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Talking Usability: Why Training is Not an Option
2014, Q2 (April 10, 2014)
By David Dick, STC Fellow, Manager of the Usability & User Experience SIG, and co-author of "Web Services, Service-Oriented Architectures, and Cloud Computing."

David Dick
David Dick
Why do organizations overlook training users about new business applications or changes to existing ones before making them available enterprise wide? Do CEOs and CIOs assume that users don’t need training and will adapt? If that’s the case—they are wrong.

I share an example from my own experience about what happened when an organization upgraded from Microsoft Word 2003 to Microsoft Word 2010 and did not train staff.

Often what is perceived as poor usability is actually a lack of understanding.
Users recognized that several aspects of Word changed. For instance, the toolbar was replaced by a ribbon, and menu options were replaced by tabs; users were confused and frustrated. They were familiar with the process to create a document in Word 2003 (i.e., open a new file, edit text, apply styles, save the file, and print, and so on). They knew a variety of shortcuts with Word 2003 that increased their productivity, but none of them were the same with Word 2010. Management might have thought the change was subtle and small, but it wasn’t subtle and small to users. If the organization was a pirate ship … the crew was ready to make their captain walk the plank for changing the way they work.

You might wonder how users coped with the change. As it turned out, some users were self-starters and searched the Internet for tutorials on how to use Word 2010. Other users were already using Word 2010 at home and could explain the changes to others. Other users had no intention to search the Internet and consult coworkers—they called the help desk for guidance. Frustrations with Word 2010 were high; there were documents to write and documents to be updated and Word 2010 was too confusing to use. The help desk was overwhelmed with calls for help to accomplish common tasks and everyone waited impatiently for their calls to be answered. Eventually, everyone learned the basics of Word 2010 and could go on with their work.

This situation could have been avoided if the organization offered training. Training helps users develop a new understanding about how an application works and learning best practice. Training helps to transition users to using new and improved tools and technologies. The costs related to training users are low compared to the cost of lost productivity.

The moral of this story is this: Training helps acquaint users with important features and functions to get started, the rest comes through exploration and learning from others. Often what is perceived as poor usability is actually a lack of understanding.

This article was originally published in STC's Notebook and is reprinted here, with permission. End of article.

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