Friday, June 1, 2007

Experience is the Best Teaching Tool for Technology

On a few occasions (like the one in this post) I have written about how best to train people on new technology once it is implemented in organizations. The subject has come up recently in discussions with potential clients looking for performance support systems and e-learning and it has reminded me of a model of learning theory I learned about years ago that best explains how to present training. It is especially interesting when you look at it through the prism of using multimedia to train end-users on software or web applications.

Edgar Dale was an educator who developed what was called the Cone of Experience Theory. The main idea of the theory is this -

The closer to the actual experience you can get your end-user to while they are learning will increase overall retention.

Think about it. Why do pilots train in flight simulators? Why do city, county, state and federal emergency personnel run disaster preparedness drills? It's a safe environment to learn in and reflect upon because they are doing the actual tasks that are as close as you can get to a real situation with little or no threat of causing critical errors.

It means much more to the learner if they can actually experience the situation they would be facing than to sit in a classroom, read books, listen to a lecture and watch videos or people demonstrating how to use a product. So, don't be afraid to put some prototypes or demos in the hands of your end-users. This is probably one of the easiest, most fundamental forms of usability testing you can do for your application.

More importantly, go back to your support materials and build some simulations. Let your end-users see, touch and feel (i.e. - experience) your applications. You'll be thankful you did because you'll provide your end-users a safe environment to practice in and as an added bonus you'll lower those support calls that are "how-to's", which can become time consuming for you and your business.

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