Prince’s 1999 album was released back in 1982, 17 years before 1999. At that time, some people thought that the world might end at the turn of the millennium, with the U.S. stockpiling nuclear weapons and taking a firm stance against the Soviet Union. So, Prince’s song lyrics, “… party like it’s 1999,” meant party like it’s the last party of your life.
Well, we survived Y2K. Computers throughout the world didn’t crash, and there was neither Armageddon nor nuclear war. We moved on.
There’s one thing for certain, Prince’s song was looking to the future, not the past. It was looking 17 years into the future. So, how does this relate to learning and development? Are you designing your training for the future or the past? Specifically, does your software training look like it was designed in 1999? Perhaps it’s time, or past time, to move it to the present and look to the future.
If you look at some of the software training from 1999 (and before that), you’ll see that a lot of software training was designed around software navigation and was menu-driven. There’s no better way to put learners to sleep than to place menu-driven software training in front of them. This is true for both instructor-led training and eLearning. Base software training on menus puts learners into a deep trance.
Why is menu-based learning a bad design for software training? Menus are created for navigation, not for training. As humans, we use software to get things done. We have certain tasks we need to complete, and that’s all we want to use our software for. We are not using the software to “enjoy the menus.” The menus are just tools that enable us to get to what we need in order to perform a particular task. Most business software is created to help users complete certain tasks. For example, inventory systems are created to help businesses manage and keep accurate records of their assets. Payroll software is created to help businesses pay their employees. These are all tasks that must be done. So, since our learners need to know how to do certain tasks, it makes sense that our software training should be task-based instead of menu-based.
Task-based learning involves asking which tasks users need to know and which tasks they use most often. Then, design the training around those tasks. Users will still learn how to use the menus, but just as a means to get to the tasks that they need to complete. Task-based learning involves immersing students in real-life situations so that the transfer of learning makes sense when they return to their jobs and apply what they have learned. Then, the learning makes sense.
Another issue with menu-driven software training is that it leads learners to think all menus are treated equal when some of the menus will only be used occasionally, if ever. If a menu isn’t going to be used very often, reference documents and Help are sensible alternatives. We shouldn’t try to teach every single nuance and feature in a course; it overwhelms the learner. However, by teaching the main tasks that will be used most often, learners will become familiar with the menus they will need most in order to get to the tasks they need to perform. If there are lesser-used, but important tasks that need to be taught, they can always be added to the course or to an advanced course after the most-used tasks are covered.
But what about the future of software training? Sure, course content should be task-based rather than menu-based, but with our ever-changing technology, we need to look to other options for the future of software training.
In a Utopian world, we would design our software to be so intuitive, that students don’t have to “learn” how to use it; they just use it. Software tools like Pendo, WalkThrough and UserIQ help guide users through tasks and enable them to see new features so they don’t have to go through software training. However, make sure that the methods in which you’re using these tools are still task-based, not menu-based. Whether it’s using one of these types of tools, having learners complete a class or eLearning, task-based learning is still a much better choice and a more effective way to learn software.
Take a close look at your software training. Does it look like it’s from 1999 or 2020? Is it more menu-based or task-based? Is it in need of a redesign? You can improve the learner experience and help make the transfer of learning easier by designing your software training as task-based learning.