The Art of Training: Breathing Life into Technical Training


There are many books, in many shapes and sizes that discuss training techniques for live, instructor-led training. Too often we assume those techniques cannot apply to the down and dirty of technical application training. Making technical training some of the most boring, dull and death-on-a-stick training out there. What if I told you it didn’t need to be that way?

It doesn’t.

When technical training is dull and boring, it’s because it was designed in a dull and boring way. Subsequently, it is then delivered in a dull and boring manner. It’s time for a mindset shift. When conducting workshops regarding training design, much of the feedback regarding technical training is…”We can’t do that in a technical environment.” Why start the conversation off with “can’t”, why not start off with “How?” as in “X needs to happen, HOW can we make it so?” The beauty about training in the 21st century is the ability to do or create anything we need to enhance a learning environment, regardless if it be live, computer-based, or technical.

It’s Time to Blend It and Flip It. 

First let’s understand that blending isn’t always flipping but flipping isn’t always blending. (Here is a recent post explaining the difference.)

Blending: To augment learning with different modalities. Most of the time this is with a mix of outside the class activities. In a blended situation, the requirement is collaboration and knowledge sharing. Important note: If you are only using technology to support resources, you are creating a technology-rich environment, but it’s not a blend.

Flipping: To augment learning outside the class, providing knowledge based information as outside the class solo-activities. The knowledge learned during those activities is then used to enhance activities, debate or discussions when in the class. Therefore, not wasting precious in class time with boring knowledge based topics.

How to Apply This to Technical Training

When conducting technical training it is critically important, we connect the learning to relevancy. If the training on the job will not be used immediately after the session, don’t waste time training people to do it. People will forget the process. People will lose the handouts. People will forget how to access resources. They will remember who to call and while we encourage participants to call with questions, we really hope they won’t. You have work to do too. Here are seven ways to make technical training more connected, and more engaging.

  1. Be sure you are connecting both learning and organizational goals. How is this training going to help the participant do their jobs; faster, more efficiently, and more productively? As you know, this is about answering the “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me) question. Too often, a learning objective is plopped into the opening statement or slide. Trust me, no one cares about your “official” learning objective. They want information for their road map to success. Open the session up with an activity that connects the learning to the people.
  2. Plan to maintain interest. This is all about designing the course. In the design, you need to figure out a way to maintain interest. Rather than planning hypothetical situations, plan for real-life situations that test thought. People will struggle, and struggle is part of learning. How can you make the struggle more positive? Plan activities that allow for practice. Realistic practice. Be sure participants have full access to what it is they are learning. Be it software or a car engine.
  3. Plan to use the resources. Too often, in technical training, the sage on the stage follows the traditional: Tell, show, do method of demonstration. Let’s flip that thought. Let’s show and do together. Train the resource first. Give the participants the job aid, guide, or whatever tool is needed for them to complete the task – then step back. Have the participants complete the task using the job aids. You are there only to answer questions. This way you are training independent thought and inherently making your training session more interesting and thought provoking.
  4. Let people break stuff! We learn from mistakes and we can build in situations where stuff breaks. Let’s take a piece of software. Say you are training people how to fix an image from a computer file. Typically, we would spend time explaining how to create the fix while the participants played along. What would happen if after each lesson on creating an image, the participants broke into groups of two or three and their job was to royally screw up the image that everyone just created? Then rotate groups and have the new group fix/troubleshoot the previous groups broken image. There is fun and learning here. Most likely, the participants will create harder scenarios than you would, creating a learning environment that is challenging. This also leaves you to roam around to observe and offer guidance.
  5. Create a competition. This is especially helpful when the task at hands generally involves a timeframe. Such as, when changing oil in a car at the local mechanic shop, the mechanic can’t take 8 hours. To create perfect practice, create competitions that allow for stepped improvement. After the first lesson, there is a race to see who can perform the task. This is done in small groups allowing the team to coach each other. People rotate through the tasks. By the time all lessons are completed, they should be able to change the oil in a car in rapid time.
  6. The flip! Give participants access to any helpful resources before the class. Find great public video’s online that support your topic. Example: You are conducting a training session on HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning). You can source videos that reference diagnostic aids, tools and tips and “not to do” videos. Either send the links to the participants through email, or upload to a common internet (or intranet) site. Create a tools resource list for participants to download. Now, when they come to the class you can break the students up into groups to discuss/debate the tools and tips versus the “what not to do” of HVAC diagnostics. You do not have to spend valuable time talking background. Have the video’s set up in the room so that people who did not do the pre-work can review upon entering the class. This is an opportunity to scaffold the learning in a more direct fashion.

Applying these tips and techniques to technical training can have a transformative affect. It does takes some planning and time on your part. However, if you want training to be successful and to continue to build brain connections, these ideas (and others like it) become a critical part of your course design. You will see information retention and improved impact. Not to mention your technical training will be the talk of the town. Your participants will appreciate and your business sponsors will be pleased with the improved results. A win-win for everyone.

Stay tuned next month when we will talk about breathing life into your computer training. Read more here to get more tips to jazz up your classes.