Wayman Services, LLC

Data System Training Should Be Banned

OK, “banned” may be a little strong.  But I think it’s fair to say that the traditional ways of “training” educators how to use data systems don’t work.  Not in the sense of helping a critical mass of users consistently use the system in their everyday work.  In short, I think we’re doing it wrong.

Here’s how “data system training” usually goes:  Educators attend one or more sessions on how to use the system.  They learn a lot about the system.  They learn the basics: logging on, logging off, and a handful of functions that everyone is going to need.  They often learn some really cool features that’ll hopefully make them want to come back for more.  Sometimes, they will get hands-on work, through one or more exercises that planners designed to help them learn the system in a more authentic way.  Maybe they even get to bring something of their own that lets them fool around in the system.  Participants leave with a lot of system-related knowledge, through what they’ve learned or a binder or web links that describe system functions.

Do you see the problem yet?  The above paragraph deals with the system.  That’s a problem because educators don’t care about the system.  They care about their work.  To that, I say: don’t train on the system, train on the work.  Let’s think through that a bit.

Think about this: although it may seem intuitive now, your smartphone was one of the most foreign pieces of technology you’ve had to learn.  So think back to your smartphone training sessions.  Wait…you didn’t go to any smartphone training sessions?  EXACTLY!  Most people learn features of a smartphone by picking it up as they go along.  Most smartphone learning is, quite literally, on a “need to know” basis.  That is, when people have something they need to do with their smartphone, they find out how to do it.  You probably learned how to use your smartphone on the fly – within the course of the work you wanted to do with it.  And you probably haven’t experienced a great deal of learning loss.

How do we transfer this attitude to helping educators learn to apply data systems?  The research I’ve done with Vincent Cho and Jo Beth Jimerson suggests focusing on educators’ work, not the system.  Construct learning (not “training”) sessions where educators work on something immediately relevant to them – something they’re doing now in their work life.  Design the session so, at the appropriate time, you say, “Getting data from our new system will help you a lot right now.  Let me show you how.  Click here, here, and here.”  And that’s all you say about the system.  Everybody learns that system function you just taught them.  They learn it because they need it to do the work that’s demanding their attention.  The system isn’t a thing to learn, it’s a thing that helps them do their work.  Do this enough and educators learn a lot about how to apply the system in their everyday work.  Further, when you make it work-based, you can probably find ways to do it in team meetings, plan periods, and other work structures – as opposed to making people come to a stand-alone session.

I’ve actually gotten to do this and it works.  As I wrote in another blog, Paul Smith and I conducted workshops to help the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation roll out their EdWise data system.  Prior to these workshops, we called some potential attendees to find out what pressing issues they had in their work.  We based our activities in that work – but each activity had a component where we said, “the data you need at this point is in EdWise – here’s how to get it.”  Participants reported overwhelmingly that they liked this approach.  But perhaps the best evidence came from followup interviews, when participants would describe how they were continuing to use EdWise.

Soooo….We can cast a new data system in terms of the work that users have to do right now.  Or we can make them sit through boring system functions when they’ve got work to do.  Come to think of it, maybe “banned” isn’t that strong.

So that’s what I think.  Thanks for reading.