Ten Tips for Technology Training

Rob & Michael
Technology training in libraries is more important than ever. New tools and systems require new training and new methods of instruction. How many librarians have found themselves the “accidental” tech trainer for their organizations in recent years? Whether you chose the job, or the job chose you, you have work to do. Library staff and users look to their technology trainers as guides to new Web tools such as wikis and blogs–and we must meet the challenge.

Last year at the Internet Librarian International Conference in London I presented with Rob Coers, an Internet training consultant from the Netherlands. We had met the year before and had recognized that our similar backgrounds from different parts of the world might translate into an effective program. We put our heads together and came up with a session on tips for library technology trainers. Whether you are training staff or your users, these hints, techniques, and those little “ah-ha” moments can jump-start your training sessions–or can help pave the way to your first training endeavors. Whatever your budget or library size, you can use these tips to enhance your training!

So, without further ado, here are some of the “best of the best” tips from my work with Rob and from my years of experience training at SJCPL.

The 10 Tips Explained

1. Carry multiple versions of your training documents, both digitally and in hard copy. Use a USB storage device (like a flash drive) to carry your presentations and other documents. Look for one in the Sunday paper “big office store” ads. The 256 MB or larger drives are now relatively inexpensive, and they can come in very handy if you need to move your presentation to another computer. When I travel, I also make backups of my presentations on CD and tuck them in my luggage–just in case. Trainers might also set up a Google Mail account and e-mail their presentations to themselves so they can access them from anywhere with an Internet connection.

What if your training technology fails? What if the one laptop in the library goes kaput? I also carry a hard copy. Be ready to present just from your notes if all the tech fails.

2. Use real-world examples for exercises. Instructional designers urge educators to make learning relevant and practical. Librarian trainers must do so as well. Use examples that staff or users can take away and actually use in their lives. Circulation staff should, for example, understand how to place holds on materials, and exercises should reflect all the nuances of that task. Throw in some trick questions too, and get your students thinking about how they might problem-solve at the circulation desk.

Library users will benefit from real-world training exercises. For example, exercises on listing items on eBay and uploading auction images to Flickr might be very useful for an online auction class. Or students might bring resources to an Endnote class and actually build their first citation database in class–with the help of the librarian.

3. Create an online community around your training. Use Blogger to start a blog or ask for a locally hosted blog at your library and create a “library training blog” for users or staff(or both!), complete with class descriptions, prerequisites, and schedules. Then open up comments so that your students can evaluate the classes, offer suggestions, and create a community around the training initiative.

Store your handouts and class outlines at the blog, as well, for folks to refer back to and download as needed. Offer a way for students to send questions, and post the answers. This carries the learning experience out of the training room and back to where your students live, in-house or out!

If you have a little extra time, offer instant messaging office hours via a trainer screen name to answer questions one-on-one. Don’t worry, if the question is too detailed, refer the student to online resources and the training blog for more information.

4. Use audio/visual and hands-on tools. Use video clips, snazzy slides, and whatever else you can come up with to make your sessions visual and engaging. Liken learning a new database interface to a popular song or movie, and use clips to open the “show.” Are your students worried about a big technology change in your system? Open the session with Gloria Gaynor’s song “I Will Survive.” (You can get it for 99 cents at iTunes!)

I’ve taught sessions on podcasting and iPods that include sending an iPod around the room for people to try out. It may be a surprise to many gadget geeks, but a good number of folks have never held an iPod. If your library is delving into such media players, make sure you offer a hands-on “meet the player” program.

5. Create how-to handouts and more with PowerPoint. (Yes, PowerPoint!) One thing I found effective when creating how-to handouts for new laptops or new databases at SJCPL was to use the tools in PowerPoint (or OpenOffice’s Impress) to easily incorporate drawing tools (such as arrows and shapes), blocks of text, and more into student-friendly packets. The control of each element was better than struggling with page design in Word or another application. Landscape mode works well for showing many types of step-by-step or annotated screen shots of databases. Portrait mode mimics the handouts created by high-priced publishing programs!

You might project the slides as part of the training, or just print them as handouts and distribute during class. (See the online resources for examples.)

6. Promote classes with Flickr. Hopefully your library has a Flickr account, or will soon be getting one. It’s $25 well-spent! Some trainers use a Flickr account to share photos of their sessions as well as to create promotional pieces to announce sessions. For example, using FD’s Flickr toys, you could create movie posters, magazine covers, and trading cards for your classes and post them online and on paper.

Printed trading cards might come into play as well, as part of games and exercises in class. There are no limits to what you can do with Flickr and Flickr toys!

7. Keep up-to-date with online resources. Has your training program changed since 2003? Are you still teaching the same old searching class? Maybe it’s time to update that course content! What’s hot? What technologies are your patrons using? What technologies are your staff members asking about? Read the technology blogs and news sites, and don’t forget resources like the weekly news magazines or USA Today. If some new Web site, technology tool, or trend makes it into one of those, it’s already big!

In the online resources for these tips, you’ll find a link to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, an invaluable resource. A recent report stated, “The average American internet user is not sure what podcasting is, what an RSS feed does, or what the term ‘phishing’ means. …” The reportlists eight techie terms that should already be in your technology/Internet classes. You should define and discuss every one of them!

8. Rehearse a bit, but go with the flow. Rehearse and know your outline, but don’t just read the script. No one wants to see you standing stiffly and hiding behind notes. We want to engage learners with an easy style, patience for snafus, and an environment that does not threaten the “techno-terrified.” Be comfortable with the topic so you don’t seem nervous. Roll with the waves of technology not working, your Web site examples failing to load (screen shots make a good backup!), and other snafus.
9. Take a look at Web 2.0 tools and start playing. There’s a lot of discussion about Web 2.0 these days. These tools, such as blogs, IM, wikis, and more will impact your training classes soon, so it’s a good idea to start learning about them. Dabble a little bit where you feel comfortable: Set up a Blogger site for practice, check out Wikipedia and see how the pages are edited, IM with a buddy at home or at the library. The best way to learn how these social tools work is to experience them.
10. Enjoy what you do! Have fun with teaching technology, and bring your interests and yourself to the class. The best trainers are those who are human and who share themselves. Do you collect Fiestaware gravy boats by buying them on eBay? The group will love to hear about it in your auction class!
Enjoy training and don’t sweat the glitches with technology … there will always be something you can’t control!

No matter where you are with your role as a librarian/trainer, and no matter what your funding level, these tips offer new ways of doing some tried-and-true instruction!

This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine May 2006, published by Information Today Inc.