How to get the most out of training software

With so many fleets and shops moving into “paperless” work environments and/or using laptop-based diagnostic tools, software training is becoming more popular. While the purposes of new training software programs can vary greatly, there are a number of common factors that make for sound, strong software training.

What follows is a brief guide to software training for an organization that is planning to build course materials and run the training with internal resources. Whenever budgets allow, it is always acceptable, and often recommended, to consult a professional training development partner.

Ideally, students will have both a Participant Guide and a Reference Guide prepared for the training. Depending on the writing and instructional design skills of your staff, these may be done internally or externally.

The Participant Guide follows the trainer’s lesson plan, and is intended to be used during the training session itself. At a minimum, it should include a copy of the trainer’s presentation, such as slide prints, and worksheets that guide the student through hands-on portions.

The Reference Guide needs to have detailed instructions on all functions the student will use on the job, as well as a glossary of all terms, as many will be unfamiliar.

The training may or may not get into all of the details that are covered in the Reference Guide (typically not), but this publication is intended to be a permanent part of the student’s workstation, whereas the Participant Guide is primarily used for the training session only.

The software developer’s User Manual can double as a Reference Guide, though customized guides written with the end user’s job functions in mind usually work better.

Screen Awareness

There are normally a handful of computer screens that the student will interface with regularly on the job. All aspects of these screens need to be covered in detail by the training, as far as what areas of the screen are used for what purposes. Actually performing functions on theses screens should be covered later in the training.

There also could be a large number of additional screens that the technician will use only occasionally. While these should be covered in training, the likelihood of them being used in a work setting soon after the training is usually low.

Therefore, make sure the technician knows how and where to find instructions for these screens in the reference materials.

After learning all of the screens and how each is to be used in a job setting, the training should cover how to move from one screen to another. Depending on the software, screen navigation can have varying degrees of complexity, and it is common for students to get lost in one area and not know how to get back. Hence, the lesson on screen navigation should include as much guided hands-on practice as possible.

Again, depending on the training software’s complexity, there are numerous new functions that the student will have to use on the job. The lesson on computer functions should ideally follow the show-demonstrate-practice model.

  • Briefly list all the functions you intend to cover, and show visual support of the screen(s) used.
  • Next, demonstrate how each function is performed.
  • Finally, let the students practice each function in a guided activity with worksheet support.

While it is acceptable to demonstrate all functions and then have the students practice all functions, the usual lesson flow is to demonstrate a function and allow practice, then demonstrate another and allow practice, and so on.

There should be periodic reviews throughout the training. Toward the end of the training, do a master review of everything that has been covered and allow questions. Lastly, evaluate what the students have learned.

It is best to have both a written post-test that covers knowledge-based objectives, and a hands-on activity where the student performs some functions without trainer assistance. The evaluation step is critical to any training because it allows the trainer to determine what follow-up steps may be required for a given student before they return to the work setting.

Stephen Howe is a field trainer and technical training consultant for United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company with approximately 900 branch locations in North America. Howe is also a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC), a global organization of training managers from automotive aftermarket, OEM, supplier, service tool and training companies.