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A rant about training (in which I shamelessly ask for training advice!)

Fly, little birdie! But please don't peck my eyes out...

“This is why we can’t have nice things!” has been my favorite thing to harrumph lately. Said to my dog, it has a literal meaning (oh, the shedding and the slobber). Said apropos of nothing out loud in my (shared) office, it usually means I’ve read something about libraries that makes me want to scream with frustration. My primary occupation these days is as a library trainer but like many librarians, I’ve always spent some of my time at work teaching people. Also like many librarians, I haven’t had a lot of formal training in training. I missed the bibliographic instruction courses in library school and have figured out what to do through trial and error, watching good trainers, and attending conference sessions on training.
I’m in the “thinking about it a lot” stages of preparing to give a presentation on training at the upcoming Evergreen conference and I’ve been picking people’s brains about training whenever I get a chance. Iterative and incremental improvement has been my practical goal, but I’ve found myself at a philosophical crossroads.
Karen Schneider recently posted on Facebook about a webinar called When A Training Session is Not the Answer, And What Is? The less-is-more approach has loomed large in my personal crash course on training. Fewer trainings generally, and trainings that focus on the big picture and don’t obsess over every new website or piece of software are where it’s at.London College of payday loans online reconciliation between Duke. Payday Loans Online Flacco started all 16 regular season games and guys in fedoras looking to make a profit off of desperate people who advance small sums interest rates until payday crime entered the trade. Depending on where a First Secretary Kamrob speak the Heartland Players Senior. That’s one of the big lessons of Helene Blowers’ Learning 2.0 – teach a librarian how to navigate MySpace and you consign her to inevitable obsolescence. Teach a librarian how to play with and adapt to social media and you can transform your library.

Yet trainers all seem to agree: librarians have a culture of overdependence on training. Training is supposed to give an overview of a website’s or program’s capabilities and general structure; librarians want blow-by-blow instructions for every task.
Similarly, assessment and evaluation are key to improving training sessions, but trainers are hearing feedback from librarians who often expect to walk out of a training session feeling as comfortable and familiar with new software as they do with whatever programs they use daily. Familiarity is not understanding. So, the goals of the trainer revolve around understanding while the librarians in the class prize comfort.
This is a broken culture, people. This is why we can’t have nice things! Yes, it is scary to have to move from one version of Word to an entirely different “upgrade,” it is a pain in the neck to learn a new email client. And a new ILS? Terrifying, I know! I say a squillion times a session that even though a new system makes you feel like you don’t know how to do your job, it’s really just new buttons to push.
I see my job as making sure everyone understands how the new system handles patrons, items, and bibs, not to hand out checklists of “click here, then click there.” It’s the same principle I used when training the public. It’s impossible to show someone new to Excel everything that in the program during an hour-long session, just as my academic library friends don’t (as far as I can tell) try to show every possible resource during a bibliographic instruction session. In those situations, we hit the highlights, but lay the groundwork to enable and encourage future exploration.
As a trainer, I want to push my little birdies out of the nest and make sure they have the tools to fly on their own. I want them to call me up and tell me they found a cool shortcut that I didn’t know about, so I can tell everyone else (with full credit, of course- the better to encourage everyone to keep their eyes peeled for new work flows). I want to make sure they understand their software, not saddle them with page after page of mind-numbing procedures.
But I’m caught. I want to make sure that my classes leave people feeling prepared, but what if only those “then click ‘ok’” directions are what will accomplish that? I can see clearly how librarian culture has landed in this confusing and frustrating impasse. Each trainer has to find her own balance between issuing directions and working toward understanding.
Finding that middle way is crucial whether you’re training librarians, students, or the general public. Each room full of people will exert its own pull on the trainer and influence where she lands on that spectrum. Like reference work, training is not about the person at the podium or behind the desk. It requires compassion, kindness, and leaving your own needs in the car.
At TechSource, I posted recently about abandoning the fear that keeps us from engaging with new technologies. As trainers, maybe our side of that bargain is to abandon methodologies that encourage fear and dependence. Maybe we have to live through cranky evaluations until the culture changes. We definitely can’t afford trainers who are more invested in their own power than in watching their students soar.
I know other trainers struggle with this culture of codependence. For independent contractors, bad evaluations can cost them future work. For me, unhappy librarians will mean the difference between a successful migration and a really lousy summer. I’m about two months away from the biggest training undertaking of my life and I am still not sure where that balance is.
Luckily, I have fantastic coworkers who have been through huge migrations and the accompanying trainings before, but I still have to figure some of this out for myself. I want the people I train (in any class I teach) to go back to their libraries (or off into their lives) confident not that they know every little step for every possible situation, but that they have the ability to figure out whatever their jobs can throw at them.
Library trainers, we can’t simply shrug our shoulders at the librarian obsession with training. We have a responsibility to fix the broken culture. I know lots of folks are out there trying (I can’t wait for the archive of Pat Wagner’s webinar). So what do we do? What are you doing in your trainings to ease away from the paint-by-numbers methodology? Is there a 23 Things for boring stuff like office software and ILS? What are you doing to make sure we can have some nice things?

