Trainer Talk: Embracing Technology

Before answering, “How do I embrace technology in training?” you first must ask yourself: “Should I embrace technology in training?” and “When?”

By Bob Pike, CSP, CPAE, CPLP Fellow

I have to admit I’m a bit of a geek. OK, OK, I’m probably all geek. I love all things techy—especially when it comes to training. So it is easy for me to be not just leading edge, but bleeding edge.

When video was first available in black and white in the early ’70s, I was using it for video feedback. In the ’80s, I was using a special computer called Videoshow for computer presentations years before PowerPoint was introduced. I did my first satellite broadcast (the precursor to Webinars) in 1987 to 700 locations for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In the early ’90s, we were using classroom responder technology at Training magazine’s Training Director’s Forum. As soon as Toshiba came out with a touchscreen laptop, I had one and combined what I used to be able to do with overhead transparencies with what I could do with PowerPoint. The list could go on: flip camera, iPhone, iPad, Twitter fountains… I was and am an early adopter and used (and still use) them all.

Since I am such a proponent of technology, trainers often ask me, “How do you embrace technology in training?”

In response, I think of Henry Blackaby, author of “Experiencing God,” who was with me at a Lead Like Jesus Conference and once pointed out, “Bob, you’re asking the wrong question.” Ken Blanchard and John Ortberg were interviewing Henry. Each asked a question—good ones I thought. To each, Henry responded, “You’re asking the wrong question—the question really should be…” And then he proceeded to answer the question he posed. I was stunned. My programming tells me to answer the question you are asked. But I realized Henry was right. His experience with the subjects they were asking about allowed him to pose a much more useful question. And the audience roared when, after the second question, Ken said, “John and I don’t have any other questions for you, Henry, but what else would you like to share?!”

So while the question, “How do you embrace technology in training?” is a good one, there is a better question that needs to be asked and answered first: “Should you embrace technology in training?” And there is an even better question: “When should you embrace technology in training?” So while I believe in and take advantage of technology in training, I use these questions and guidelines:

  1. What is it that I want to accomplish? I need to know my purpose before I can determine if technology is the best way to accomplish the purpose. For example, take video feedback. Prior to its availability, all that we did is provide verbal feedback from me as the instructor and other participants. Being able to see themselves and self-critique first was a quantum leap in helping people improve. By the same token, being able to aggregate and display audience feedback on the fly (and, in some cases, to allow for anonymity) makes using audience response technology an easy choice.
  2. How frequently will I use the technology I am considering? Frequency and scale often make the case for technology. If I am using technology in a class I am going to deliver multiple times, the acquisition cost goes down as I amortize it across classes and numbers of participants. If I’m going to use audience response technology for classes of 20 every week, buying the technology makes sense. If I want to use it once a year for 1,000 people at our sales conference, renting may be the better option.
  3. What’s the ease of use for both design and use? It is amazing how often something seems intuitive to the developer but is counter-intuitive to the people using it. The flashing 12:00 on the VCR (now DVD) player is an ongoing joke, but I’m sure the original inventors thought setting the time was simple. Every year, I need to set the time in my car back and forward as we transition from Minneapolis to Phoenix and back. I’m sure the designers think setting the clock is intuitive, but twice a year, I’m pulling the manual out of the glove box. Whenever I’m faced with a new piece of software (for example, software to create an infographic), there are always things that after I figure them out are easy to replicate, but figuring it out the first time is frustrating. (Note: I actually started to write, “figuring it out the first time is a bear.” Most Americans would recognize this expression, but most with English as a second language probably would not. This is the problem with a lot of written documentation—the assumptions the technical writers make about the users’ knowledge and experience.)
  4. What kind of support is available? And how good is it? Written directions (documentation), video clips showing step by step what to do, online support, telephone support, e-learning modules, Webinars, and live training all can help. The question is: How do you learn best? And is the way you learn best available when you have the time to learn?

When I wrote the first edition of the “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” in the late 1980s, I wrote it on a state-of-the-art KPro II portable computer. It weighed “only” 43 pounds, and I lugged it through airports for six months as I reduced everything I had been teaching in seminars for years to written form. One day, I was in my office editing a paragraph (this was pre-mouse or automatic word wrap). I added some words to a paragraph that made the sentence run off the screen. So I did what I thought was logical. I cursored over and did a carriage return. This caused the next line to run off the screen. So I cursored over and did another carriage return. This continued for a number of lines.

While I was doing this, my administrative assistant came in and after a few seconds said, “What are you doing?” I explained, and she said, “Why not do this?” She reached over, put the cursor in the middle of the paragraph, and pressed the Control and Q keys. The paragraph instantly reformatted itself.

I asked, “What did you just do?”

She said, “I hit the reformat command.”

I had been using that word processing software for two years. I never knew there was a reformat command. I don’t remember having seen it in the documentation. It never occurred to me to take the time to find out if there were a better, faster, easier way. I had a way that worked, as tedious as it was. I didn’t need a course; I needed some coaching.

Ultimately asking yourselves these four questions can help you to take advantage of technology when it will help you accomplish your performance improvement purpose. I’d love any questions or comments you have about this article. Reach me at: Until next time—add value and make a difference.

Bob Pike, CSP, CPAE,CPLP FELLOW, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt

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