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Why Software Documentation Can’t Train Your Employees Effectively

Your company created software documentation, so you’re all good, right? Employees have the documentation or user guide ready to go, so nothing more is needed.

If you don’t care if employees use the software, or use it correctly, then you’re all set. There’s virtually zero chance that someone will go through the documentation or user guide to learn how to use company software. That means employees won’t be trained if you rely on it as the sole training method.

You’ll end up with many employees using the software incorrectly, not using all the features, or worse, not using it at all. Investing in company software is a mistake without accounting for everything needed in the investment, including proper training.

Digital adoption doesn’t happen by itself. Whether implementing new software or onboarding new employees, providing them with the skills to use it correctly is necessary.

Or maybe you’re finding employees are having an issue, leading to a high volume of help desk calls. Software documentation or a user guide won’t help employees learn software. Only quality, effective training will reduce help desk calls.

Your company’s investment in technology won’t reach its goal without good training. Many vendors will build training as part of the deployment, but often, that training is ineffective. They’ll also provide documentation and user guides, which are essentially useless for training employees.

If employees are handed a thick manual detailing every feature, function, and possible scenario, they are guaranteed to hate training. It’s not the training’s fault; it’s the company’s fault for not investing in the right type of training.

Plopping the software documentation onto employees and expecting them to learn from it leads to confusion, frustration, and a dip in productivity. If they don’t learn the software, then they’re either not using it or not using it correctly, or they’re flooding the help desk with calls.

It’s the software’s fault, right? Or possibly it’s training’s fault.

The issue lies in a common misconception: all training is created equal.

Software documentation is not synonymous with employee training. While documentation is invaluable for technical staff to understand technical aspects and troubleshoot issues, it falls woefully short in preparing average employees to use the software effectively in their daily tasks.

It’s like giving someone a dictionary when they need to learn how to write persuasive essays.

Training employees for workplace technology involves much more than knowing where to click or what each feature does; it’s about integrating the tool seamlessly into their workflow, understanding best practices, and developing the confidence to use it effectively.

This blog post will help you understand why software documentation isn’t enough and isn’t real training. It’s a resource for some but won’t lead to learning for most. We’ll explore better approaches for equipping your team with the skills they need to succeed.

The Difference Between Documentation and Training

Isn’t documentation a form of training? I mean, employees can learn from it, right? They need to pick it up and look through it, and they’ll be all set.

That’s a lot to put on employees, and the time requirements alone can be impossible to manage. Software documentation is also extremely boring and often nearly impossible for employees to apply the information to their work.

Let’s look at the difference between documentation and training and why it isn’t training.

Software documentation serves as a reference guide, providing information on using different features and troubleshooting common issues. It’s a valuable resource for technical understanding but falls short regarding practical application for everyday users.

Training isn’t as comprehensive but makes up for that in approachableness. It doesn’t simply provide information. Good training goes beyond documentation in that it provides real practice and real scenarios relevant to the employees taking the training. That makes applying what’s learned to the work much easier.

Training helps employees understand how to use the software, why certain features are important, and how to enhance their productivity. While not comprehensive, that’s okay. Training is better not being comprehensive because it’s supposed to teach applicable skills that are necessary and no more. It’s not trying to show employees everything there is to know about the software, just what’s essential to know.

While documentation can be helpful as a supplementary resource after training, it cannot replace the immersive learning experience that training provides. Employees need more than just information; they need guidance, practice, and feedback to master company software truly.

The Limitations of Software Documentation

Software documentation has major limitations when it comes to effectively training employees (it’s not effective at all). Here are some key reasons why relying solely on documentation isn’t enough:

  • Lack of Context: Software documentation often focuses on individual features or functions without providing a broader context of how these fit into an employee’s workflow. Without understanding the bigger picture, employees may struggle to see how different features can be used together or how they can streamline their tasks.
  • Passive Learning: Reading through pages of text or watching instructional videos can be a passive learning experience. While it may provide theoretical knowledge about the software, it doesn’t actively engage employees in applying what they’ve learned in real-world scenarios.
  • Limited Interactivity: Documentation typically lacks interactivity, making it difficult for employees to practice using the software in a safe environment and understand how it all fits together. Without hands-on experience, employees may feel hesitant or unsure when using the software in their actual work.
  • Incomplete Coverage: Software documentation often focuses on the general use of the application, leaving out specific use cases for different roles or tasks. This can result in employees missing out on key functionalities and processes that could significantly improve their efficiency.

As you can see, some glaring limitations make software documentation a poor choice for helping employees learn software. It’s not training and likely won’t help employees learn how to use the software to do their job better. It almost guarantees that employees will be ill-prepared for their work with the new software.

Software documentation leaves out the most important part of enabling employees to do their best work with company software: practical application.

The Importance of Practical Application in Training

Training that incorporates practical application is crucial for ensuring employees can effectively use the software in their daily tasks. Employees are less likely to learn what they need without understanding the big picture about software and how it fits into their jobs. Well-built training has practical application baked in to help employees hit the ground running.