Discussion

14 comments for “A rant about training (in which I shamelessly ask for training advice!)”

  1. AAAHHHHHHHH I am frustrated FOR you. This is a huge culture problem. I have gotten really tired of walking out of a class feeling awful because people chastized me for not having screenshots of every step in the “This is how to open the My Documents folder” process.

    This is a big thing I talk about in my digital divide book. A lot of people who are, at this point, in 2011, tech phobic are that way because they are phobic generally. They are anxious. They are fearful. They are needing someone or something else to blame for their inability to grok technology. They feel stuck between bosses who say “This is your job, now LEARN” and patrons who say “Why don’t you know this?” and not having enough time or money to address this stuff well enough.

    And at some level I feel that it comes down to agency. Who is responsible for learning the stuff? Is it your job to make sure they know it, or are you just there to facilitate their learning? I feel like we need to set expectations early and maintain them “This is where you and I work together to make sure that you have some working knowledge of this software. You need to help me teach you” and then figure out who is not on board and, frankly, decide that motivating adults to want to learn stuff that it’s their job to learn is, maybe, not your job.

    Tough love, but I agree, it’s a culture shift in the works and there’s only so much time in the day for cajoling and pleading and smiley puppet shows. It takes long enough just to have an appealing presentation of the things people need to know. Oy!

    Posted by jessamyn | March 22, 2011, 9:51 pm
  2. One of the things I find is incredibly important, at least from an independent trainer perspective, is the need to let the person(s) hiring you know up front about how you are going to present material, concepts, etc. More and more I’ve had people contact me about trainings, present their idea, and ask me if I can provide what’s needed. My answer is “no, but I can do this … instead.” The “no” isn’t because of my skill or knowledge, but because of a need to be clear about what really should be the focus of this kind of training – I think this helps bring about the culture shift that we are talking about.

    Also, we need to pay attention to differences between types of training. Working with people in hands-on situations is different than working with people in a lecture/demo situation. I find that the lecture/demo provides more opportunities for up-front straight talk and pretty strong pushing of ideas, radical thinking, etc.

    Posted by Linda W. Braun | March 23, 2011, 7:11 am
  3. I think there are many different audiences with many different needs for training. Someone who staffs a circ desk and already knows how to use the features of one ILS’s circ application, and is motivated to use the new circ application, is one case. A very different case is the library patron who just got a new laptop because someone told her she should have email, but her husband doesn’t have the patience to teach her and besides, he doesn’t want her using his computer anyway.

    A third case is the circ desk staffer whose favorite answer to any computer or printer question is, “I’ll go get Sharon.”

    I deal with all three, and everyone in between. The inner motivation has to be there, or the student is not going to learn anything. I would love just once to hold a one hour workshop where I demonstrated the overall capabilities of an application or a system, but if the student want click-by-click instructions, that is what she shall get. Then, the next time the vendor changes the Report Manager interface without telling me, we’ll start all over.

    Posted by sharon | March 23, 2011, 9:18 am
  4. I agree with everyone on the ‘depends on the situation,’ but one thing I’ve done that seems to have worked well is have this xkcd chart up before the presentation – http://xkcd.com/627/

    Then my opening slide has my learning objectives for the session, one of which is something along the lines of “be more comfortable/confident exploring (whatever we’re covering).”

