The Software Training Basics
There is no doubt that software training has become a trend. But what makes software training so popular? Be it just a demo or a simple PowerPoint presentation, there is always some form of training needed in order to transfer knowledge to your learners.
In simple words, software training is here to stay as long as organizations are driven by the need to save time and cost by digitizing the tasks for themselves and all their stakeholders ranging from customers to vendors to business partners. Therefore, recent years have seen a boom in software training that use various technologies.
So how does software training develop? What is the science that determines its stages? Where and when does it need intervention in terms of training and knowledge transfer?
These are thoughts that must be pondered upon...
The Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
Behind the software that you use, be it for banking or for paying bills, there is a software development story that is as fascinating as it is complex.
Universally, software development organizations follow a systemic development model called the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC). The aim of the SDLC life cycle is to create a high quality training system keeping in mind client requirements and technological possibilities.
From agile to iterative to sequential, SDLC models follow different sequences of development based on the requirements of the client and the project.
This methodology helps to plan and control the development of an information system, dividing the entire process into distinct stages.
The 5 Stages of Software Development Life Cycle
Therefore, a typical software development lifecycle goes through the following standard stages:
- Requirement Analysis
In this phase the requirements for the project are defined by the Business Analysts. Therefore, the team identifies why the application needs to be built, who will be the system users, what are the gaps, how the new application can bridge the gaps, infrastructure requirements etc. At the end of this phase the functional specification documents, gap analysis document etc. are created.
- Design and Development
During this stage database modeling, software structuring, interface design, prototype development etc. takes place. At the end of this phase design documents such as the General Design Document (GDD)/Detailed Design Document (DDD) and also the codes are developed.
- Quality Assurance and Testing
This is the stage for installing build, system testing, bug fixing, User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and for preparing testing reports. At the end of this phase a stable application with minimized errors is ready for deployment.
- Implementation and Deployment
During this stage trainings are conducted and the software application is deployed at pilot sites initially followed by complete roll out. At the end of this phase a fully functional, stable application is ready for use.
- Maintenance and Support
During this period knowledge transfer, change requests, if any, impact analysis and all pending documentation is completed. At the end of this phase, the vendor team hands over all the elements of the project including codes, documents and software licenses to the client.
Mapping Training and Systems Development Life Cycle Functions
Now let's find out what creates the need for trainings during software development? Here are some answers:
When the system is tested by external testers, such as client representatives, the testers will need to understand the features and functionalities of the application. Therefore training may be needed before testing activities, especially User Acceptance Testing (UAT). Sometimes clients opt for a walkthrough and avoid going in for a full fledged training for testers.
If a vendor is developing the system, it will finally be handed over to the client, who will be in charge of maintaining it. This implies the development team from the client side will need training/knowledge transfer. Trainings for the developers/technical staff are classified as technical trainings
The database of the system has to be administered by the Database Administrator (DBA) group of the client, after the vendor leaves. This implies that this group will need DBA trainings.
The system will eventually be used by a set of people from the list of client stakeholders. This implies that the users of the system will need training.
The client may want to carry forward the training in other location/users. This implies that the trainers from the client side will require training. Such trainings are classified as ‘Train-the-Trainer’ (TTT) trainings.
Therefore, software applications will need the following types of trainings at the corresponding stages to be successfully implemented:
- Pre-UAT trainings
- User trainings
- Technical training/knowledge transfer
- DBA training/knowledge transfer
The ADDIE Life Cycle
We have already seen the phases in the SDLC. Training also has phases that are as distinct as the SDLC.
Trainings typically follow the ADDIE model of development. The ADDIE model consists of five distinct phases:
The following sections briefly explain the five phases:
1. Analysis Phase
During Analysis phase the Instructional Designer (ID) finds answers to the following questions:
- What is the requirement for the training?
- Who is the audience?
- What are the audience characteristics?
- What are their current skills, knowledge and abilities?
- What are the desired skills, knowledge, and abilities that need to be achieved through training?
- What is the training gap, if any?
- What are the preferred modes of training delivery?
- What are the timelines for the Project?
- What is the prerequisite knowledge that the learners need to have for the training?
In this phase, all the information related to the training, is gathered. A Needs Analysis Report (NAR) is prepared with all the information that has been gathered.
2. Design Phase
After the ID has gathered all the necessary information regarding the training that needs to be developed, the next stage is to plan for all the activities. Therefore, in the Design phase:
- Templates are created
- Style Guide is prepared
- Prototypes are prepared, if required
- Learning strategy is developed
- All documentation such as General Design Document (GDD) and Use Cases are analyzed
- Learning objectives are derived
- Course duration is estimated
- Course curriculum is developed
At the end of this phase, all the planning and preparations for the proposed trainings are completed and the stage is set for development.
3. Development Phase
This is the stage for the development of the actual training material. All the logistics regarding training delivery are also finalized at this stage. Therefore, at the end of the Development phase, the stage is set for the actual training delivery.
This is the stage for the actual delivery of the classroom Trainings and online Trainings.
