User Guides Fall Short For Training Employees On Software

If you have needed to accomplish something in an application lately, how did you find out how to do it?

Maybe you looked for a video but that’s not exactly the most efficient way to learn software. While training videos are popular, there are better ways for employees to learn software.

Or perhaps you dug out the user guide and looked up something that sounded like what you needed to accomplish.

Ya right huh!?

My guess is that you looked for an article online. Or perhaps if you were at work and it was company software you called the help desk. Either way will get the job done but neither one is likely as efficient as knowing what to do because you were trained on how to use the system.

Besides, the goal is to reduce calls to the help desk, and not rely on it for everything.

Nothing good ever came from a user guide.

But of course, training doesn’t eliminate the need for other types of help. That’s because training is never meant to teach you how to be a master, it’s just meant to help you use what you need to do your job effectively, accurately, and efficiently.

That’s a pretty noble goal wouldn’t you say?

But have you ever experienced not having any training when learning a new system? Or maybe even worse the only form of training is a user guide.

That’s pretty evil, right?

This post is all about the power of training and how user guides fall short in just about every way of helping employees use a new company system. But, a user guide is something almost every organization has and we still see a demand for them.

But no more!

Okay, just kidding. There will always be demand for them but we simply must say we’re sorry but we don’t create user guides.

But why wouldn’t we? I mean, it seems like a user guide is enough, right?

Nope, there’s a more powerful tool for helping employees learn company technology. Training can provide many benefits to your organization that a user guide simply can’t match. It won’t anger your employees and it won’t leave them high and dry wanting more help.

With good custom software training, employees will have the tools they need to do their work effectively, efficiently, and accurately.

The holy trifecta.

We’ll explore why training is a much better solution than relying solely on a user guide (or even bothering to have a user guide at all). Employees need to be able to understand and use the applications they’re working with to be productive.

While user guides can provide employees with information when they’re stuck, they can’t truly connect how to apply what’s in the guide to their job. That is unless it’s a really well-done guide.

Training does so much more than simply show employees how to use software.

User guides are complex, dull, and difficult to understand. That means employees will struggle to comprehend the material or be unable to find the answer they’re looking for. It could lead to employees having to call the help desk to figure out how to use the user guide which was supposed to help them use the application!

What a mess!

Training, on the other hand, offers a hands-on learning experience where employees can actually interact with the material, apply it to their work immediately, and understand it without having to decipher it. There’s no better replacement for good training as long as you heed the magic word in that sentence, good.

Just like a user guide, training can be poorly done or well done. The difference is that even the worst training is typically better than the best user guide.

With training built well for software (which is different than other types of training), employees can practice the skills they learn and gain a better understanding of how to use the application more effectively and relevant to their work.

Training can offer real hands-on experience. User guides can’t do that.

When a new system is rolled out in the organization, there’s no better way to do it than with training. And the best type of training for a software launch? That would probably be eLearning which is typically what we prefer in most (but not all!) cases.

What we know isn’t a great solution for system training is instructor-led training which we don’t do at all. We don’t want to go down that path and simply show employees. It’s best to have them perform the task.

With training, employees are much more likely to develop the right understanding of the application and know how to use it most efficiently. That doesn’t mean a deep understanding which is what a user guide focuses on.

Now it’s time to look at why user guides just don’t cut it compared to training when it comes to helping employees learn how to use an application. We’ll discuss the benefits of training and compare it to using a user guide to help you decide which is the best solution for your organization.

We’re pretty sure you’ll see what the best solution for your organization is if you keep an open mind and hear the benefits of digital training solutions for software training.

Understanding Your Audience

This is the first step towards any good training. Even if you could hire all 25-year-olds who you think might be tech-savvy, you’re in for a rude awakening.

There are no homogeneous generations or even digital natives who are all savvy in everything technology. That’s why you shouldn’t train employees based on generations, it’s a generality that won’t help properly segment your audience.

Not everyone is into technology, cares about it, or takes to it quickly.

Some people are tech-savvy whether 18 or 68 but most are not.

Understanding your audience is crucial to ensure successful training and adoption of a new application. That means you can’t assume everyone knows how to use a system and you also can’t assume everyone has the same base level of knowledge.

An assumption as simple as assuming they know how to get access and login could be dangerous and frustrate a large group of employees.

Great training can only be created if you know your audience first.

A user guide may be helpful for more advanced employees, but it can only go so far for everyone else. When an organization wants to get the best results from employees, it must go beyond a generic user guide and take into account the specific needs of its audience.

By taking the time to understand the target audience, you will be able to create more effective training that meets their specific needs. This could include customizing the content to fit their skillset, providing additional support or training, and building an environment that is conducive to learning.