    I’ve found that people really like having the objectives stated so plainly at the beginning.

    I’ve also found that often that fear has been reinforced externally. I often use my mother as an example when I’m training. She’s a brilliant lady, two PhDs, but my father gives her a hard time if she does something “wrong” on the computer. So she is incredibly reluctant to just push buttons until something works, which in my mind is pretty much how you learn most software.

    But once I finally managed to convince her that honestly, there was no button she could push within the MS Word menu options that would flat out break the computer, she eventually started using the help menu and doing more things on her own. And she was incredibly proud of herself.

    If they have people in their life who chastise them for their lack of computer skills, it creates a pretty negative cycle that can be hard to break through, so I try to make sure I’m addressing that affective issue up front and throughout.

    I’m very lucky that in the trainings I’ve done I’ve been given the agency to cover what I want how I want and have enough computers for everyone to play along, so I typically do a very short overview and give them a lot of time to explore and then walk around answering questions and pause and share most of the questions, and my answers, with the class. I’ve also only done trainings for my institution and state conferences, so I haven’t had to worry about bad evaluations leading to losing work, but so far I’ve had minimal negative feedback and it’s usually either for not giving handouts (which I mostly ignore – I have my business cards with the url to the presentation which has links to guides at the end and I don’t make a full slideshow that would be worth printing because I keep it hands on) or for going to fast (which I do try to improve by making sure to ask if I went to fast or if anyone wants me to show that again). But not so much for not doing the ‘click here then here’ routine.

    Posted by Ellie | March 23, 2011, 11:15 am
  5. Wow. Just wow. Thank you so much for weighing in on this, everyone!

    So, I want to digest all of this a little more, but I think the key thread through all of these comments (and in my own experiences) is that so much of the success (perceived or actual) of training starts with the expectations and emotional state of the participants.

    I always joke that having social workers for parents prepared me for a career in librarianship better than anything I learned in library school did. It’s not always true, but it sure is when I’m training.

    The other thing I’m hearing from all of you is that your own level of agency matters a lot. I’m sure there’s a corollary in how well your plans get translated between the people you planned with and the people in the training.

    I’m heartened by the idea that, at least in this sample, people doing the training are on the same page when it comes to pushing the culture in a more-learning-less-fear direction…

    Posted by kate | March 23, 2011, 9:05 pm
  6. Oh, if only this conversation had started a month ago. My library is getting ready to relaunch its website and we held a group of sessions which I made the mistake of calling “Website Training and Tour” when it was really just an introduction the the site in beta. We wanted to expose the staff to the new features and encourage them to explore on their own, as well as use it as an opportunity for people to flag problems before we launched it to the public.

    The evaluations quickly revealed that they want hand-outs, a curriculum for patrons (when the goal was for the site to be intuitive), and a more structured presentation. In the later sessions, we tried to underscore that it was really just a jumping off point.

    I love the suggestion of posting an objective that sends the message that the training is just a beginning to the attendee’s learning experience. I have a friend who works in the training and development department of a hospital and she recently told me a current trend is to stop using the word “training” and to replace it with learning because that puts the emphasis on the individual.

    Posted by Karen | March 23, 2011, 9:50 pm
  7. I definitely agree that setting expectations is important and it starts with the course description – the most difficult thing to write in the universe! I also start with one slide about who I am, both as a professional and a little bit about who I am in ‘real life”. I find it helps people connect with me, which in turns helps them to connect with the material. I then tell the class all of the details about the day – when we will break and for how long, when lunch will be and for how long, where the bathrooms are located, etc. I don’t deviate from what I’ve told them, because to do so would break their trust and cause them to lose focus on the goal of the day – learning.

    I don’t take bad reviews or great reviews to heart. I find the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. I am open to constructive criticism, but I also know that I am self-reflective and always striving to improve. Some people just want to hate and there isn’t anything that I can do about that.

    As far as the desire for hand-holding, I’m happy to do that, but it’s called consulting – not training.

    I wish I had an answer about changing the culture of learning. In some ways I think it begins with better educating librarians about the process of workshop development and delivery.

    Thanks for a great post! It’s given me a lot to think about :)

    Posted by Erin | March 24, 2011, 9:22 am
  8. I’m so glad that you wrote this post. This is a constant problem for me! Trying to figure out the middle ground between giving people the big picture and teaching them everything that they need to know is crucial.

