Creating Online Software Training for Adults

Creating Online Software Training for Adults

Creating any type of training for adult learners is challenging because there are so many theories and principles to consider. Is the content too long? Is the content engaging? Is the goal of the content obvious to the user? Now consider those same questions for online software training for adults. You’re looking at multiple checklists and questions you need to ask in order to make the best quality training for your audience. My last blog post was about the basics of software training, so in this post I will apply some of those ideas to adult learner scenarios.

I love checklists. I live for To Do lists. I use them in my personal and professional life because there is always so much going on. At work, my To Do lists help keep me on track, especially when I have so many theories, principles, and technical tasks to keep track of. For today’s post, I will create a To Do lists to manage all of the important elements of online software training for adult learners.

Outline for You, Outline for Them

Create an outline early on to familiarize yourself with the content. This outline will highlight major sections and illustrate how you can transition from simple to complex concepts. All learners need to start with the basics, so if you can recognize the concepts that you will be building on during your research and outlining phases, you will be organizing your content appropriately from the start.

Adult learners like to see their progress, so for modules with lots of sections I convert a basic version of the outline into a progress slide or checklist slide to both keep the learner updated on their progress and give them a sense of accomplishment. I use an actual green checkmark, but I’ve also used text captions with phrases like “You’re making progress!” and “Almost there!” to keep things light (but not too light!). These techniques will keep your adult learners motivated.


Keep your distance, but don’t LOOK like you’re trying to keep your distance

There is a fine line between writing to keep your audience interested and sounding hokey. Depending on the content and audience, even an “Almost there!” caption could be too much.  Using humor can be risky, depending on your audience. The key to using appropriate language is to cater to the least experienced user, without making it look like you are.

For software training, specifically, it’s important to use terms that non-technical users will understand but won’t sound hokey to technical users. You can often use your own discretion when it comes to common technical terms, but you absolutely need to confirm the button, field, and screen names with your customer. You don’t want to use a term throughout your training that your learners will never hear again.

My team has been using a project scope questionnaire to determine who our audience is. style_guideFrom this initial customer meeting we can typically gauge the type of language we should use for the training. For some projects, I create a Style Guide that helps me stay consistent with specific terms utilized in the project. I also use this type Style Guide to keep track of phrases or terms to use or avoid. Design Style Guides are similar, but I like a separate one for terminology.

This process helps keep the language and overall tone consistent, because adult learners will pick up on inconsistencies, which could negatively impact their opinion of the content’s credibility.

To Do List: Determine audience; Use appropriate language; Stay consistent. Adult Learning Theory: Don’t use technical jargon, but don’t insult my intelligence; Keep things consistent so I don’t question your credibility.

Let Me Try

Interactivity is crucial for online learning because it keeps learners engaged. Users need to feel confident in the software they are learning before they access the software for the first time. Fortunately with software training, it’s easy to incorporate interactivity into your training. Like I mentioned earlier, start with the basics, then move on to more complex processes.

An easy way to apply this theory is to show your users how to complete the process the first time, then let them try the process the next time, but with an additional step. This common “show me, then let me try” concept is another learning theory that isn’t just for adults, but is crucial for software training. Plus, if you add an extra layer on to the “let me try” portion, you’re also building in complexity, which I mentioned earlier was a basic learning theory.

To Do List: Use the “Show Me, Let Me Try” setup for hands-on practice; Include interactivity for each major section and process. Adult Learning Theory: Let me try!; Make things more complex as I go.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

Whenever possible, I like my software training to look as much like the real thing as possible. If done well, software training can make the user feel like they are in the system, but with a tour guide of sorts. Even if I have solid documentation from my client, I always double-check that my phrasing or interpretation of a process is accurate.

In addition to the actual scenarios being realistic for end-users, you need your training to look professional. I always make sure that my screens are always aligned exactly the same. If two screens are just one or two pixels off, you lose that smooth transition and the training looks like training and not like the software. I have even been known to include “processing” screens to really mimic the software. Attention to detail is crucial with software training.

My other favorite technique for making software training realistic is to use rollover images in conjunction with click boxes or buttons. That way if you are instructing your learners to select an option from a dropdown menu, when their mouse scrolls over the menu, the rollovers happen just like they would in the software. It can be a time-consuming process, but I think it makes the training look sharp. To do this, I capture the highlighted version of each of those options (I use Snag-It, but there are many options to capture a rollover or tooltip) and then add those images as Rollover Images (I work mainly in Adobe Captivate, but you can accomplish the same task with Articulate Storyline’s States).

To Do List: Capture clean, aligned screens; Incorporate rollovers and tooltips for realistic hands-on practice. Adult Learning Theory: Be realistic ;Make what I’m learning applicable to my job.

How do you stay on task when you’re creating online software training for adults? Did you notice how I switched between user, learner, and audience in my post? Did that inconsistency diminish my credibility? Share any thoughts you have in the comments below and check back soon for a detailed look at how I incorporate rollovers into my training.

After receiving a Master’s Degree from NAU in Literacy, Technology, and Professional Writing, Sarah returned to her home town of Omaha, Nebraska where she gathered almost 10 years of experience in Instructional Design. Sarah loves utilizing technology to create training, whether to teach people how to use a computer system, improve their sales numbers, or incorporate a new process into their daily routine. Her background in English and Technical Writing helps keep her focused on writing and editing to provide clear and concise content for training. When the opportunity opened up with the Learning & Professional Development team, Sarah and her family (which consists of a bicycle-obsessed husband, two energetic daughters, and an annoying German Shepherd) jumped at the chance to move back to Flagstaff where they can ride bikes, hike, camp, ride bikes some more, and generally enjoy the outdoors without humidity or mosquitoes.

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