Or, it could be as simple as building training that’s specific to employees’ jobs and helps them apply using the software to the work they do daily with it.

Knowing your audience will ensure the success of training and how well employees adopt the application. They could adopt it either quickly and efficiently or slowly and begrudgingly.

That’s part of the change management process where training helps employees through your organization’s digital transformation. Just like it’s nice to bring in a change manager early in a project, you should also bring training experts in early to make sure employees are able to adjust.

Benefits of Training

There are just one or two benefits of training over user guides.

Just kidding, there are hundreds of benefits and I’m pretty sure there are no benefits of user guides over training unless you’re the tech person working on the software rather than working in it.

Training is typically a hands-on interactive experience that can provide employees with a deeper understanding of the software. It can do that in the context of their job too. A user guide rarely provides context into how to use a system for job specifics. It’s just about using the software.

You know, click here, then here, select this, do this. Boring and unhelpful for most.

To help you decide between a user guide or training, take a look at these benefits of training over a user guide.

Job Specific Training

This one’s a biggie.

Training can provide employees with just the knowledge they need to do their jobs.

Because every person has cognitive (darn brain!) limitations, training for just what’s essential is… essential. Otherwise, you end up with a bunch of employees with train brain.

If you can train employees with only what’s relevant rather than everything, which is what a user guide does, then employees are going to learn better.

Less is more, always. Especially in training.

Real Practice

Through the use of interactive tutorials, real-life examples, and even software simulations, training can facilitate better learning and engagement.

It’s also pretty easy to apply what you learned in training to the job when you practice what you’re going to do on the job rather than learn about it in some obscure way with a bunch of unhelpful clicks.

Realtime Feedback

With training it’s possible to not only give employees a realistic simulation to learn the system but also provide them with real-time feedback. That means elaborate scenarios could be created that help employees learn what impact a mistake could have.

It also nudges them kindly in the right direction. User guides just tell you how to do something and leave employees up to do it without ever allowing them to practice or make sure they know if they did something wrong.

There’s nothing worse than finding out you did something wrong when your manager comes leaning on your cubicle wall asking you to fill out your TPS report.

Bill Lumbergh from Office Space leaning against a cubicle wall drinking coffee.

It’s not about simply correcting mistakes, either. The real-time feedback that training provides is great for helping employees understand best practices and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

User guides don’t do that.

More Of What’s Needed, Less Of What’s Not

When you’re learning you’re often overwhelmed. It’s like drinking from a firehose.

That is unless that employee is taking good training that’s broken up well (chunking) and provides just the relevant parts they need to do their job better with the new software.

Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

Sometimes you don’t need to put everything in training, either. It can be better to provide what’s used often and needs to be known in an eLearning course and then leave the rest for performance support.

This is also a great way to defeat the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. Performance support is a spectacular form of training that’s often forgotten.

Less is more when it comes to training. You want as little as possible to get the job done.

While a user guide is a useful resource, it can’t provide the same level of focused and relevant learning that training provides. Training provides employees with the right level of understanding of the software, allows them to practice using it, and helps them develop the skills needed to use the software.

This makes training a better solution for employees who are focused on how to use a new system for their job rather than understanding the entire application. User guides are fine for the subject matter expert (SME) and perhaps developers, but not for everyone else.

Shortcomings of User Guides

Anytime I hear a user guide request my insides churn. That’s not because I’ve never opened a user guide, either. It’s simply because they’re a burden on learning and their only purpose is generally to find one very specific answer. A better way of providing that answer would probably have been a helpful article in a knowledge base.

So, user guides have an easy replacement no matter what (knowledge base).

Unfortunately, user guides have many shortcomings when compared to providing employees with actual training. You could have a user guide in addition to training but never instead of training.

Not For The Job

User guides often provide information that does not apply to the job. It may show you how to do specific things in an application but not how employees apply them to their jobs.

Here’s a great example of what not to do in training.

Let’s say you’re a customer service representative who must learn how to use new customer relationship management (CRM) software. You’re given a user guide that walks through the technical aspects of the software.

It shows you how to navigate through the software, input customer information, and run basic reports. But it fails to show you how to apply this knowledge to your job.

A user guide may show you how to use the software but it won’t show you the whole workflow and how it fits together with the work.

As a result, you may be able to use the software, but you won’t know how it fits into your workflow or how to use it to solve real-world problems. It also wouldn’t show you how to connect disparate actions in the CRM into one seamless workflow that a customer service representative likely has to perform.

This lack of context can lead to frustration and a lack of adoption. Or worse, they could simply not care and just do whatever they want and input bad data. That would defeat the purpose of implementing the software in the first place.

Too Much That’s Not Necessary

User guides are geared towards making everyone a subject matter expert. In reality, only a few employees may need to be skilled in the depth of what a user guide provides. For the rest of the employees, it’s just an overwhelming mass of words and diagrams.

