed is make the training relevant to what they do everyday.  What I mean by that is hand-on training works best for technical training.  Hands down! :)  Give them their charts to enter, real time, not fake materials.  Of all the doctors I have worked with, entering their own data into the EMR has stuck best with them.

I also use the idea of super-users before I leave a clinic.  There will be several people who will get advanced training and are the go to people once I leave their clinic.

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