This is the final phase of the Training. During this phase the following types of evaluation are performed:
- Trainers evaluate the learners informally through ‘check the understanding’ questions or other interactive activities.
- Learners evaluate the effectiveness of the training through feedback forms or other identified methods.
- Lessons learned are documented.
The ADDIE model ensures that all training activities are well organized and chunked into distinct phases that prelude or follow each other in a logical sequence.
This approach ensures that all the activities are planned well ahead of time and all stakeholders are aware of what to expect and when.
Mapping Training and Software Development Life Cycle Phases
So how do the phases of ADDIE align with SDLC?
The Training phases follow the sequence portrayed in the ADDIE model. These activities are in turn aligned sequentially with the phases in the SDLC. Let’s now see how this close amalgamation happens.
Training Analysis and Design - Software Development Life Cycle Design Phase
Typically, training activities begin during, or, at the end of the Design phase of SDLC. The ID performs a detailed audience and task analysis through interaction with the proposed users of the system, key client representatives for training, the Business Analyst and technical team.
The ID typically analyzes the following inputs:
- Request for Proposal (RFP)
- Master Agreement document
- Functional Specification Document (FSD)
- General Design Document (GDD)/Detailed Design Document (DDD)
- Htmls and Wireframes of the application
Based on these inputs the ID typically develops the following deliverables:
- Needs Analysis Report stating the findings of the Analysis phase
- Training Management plan that clearly states the list of deliverables and the schedule of development and delivery of these deliverables corresponding to the SDLC
- Curriculum map linking the user tasks and training needs
- Curriculum Design providing the course structure including the modules, topics, duration and other requirements for the training.
Training Development - Software Development Life Cycle Development and Testing Phase
All development activities for a software application only begin after the sign off of a Training Management Plan. Development of Training materials occur towards the end of the Development phase of the SDLC and continues till UAT, after which minor updates are made to the materials based on the changes in the application.
Delivery of pre-UAT trainings may also occur during this phase.
Some clients also show a preference for the Train-the-Trainer (TTT) trainings after UAT, so that their trainers can coordinate and co-facilitate training delivery to the end-users.
Training Implementation and Evaluation - Software Development Life Cycle Deployment and Maintenance Phase
Delivery of user trainings occurs prior to Go-live and complete deployment. Sometimes Web-based Trainings (WBTs) are delivered after deployment for reference purposes.
For classroom trainings, a training environment is created in the servers and the users learn all about the system through practice and walkthrough.
Feedback forms and online methods are provided for the learners to share their feedback for trainings. To evaluate how much the learners have progressed through the trainings, classroom practice tests and online tests are used. Online tests can be tracked through the Learning Management System (LMS) of the client, if it is available.
All technical and DBA trainings and knowledge transfer activities occur during the Maintenance and Support phase of SDLC.
Mapping Training Materials to Training Categories
Taking into consideration the varied needs and complexities of software trainings, it is important to have a variety of training materials.
Here’s a list of the categories of trainings and the corresponding materials.
- For user trainings
WBTS and Classroom training materials such as Facilitator slides, Quick Reference Guide, Participant Workbook, Instructor Guide etc.
- For technical trainings
System Operations Guide, Configuration Guide, User Manuals etc.
- For DBA trainings
Admin Guide and select sections of the user training materials and User Guide
- For TTT trainings
Relevant sections of all the materials based on the audience group
Industry Trends and ‘Rapid’ Learning
While software development is the order of the day, trainings for software applications have gathered momentum.
The trend shows that software application trainings are more in volume for any organization in the training and development space.
In a bid to meet the training needs, many clients who require software applications to be developed, request for trainings using rapid development tools.
These tools have gained popularity for their quick and effective method of rendering screenshots of the application into a quick online training.
However, very little time is invested in analysis, design or other key aspects of such trainings. The usual ‘rapid’ approach is to capture the screenshots and record audio to take the learners through the application using a WBT.
For ‘rapid’ classroom trainings a user manual is often substituted for structured Participant and Instructor Guides and other training materials. A PowerPoint presentation is used to support the user manual and the trainings are conducted through a rapid ‘walkthrough’.
While this is a ‘quick fix’ solution, research has shown that many of these trainings have not resulted in effective on-the-job transition of knowledge. After such trainings, the users have found it difficult to use a new system and execute their tasks.
A structured training consisting of the following can prevent such ineffective and rushed learning:
- A precursor WBT with specific modules to prepare the learners for classroom trainings
- A detailed classroom training with all the training materials such as Participant Workbook, Instructor Guide, Facilitator Slides and Quick Reference Guides, with clearly defined learning modules, walkthrough, practice and tests
- A follow up WBT with all the content for the training for reference and brush up
Saving time and money through ‘rapid’ trainings can prove costly in the long run, when system users and maintenance staff grapple with problems while using the system. This could even impact the business through critical errors or non-usage of the system.
Therefore, it is for trainers to suggest the best practices to the client when they opt for a software application training.
As we can see, training and SDLC are by no means exclusive of each other. They complement each other and make each other effective. For a software application to be deployed and used effectively, a well planned and structured training holds the key to easy adaptation by the audience.