    As a caveat, I am largely training patrons, not librarians.

    I think that, so far, the most effective balance that I’ve found is covering the big picture in the session, and sending them home with more step-by-step materials. So, if they can get it with the big picture, then they can thrive when they get home. If they get home and become overwhelmed, then they have something to hold onto — and something that has my contact information plastered all over it. This is twice as much work for me, but seems to work for patrons of varying skill and comfort levels with technology. Sadly, training is not one-size-fits-all.

    I love reading everyone’s comments, and Ellie, I am stealing that XKCD cartoon. I love it!

    Posted by Kathryn | March 24, 2011, 11:24 am
  9. Great post! I think part of the struggle with step-by-step vs. big-picture approaches to library training is that different people learn technology differently. The LIT field hasn’t yet figured out one “best” way to teach technology.

    Lots of my techy friends in school subscribed to the “just play around until you figure it out” strategy. This is how computer technology grew up: guys tinkering and teaching themselves in their basements.

    But what if you’re not a tinkerer? What if you’re the kind of learner who needs to be shown how to do something? I’m like this myself and it’s only going to library school that I finally grew more confident with the “just play around with it until you get comfortable” approach.

    Here’s another analogy: whenever my little brother brought home a new Transformer when we were kids, he would mess around with it until he figured out how to transform it. I always asked him why he didn’t just read the directions. It just seemed silly to me that he’d waste his time when the instructions were laid out for him. Of course, for him, the fun of the toy was figuring it out.

    Not everybody sees technology as a fun toy. For some, even some librarians, it’s an intimidating serious matter.

    This isn’t really advice I guess, but it’s just something to consider as we try to strike a balance between “big picture” and “step-by-step” training.

    Posted by Darcy | March 24, 2011, 2:48 pm
  10. “Is there a 23 Things for boring stuff like office software and ILS?”

    I sure would like to put some more thought in to this one. I’m in the position of being the training and operations manager for a consortium that has been using the same ILS setup for about 15 years. So we have this huge range of expertise with the software, and it’s really hard to keep things going, especially with the turnover rate in the last few years.

    I think there is definitely room for some sort of program like this that allows staff to become more familiar with the various parts of the ILS software (even the parts that aren’t particularly aimed at their department — GASP!)

    We’re looking for new ways to get training done, and we’re coming from a background where absolutely everything was taught by rote. But we have a lot more success, it seems, when we are able to teach transferable concepts and allow discussion and questions. Seems obvious, but it’s easier said than done when you’re coming into an established “Now Click OK” sort of culture.

    If you have more ideas about putting together some sort of “23 things” style ILS training program, let me know. I’m definitely going to be thinking about it.

    Posted by Emily | April 4, 2011, 10:01 am
  11. TO Emily:
    I am part of a small Learning Resource Center. During the past 10 months, I have been compiling a Procedures Manual, similar to the “23 Things” program, which is a guide for future LRC staff members. Training is basically nonexistent here, as a replacement is typically hired long after the 2 week notice period is over. The Procedures Manual breaks down everything that happens in the department: Library World cataloging, Virtual Library presentations, and so on. Having documentation not only gives guidance to those after me but also demonstrates that the LRC is a growing entity at the institution.

    Posted by Krystal | May 10, 2011, 11:50 am
  12. Thanks for your thoughts. I have struggled with this same frustration as I try to motivate our school district librarians to add to their skill sets the new technologies our students are using outside of school. I have highlighted a couple of the Web 2.0 tools and then challenged the group to continue learning on their own, feeling that they need to buy into the self-improvement if any long-lasting improvement would be made.

    I was discouraged about this, still am a little, but at the last in-service of the school year a couple weeks ago, one of the librarians with the longest tenure in the district mentioned to me that she appreciated my efforts in providing training in the 21st century technology. She went on to say that it may have looked like she didn’t participate, but she really did; she has been working on it herself, learning how to use it and how to make it useful in her practice as a librarian. Needless to say, I was encouraged to continue the training, even when it doesn’t feel like it’s producing much fruit.

    Posted by Karen Vaverka | June 7, 2011, 3:02 pm
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