Written by:

Holly Macdonald


December 16, 2015

I’ve written before about “Training Debt“, based off:

Here are some other ways that training debt might hurt an organization or a cause.

Customer Training Debt

Without investing in customer training, you might find that your customers don’t know how to use your product. Without that knowledge, they might not get the full appreciation of your product. They may not be aware of ,or know how to use certain features. You should be concerned if that’s the case. And you should really provide not just feature list training, but use real tasks and help your users know how to get the most out of your product. They’ll be more loyal, more likely to refer and be more invested in how your product helps them meet their goals. If you don’t provide good onboarding and product training, they might become a “flight risk”. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, if your customers aren’t really using your product, then they may just be swayed by a better pitch. And you’ve probably heard the adage that its’ easier to sell to an existing customer than find new ones. Investing in training to increase customer loyalty makes good business sense. Putting it off, or throwing some random screencasts up on your website may actually do more harm than good. So, do the cost/benefit analysis and you’ll probably find that providing training is a good investment.

Some good examples:

Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes Community – these guys seriously understand how to make you want to use their product and continually provide their users with tons of training, ideas, hacks, tricks and freebies. Even if you aren’t a customer, they offer some awesome things.

ELH-learnSmartSheet – we have recently signed up for this online project management tool and have found the way they structure their training helpful. The notion of a playlist is pretty compelling. And while the interface isn’t as slick as some others we’ve seen, it’s a powerful tool, so learning ways to really get the most out of it is critical.

smartsheet helpSo, don’t just focus on building an “intuitive product”, consider how your users will get up to speed on your product and how good training will ensure that they don’t end up swamping your support service or cancelling their subscription because they can’t see the value in using your product because they don’t know how to use it.

Community Training Debt

If your community is lacking in knowledge, think about how difficult it will be to build, sustain or grow your community’s capacity. There’s sometimes resistance to providing training in areas where it seems like people should just “get it”. The reality is that we assume an awful lot when we are behind an initiative. And, we also place a lot of faith in motivation. We believe that people will want to do things so much, that they’ll go to great lengths to figure it out. But the reality is, that motivation is only part of the puzzle. If you really want to see new behaviours (because that’s REALLY what it’s about), you need to a few more ingredients. One of them is ability. So, invest in making sure that people know HOW to do something, not just that they WANT to do it. You’ll also need to make sure that they know WHEN to do it as well. If you ignore training, you may also end up with well-meaning but misguided supporters who dilute your efforts or create more work for you because of their lack of ability. Or you might find yourself falling into the trap of “I told them” and they didn’t do it. I have seen this many times, and it’s not a matter of  purely “repeat your message” (although that would be good too), but compounded with the assumption that everyone knows as much as you do.

A couple of examples from personal experience:

Orca Network – I have to confess to being a bit of a “whale nerd” – I am fascinated by whales, especially orcas. Living on an island means that I see/spend quite a lot of time on the Pacific Ocean. Our local orca population is a mixture of fish eaters (“Southern Residents”) and mammal eaters (“Transients”). The Southern Residents are endangered. There are less than 100 of them (although we’ve seen a baby boom – 7 calves born this year), and finding ways to help sustain the population is something the community would like to see. You can see in the image indications to “Be Whale Wise” are linked to and the ability to report sightings (which help scientists gather information about the whales). Incidentally, I also love how technology can assist here – drones that can observe and the SnotBot project which can collect whale exhalations (“snot”) which can provide biological information too. I want to see these whales saved, I’m motivated, but also need to know what I can do personally to make a difference.

orca network

Note: If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see me post photos of my #islandcommute, where I am typically trying to spot whales (and occasionally do!) as well as sharing photos when I do see them in my leisure time – sailing or kayaking.

Economic Development

Recently I volunteered to sit on the local economic development commission. As a small community, there’s not a lot of economic diversity, and the commission exists to develop a strategy and work with other organizations to support and attract businesses. One of the key elements that I feel we can bring to the community is better training on HOW to start, manage and grow a business. Since I’ve worked with the BC Tech community developing the Market Validation Training for the past four years, and have volunteered as a Futurpreneur mentor, I feel that the combination of the subject matter experience and instructional design expertise can really contribute to building some skills.

So, don’t just build a website or invest in marketing. Those two things are often seen as the panacea to building community capacity. Invest in training so that your community or cause has motivated AND capable members who know WHAT, HOW and WHEN to act.

What other areas do you see training debt piling up? Where could an early investment lead to a greater return down the road?