Friday, March 18, 2011

Why Aren't Online Training Supports the Norm?

A little while ago I was interested in a rapid eLearning authoring tool, and a sales rep did a web presentation for me, showing how it worked. He then encouraged me to download this software for a trial period. His demo was 20 - 30 minutes long, and only provided a very quick overview. I was concerned about how much time I would need to get to know the software in order to give it a really good test. So I asked if there were any online tutorials that could walk me through things as I familiarized myself with the product. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the answer was "no."

The sales rep pointed to product manuals in PDF format that could be downloaded and read. And the company did offer webinars on their product (for which they charge a fee). I wasn't interested in the PDF option because of the amount of time I calculated it would take, and I wasn't interested in the webinar option because I didn't want to spend money to decide if I wanted to spend money on the product (if you get what I mean).

I don't want to call out this particular software company. It would be unfair to do so, as it seems to be the norm these days that companies offer amazing and feature-rich products, but then do so little to help people learn how to use them. It is also rather ironic that a company can offer a tool that allows the user to create highly engaging and interactive online learning, yet they rely on static print to teach people how to use their tool. It is like the apocryphal tale of the shoemaker's children going barefoot.

I really wish that more software companies would provide always-available online multimedia "how to" tutorials on the use of their products. I realize that most of what we learn about software is via trial and error, but I still feel that there is a need for a "head start" at the beginning to get going, and then specific guidance on specific problems on an on-going basis as you get to know the software better, or need to perform a specific task with it.

Even when software companies do go beyond the PDF manual approach to client education, they tend to fall back on some fairly traditional approaches - in-person classroom sessions, or scheduled webinars. However, self-study online tutorials have advantages over these methods, as illustrated in the following chart.

Traditional Approach to Software Training Support (e.g. In-person Class or Webinar)

Online “How To” Tutorials

Timeliness / Convenience

Rigid, scheduled for a specific time, relies on having all the right people in the right place at the right time / set time for everyone

Available 24/7 from anywhere with an Internet connection, and learner devotes as much time as is necessary


Course-based, follows a set curriculum

Solution-focused, learner finds the answer to a specific question when needed


One size fits all

Learner delves into training only as deeply as is required


One size fits all

Learner moves through training materials at own pace


Information dump, hope it is all relevant

Learner focuses in on what is relevant to him/her


Difficult, too much covered all at once

More retained, as learning is accessed in bite-sized chunks and applied as needed


Difficult, have to wade through course manual or replay an entire webinar

Easy access to exactly what is required


High and on-going (e.g. trainers, materials, travel, out-of-pockets, etc.)

After start up costs for developing tutorials, marginal costs are extremely low for supporting an almost infinite number of learners

Although addressing software training here, the same principle can apply to any sort of product or service. An educated client is likely to make better use of your product or service, get better value from it, and, therefore, be a more satisfied client. Our firm is finding that more and more of our work is centred on helping organizations use online education to provide better client service.

And I say put such online training supports right on your website and freely available to all. That way these resources can serve two purposes - added support for your existing clients, and an excellent marketing vehicle for your prospective clients. Smart companies are also posting such training resources to YouTube, for even wider distribution.

Don't treat training supports as an afterthought. By putting them online and available 24 x 7 x 352, you are making it easier for clients to use your product and for prospects to understand it, and by doing so, to purchase it.


Blogger Virtualhse said...

I agree with you,
This kind of problem is obvious to all the persons who get new software to use with a limited guidelines and then what you can do only is R&D or say trail and error!
As you shared your feeling on it, many more are there who suffer with these kind of problems.
The thing you said about making these online training globally available so that it can be helpful for many is a very good point.
Gifty Chung

5:45 AM  
Anonymous Chloe said...

Completely agree with this, Nick - so many companies offer free demos that are over before they start, and one I used recently even provided a 100+ page paper manual with instructions on utilising the online training solution I'd bought from them. Crazy!

4:36 AM  
Anonymous lauren maftel said...

Hello Rick i really like the way you have Comparison between Traditional Approach to Software Training Support and Online “How To” Tutorials. It focuses all the points. Great work.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Dapper style said...

Well describe rick. Its very easy to understand the difference between the both.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I couldn’t agree more! Customer Support DRIVES SALES! If I know that the support is there for me, I BUY. If I know that I will have to pay for support, I DON”T BUY. And I do not mean support in the form of a pdf! I don’t think I am alone here. I am not sure I understand the way companies think. If their customer support were better, more people would buy the product. (Yay! More money!)

12:04 PM  

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