Here’s why practical application is essential and a major reason software documentation fails at creating meaningful change in employees:

  • Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice: Practical application allows employees to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world scenarios. By actively using the software and applying what they’ve learned, employees gain a deeper understanding of how it can solve specific problems or streamline processes.
  • Building Confidence: Hands-on training builds confidence among employees, enabling them to explore different features and functionalities without fear of making mistakes. Quality software simulations are essential to build confidence. This confidence translates into increased productivity and a better understanding of how software applies to their work.
  • Encouraging Critical Thinking: Practical application encourages employees to think critically about leveraging different features to achieve their goals more efficiently. It fosters a mindset of continuous improvement and innovation.

Without practical application, there’s no effective training for employees. Not all training is high-quality and embeds practical application, but quality training does. Software documentation rarely, if ever, ties in practical documentation. It’s more static and difficult to provide this necessary type of practice.

Tailor Training to Fit Employee Needs

A one-size-fits-all approach to training rarely yields optimal results. To ensure maximum effectiveness, training must be tailored to fit the software and employee needs.

There are many different ways to tailor training to employees’ needs. Check out our post on ways to tailor corporate technical training for employees. One of the most common and often helpful ways is by employee role.

Identify the key tasks and responsibilities associated with each role and design training modules that focus on those areas. Many software tools in your organization cater to various roles in different ways, but they all work together. It’s important to ensure employees have relevant training to be effective.

Software documentation is often written by a technical writer from a technical standpoint and rarely tailored to specific use cases or roles. There’s a big difference between technical writers and instructional designers. Knowing the difference and working with their strengths is essential.

The best training is built to address the unique needs of the software and how employees should use it. That means tailoring the training in different ways so employees can acquire the right skills to help them use the software the most effectively.

Incorporate Real-World Scenarios

Employees can’t be effectively trained without scenarios, which is why scenario-based learning is so effective. Software documentation doesn’t give employees this valuable form of learning.

Learning by doing is one of the most effective ways to learn company software. That typically means a healthy dose of software simulation built into the training. This approach allows employees to apply their skills as they go and see how it works in real-time. It’s not like watching a video about how to do it and then trying to do it. Rather, they’re doing it while learning.

Real-world scenarios help employees understand how they’re supposed to use the software in a realistic environment and with real scenarios. They also provide an opportunity for them to practice decision-making and problem-solving skills, preparing them for real-life challenges they may encounter while using the software.

Interactive Training Methods for Better Engagement

Good luck creating interactive software documentation. By nature, software documentation isn’t interactive and is very one-dimensional. Interactivity is essential for effective corporate software training, which is why other training methods, such as custom eLearning, are ideal.

To ensure software training is effective, it must also be interactive. These are a few methods that can be used to introduce more engagement and effectiveness into software training:

  • Hands-on Exercises: Provide employees with hands-on exercises that allow them to use the software (or a simulation that looks like the software). This could involve completing tasks or solving problems using the software’s features in either a simulation or a training environment of the software.
  • Gamification: Sometimes (but not always), adding some game elements to training is effective. This is often referred to as gamification. There are tons of different elements that can be added to training to gamify it. When done well, gamification can help make training more effective and enjoyable. Be careful, though, because it can distract and make training ineffective.
  • Group Activities: Software documentation is a pretty solitary way of learning something. So, it’s not only dry and boring but solitary. Training can also be solitary, but pairing it with more social or group activities is easy. It could be as simple as introducing a community for help on your company’s enterprise social network.

The more interactive and realistic training is, the more effective it will be. These are only a few ways to make training more interactive. Training is almost consistently more interactive than any type of software documentation.

Continuous Learning and Support After Implementation

This is the one area where software documentation excels. While it’s not the only option or the best option, it’s better than some forms of training. Few take an eLearning course and then refer back to it for further support once they’re working.

The most common forms of continuous learning after training are job aids, quick reference guides, or maybe even a knowledge base. We’ve set up some pretty cool searchable knowledge bases so employees can easily find resources for their issues.

The learning process doesn’t end once the initial training is complete. To ensure ongoing success with company software, providing continuous learning opportunities and support for employees is important.

There are several ways to provide continuous learning resources. Software documentation may be one method, but it’s not the best.

Investing in Professional Training Resources

While it may be tempting to rely solely on in-house training resources, investing in professional training resources can yield significant benefits. Professional instructional design consultants bring expertise and experience that are difficult to come by in-house.

The goal should be to provide effective training. Without the proper experience and skill, effective is something that can be elusive. Creating the right type of training with the correct content comes with decades of practice.

Consider partnering with external training organizations that specialize in providing comprehensive training for corporate software solutions. These resources can provide valuable insights and best practices that may not be readily available within your organization.

Wrap Up

Software documentation alone can’t effectively train employees for workplace technology. While documentation may serve as a valuable reference guide, it falls short when it comes to practical application and contextual understanding.

To ensure maximum employee performance and productivity, organizations should invest in training that incorporates practical application, is properly tailored, incorporates real-world scenarios, uses interactive methods, and provides continuous learning opportunities.

Because the perfect blend of all these for training to be effective is difficult to achieve, it’s important to consider outside resources that specialize in this type of work. Simply documenting the software isn’t enough to help employees learn. Effective training that’s custom for your employees is more important.

Organizations can unlock the full potential of their software investments and drive overall success by equipping employees with the skills and knowledge they need to use workplace technology effectively. Schedule a free consultation to see how a specialist in corporate technical training will help your employees succeed with company software so that investment doesn’t go to waste.

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