Technology: Teaching Technology Electronic and digital technology is becoming increasingly prevalent in all aspects of our lives. Teaching others how to use such products has become a necessary exercise for any professor, administrator, supervisor, or mentor in the fields of speech-language pathology and audiology, even if the trainer (the one teaching) feels ... Article
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Article  |   March 01, 2004
Technology: Teaching Technology
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Paul A. Rabe
    Touch-Pro Computers, Aston, PA
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Hearing Disorders / Professional Issues & Training / Technology
Article   |   March 01, 2004
Technology: Teaching Technology
SIG 11 Perspectives on Administration and Supervision, March 2004, Vol. 14, 17-18. doi:10.1044/aas14.1.17
SIG 11 Perspectives on Administration and Supervision, March 2004, Vol. 14, 17-18. doi:10.1044/aas14.1.17
Electronic and digital technology is becoming increasingly prevalent in all aspects of our lives. Teaching others how to use such products has become a necessary exercise for any professor, administrator, supervisor, or mentor in the fields of speech-language pathology and audiology, even if the trainer (the one teaching) feels uncomfortable about doing so. The following is a list of suggestions, which I have developed over the course of two decades of professional training of people in using technological devices, for performing training with the most efficient, effective means.
  • Project an air of authority, even when you know you are clueless. There is a substantial difference between the comment, “I have no idea how to handle this,” and the comment, “Fortunately, I know whom to contact on how to handle this.” Balance your air of authority with a sense of humility, as well as with a sense of commonality with the trainee. Comments like, “When I first used this device, I was completely confused,” project a sense of empathy from trainer to trainee.

  • Try to relate the technology to what trainees already know, emphasizing its similarity. When I train people to word process, for instance, I note that, “It is no different from typing on a typewriter.” See new skills as extensions of established skills.

  • Emphasize the positive aspects of the technology so that users want to learn how to use it. When training business personnel, for instance, I note how technology can ease some amount of worries related to office duties with comments such as, “You don’t have to worry about the calculation of the account balances, as the technology accomplishes that for you.”

  • Never belittle trainees for “techno phobia,” no matter how ridiculous their fears may appear to be. Allow them to openly express their fears, then reassure them. For instance, if they fear shock or even electrocution from a piece of equipment, respond with comments such as, “Yes, if you opened this while it is still on and inserted a piece of metal into the power supply, you could hurt yourself. However, I will not show you how to do that.”

  • Collect evidence that you can teach people who consider themselves unteachable. For instance, when people inform me they are “too old” or “too accustomed” to older forms of technology, I respond with the reminder that, at one point, I trained a man in his 80s who also was blind to effectively use a computer.

  • Reassure trainees that they need not develop perfection or even technological competence immediately and that their skill levels will always increase with time and routine use of devices.

  • Always keep instructions in simple language. Preface your interactions with the reminder that you have always found it better to make instructions too simple than too complicated. Allow trainees to indicate when they can handle a faster pace or more sophisticated level of instruction.

  • Never expect trainees to volunteer the fact that they do not comprehend instructions. Watch for various nonverbal cues of confusion. If you suspect non-comprehension, repeat, simplify, and/or clarify your instructions.

  • Start with the minimum information that trainees need to know. Technology designers love to add “bells and whistles” for various reasons, such as (a) to meet the demands of multiple customers, (b) to make their products distinctive in sales pitches, and (c) because they can and find it so much fun to do. Your task as a trainer is to filter out those features that the trainees really need to know and then teach only those features. I learned very quickly in my career that, if you try to teach each and every detail posthaste, trainees end up confusing the necessary and the unnecessary. If trainees ask how to perform a non-critical task, assure them that you will reach that point eventually.

  • Always have written instructions on how to perform critical tasks. This reduces the fear of trainees of confusion after you leave an instructional session. Number these instructions to reassure trainees that, if they follow the numbered steps in order, they will proceed correctly. Two useful ways to decide whether you have written appropriate instructions is to (a) follow them literally yourself and (b) ask someone who is completely inexperienced with technology to use them, then watch what happens. If confusion or error occurs, edit your instructions. Remember, you may know when not to follow your instructions literally, but your trainees will not.

  • Create a template of how to use the technology, then alter it to suit the trainee. Usually this means deleting steps the trainee will not do in the process. If you find that you always add particular steps to your initial template, then revise the template as needed to cover prototypical use of the technology.

  • When needed, expand your instructions to eliminate confusion. For instance, with respect to computer keyboards, do not write, “Printing is done by Shift F7, P, F.” That is how you print in Word Perfect 5, by the way. Instead, write, (a) Hold down the [Shift] key, then tap the [F7] key up at the top. (b) At the screen bottom you see a list of choices. (c) Tap the letter p to send the document to a printer. (d) At the screen bottom you see another list of choices. (e) Tap the letter f to print the full document. Such a step-by-step process serves as an effective task analysis and reduces the potential for confusion of procedures or even keyboard sections.

  • As you train people, learn which words and phrases inevitably lead to mistakes in technology use, then eliminate these from your instructions. I stopped the instruction to “hit” a key when someone took this literally and quickly revised this to “tap” a key. If you know that a particular technology error occurs often, tell trainees how to handle the situation. For instance, with a computer, alert trainees that “error reading Drive A, drive not accessible” means the diskette is probably not fully inserted into the drive.

  • In your instructions, include what your trainees will experience as they follow each one. Do not simply instruct them, for instance, to tap a button. Also alert them to the outcome, such as the fact that the button will then illuminate. This reduces concern about whether the consequences of actions are the desired ones.

Your attitude toward technology, combined with your competence and your clarity of instruction, will help you become a trusted mentor and source of information and clarification for those whom you assist with technology.
Continuing Education Questions
  1. One effective means to project an air of authority about technology is to

    • always assert the breadth and depth of your knowledge about technology.

    • know whom to contact when you are in need of technology assistance or information.

    • remind trainees that you have more experience with the technology than do they.

    • respond to trainee questions with technical terms and complex explanations.

  2. A useful way to minimize the chances for confusion in training people in technology is to

    • supplement oral instructions with written instructions.

    • allow people to explore the technology alone without your interference.

    • have people at the same introductory level of skill work together with technology.

    • provide as much detail as possible to introduce the technology to a new user.

  3. The best instructions to orient people to using new technology are

    • written in a step-by-step fashion.

    • tested by people unfamiliar with a particular technology.

    • reflective of only the most necessary information.

    • all of the above.

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