Training On Mac Computers Works Out

A funny thing often happens when a company buys Macintosh computers for the office. The equipment arrives, desks are cleared, plugs are plugged in, and befuddled employees sit staring at blank monitors. They seem to be waiting for those newsletters and brochures–downright Mona Lisas of the genre–to leap out and land in their laps. They may as well wait for Godot.

What’s going on? Aren’t Macs supposed to be self-explanatory? Simple to learn? Isn’t it true that anyone can sit down and crank out professional-looking publications within minutes of unwrapping one of these things?

No, they can’t. But unfortunately, this is the impression many office managers have of the Mac. Consequently, they load up their offices with Mac G6s, Macbooks and laser printers, and they skimp on the one thing that would have made the machines truly useful: training.

Expecting employees to figure out these contraptions on their own almost never works. If there was rarely enough time to get all the work done before, the task of learning how to operate a new computer doesn’t help matters at all. Yes, ultimately the little beauty will save time on any number of projects, but until people get to that level, these intimidating boxes on their desks will only be nagging reminders that they should dig out the manual and start reading (which, of course, they never have time to do).

Naturally, there will be one person in the office who has either worked on a Mac before, or just has a knack for this kind of thing. Once the new system has been in place awhile, this individual will surely become the office’s computer guru. This is a problem. If everyone in the office expects Fred to solve their computer problems, Fred will burn up a great deal of his time putting out fires. This also does the hapless workers no good; they’ll never learn a thing if someone else is always rescuing them.

When workers are left to learn on their own, human nature kicks in: Nothing is easier than putting off learning new things. If a training schedule hasn’t been lined up by the time those computers hit the desks, users tend to learn just enough to get the job done. Then they lose all motivation to increase their skills. They realize they’re working at about 10 percent capacity and are limping through each project. But that first plateau can be a very comfortable place, and many users nest there indefinitely.

It all adds up to this: When training is set aside, so are the potential productivity gains of these wondrous new devices. Full productivity won’t be achieved until you have an office full of “power users.” Here’s how to make that happen.

The Training Solution

It’s usually one manager’s job to handle the purchase of computer equipment. But consider assigning another project manager the task of making sure everyone who receives a new computer also gets appropriate training. The following tips will help simplify that job.

* Make sure everyone starts from the same place. To ensure that everyone in your group is speaking the same language, you should give everyone the basics. With the exception of those who have a Mac at home or have worked on one extensively, everyone should be asked to enroll in a one-day introductory workshop. This will take care of rudimentary computer knowledge. After that, people can branch off to learn specific software programs.

A note about converts from other personal computers: The simplicity of the Macintosh can be deceiving. Users of PCs often expect that the move to the Mac will be painless. But the crossover actually can be much more frustrating for a PC user than for someone who’s never worked on a computer at all. Old computer habits die as hard as other old habits. Therefore, caution PC converts to leave their DOS behind and approach the Mac with an open mind.

Another note to training managers: Beware of computer dealers who offer “free training” with your purchase. It often amounts to nothing more than a group lecture. As technical trainers well know, making people listen to a speech about something they’ve never physically encountered often proves meaningless. Unless the trainees are working through the steps on computers themselves, the information covered in these sessions rarely sinks in.

* Make a list of user needs. Before you can decide what kind of training each person will need, you must know exactly how each computer will be used. So make a list of everyone who receives a new computer, along with what each person’s new responsibilities will be. Then decide together which software programs they’ll need to learn. For instance, a staff writer will need instruction in word processing software, while an office manager may need to learn both spreadsheet software for budgeting and word processing for correspondence. The art department will need to be trained in page layout and in computer design software.

It’s important to create this list promptly, so that once the basic training is completed, people can jump immediately to the software most important to their jobs.

* Note individual learning styles. Just as everyone has a different learning curve, everyone has her best learning style. It could be reading manuals, one-on-one instruction, on-going classes or a weekend seminar. You may save money if you simply give manuals to those who prefer self-study, but don’t count on it. Unless they have several hours of spare time each week or are willing to work at it after hours or on weekends, this method may take longer than you’re willing to wait. If the employee is adamant, give him a manual. But set a deadline.

In everyone else’s case, ask about each worker’s learning preferences and mark it on your needs list. You may find several people who prefer weekend seminars, which could qualify you for a group discount.

Because training costs can mount quickly, you’ll want to shop around to make sure you’re signing up with a consultant or class that’s known for results. Get references. Speak to the instructor about exactly what’s covered in the class, and what your employees can expect to get out of it. Avoid classes that are mostly lecture with little or no hands-on training. And think twice about classes in which trainees have to share a computer. Unless you’re working on your own computer and performing the functions yourself, chances are you’ll be sitting at your desk Monday morning with that same blank expression.

* Set deadlines. To ensure the fastest results, set deadlines for your people to learn to use their new computers. If they know they must master specific skills by a certain date, they will practice with a purpose in mind. With each deadline, schedule a meeting with the person to discuss what he’s learned, how he feels his job has been enhanced and what the next step should be. For instance, a staff artist who has been using Pagemaker software for several months might now benefit from learning a word processing program to manipulate and edit text on a page. Or an administrative assistant proficient in word processing may want to take a desktop publishing class so she could start publishing the company newsletter. In any case, unless your people have a concrete date to learn by, results may be slow in coming.

* Be Aware of Hardware Failures – okay I know it sounds ridiculous to think about your Mac computer failing moments after you have purchased it. After all, that is what the warranty is for. But on the other hand, you have to think about things that can fail that are not covered by your warranty. I’m talking of course about hard drive crashes or failures which can make it so that you cannot access your data. That data is usually very important to a company, so from the very start you should make sure that you have the contact details for a provider of Mac data recovery services. (try for a start) That way, when you’re hard drive does break down, you are probably going to not panic is much and make mistakes. Mistakes cost money.

* Train in phases. No one will learn everything from one workshop or session, so consider phasing in the training process. Three months is a reasonable amount of time to expect employees to learn and feel comfortable with a new software program. By then they’ll have had plenty of time to practice their new skills, to see the positive results, and will be receptive to learning something else.

No matter how anxious you are to make this new equipment start paying for itself, realize that learning new skills always takes more time than we’d like to put in. But rather than rushing everyone to learn to use their new Macs on their own, accept the importance and legitimacy of, say, a six-week course or a series of one-day workshops. As long as people are continually learning and upgrading their skills, soon you’ll see newsletters, brochures and even an occasional masterpiece leap out of those Macs.

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2 comments on “Training On Mac Computers Works Out

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