Not Safe

User guides cannot create a safe environment for employees to practice their job skills. That likely would result in them making mistakes on the job and in the software. On the other hand, software simulations create a safe environment to practice.

Once people start making mistakes and training others with the same mistakes the system gets more and more messed up. It’s a downward spiral of mistakes, bad data, and employees who simply don’t care to do what’s right.

Companies need to recognize the shortcomings of user guides and invest in providing employees with effective training.

Leveraging Technology for Training

Digital training is popular for software training and for good reason. It allows for information to be provided in a more engaging way.

  • It can add context to what’s being learned
  • Breaks things down into smaller chunks
  • Provides a simulated environment to help employees use new software

That means employees have a smoother transition into knowing the software and how to apply it to their jobs.

One important aspect of leveraging technology for training is to make sure hands-on experience is maximized to give employees a chance to better understand how the new software works themselves.

One of the best ways to learn something you have to do is to do it. Talking about it doesn’t help, doing it does. Digital training allows employees to become more comfortable and confident in using software.

Digital training is the most effective way to help employees use software.

Digital training is also the ideal form of training because it provides companies with a way to measure the effectiveness of their training efforts. Through the use of analytics and digital tracking, companies can monitor the progress of employees and track their results to performance on the job.

Doing is learning. That means a software simulation for the first experience and performance support for later job support is a winning combination.

The power of digital training lies in its ability to provide a more efficient and effective way of training employees. By taking advantage of digital technology, companies can make sure their employees receive the best training when it comes to new software.

Insights from Training Best Practices

These best practices for training for learning new software will help you strategically use training rather than relying on a user guide. You aren’t necessarily going to use all these best practices in every training but you will use most at least one time or another.

Ready to best practice the life out of training and banish user guides forever?

(I hope you said yes.)

Allow Questions

While you can’t allow employees to ask questions in an eLearning course, that’s not a big problem. There are many other options for people asking questions.

Here are two of our favorites.

  1. Provide the best way for employees to ask questions or get more help. This could be an email address, help portal, a community on your enterprise social network (ESN), or whatever. Just make it easy whatever method you use.
  2. Provide scheduled office hours where experts on the new system will be on hand to answer questions. A project manager, change manager, or subject matter expert (SME) could be on hand to answer all those difficult questions.

This has the added benefit of allowing future training to be built even better and to answer the most asked questions. That’s as long as there’s a route for people on calls to document and provide that information for future training updates.

Oh, and you also have to go through evaluations and iterative which the ADDIE process is great for if you do it right.

Make It Real

Software simulations that closely mimic the real environment are the most helpful. If you can foresee or know the most common mistakes then those can even be built right into the training as scenarios.

The more realistic the simulation and scenarios, the more employees will connect with the training. that means they’ll learn better.

Clear Objectives

This one is always important and goes back to what we typically practice in instructional design. Clear objectives are essential and we like to stick to performance objectives for corporate training rather than learning objectives which might be fine for education.

Make sure employees know what they’re going to do and what they can expect in a course or even a job aid. It should be a brief overview that helps people focus on getting more out of it.

And no, objectives aren’t unnecessary today. They are scientifically proven to lead to better learning outcomes, which is why they should still be common practice.

Keep It Less

Don’t just keep training simple, keep it to its minimum. This is essential because with too much information comes less learning.

We always start our training design process with nothing and then build from there. It’s always more challenging to start with something and cut down to less. Starting with everything only leads to too much information.

Be Inclusive

Accessibility isn’t just a buzzword or checklist. It’s something you need to be fully aware of on many different levels. Employees won’t necessarily speak up if they have a disability and your needs analysis won’t tell you that either. That makes it that much more important to make everything accessible.

It could be making a video accessible, an eLearning course accessible, or even a job aid accessible. Everything should be inclusive of all employees no matter what. And part of that inclusivity is to make content accessible.

Wrap Up

Training is more effective than relying on user guides to help employees learn new software. User guides may be helpful for an expert or the SME, but it lacks the depth and nuance that comes with good training.

Using technology for training is a great way to provide employees with an interactive and engaging learning environment. It provides an opportunity for employees to get real practice and receive real-time feedback.

Additionally, training with technology allows for tailored content in many different ways. Sticking to best practices always helps to build great training that helps employees use your organization’s software quicker and more accurately.

When you’re ready to help your employees achieve maximum efficiency and job satisfaction, the only path toward that is to provide great training.

We’re here to help you achieve that with professional instructional design consulting or we can take the reigns of your training completely.

If you’re ready to discuss your next company technology project, schedule a free consultation and we’ll help guide you on a path to success.

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