How to succeed as an IT trainer

by Bob Colclough on June 6, 2012


Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many IT trainers.

I’d like to share some of the more important issues that I believe IT trainers need to take into account.

First, to be a successful, IT Trainer needs to adopt a number of practices that apply to all training: These include:

  • Ensure your training is interactive
  • Ensure all learning styles are catered for
  • Establish clear measurable course objectives
  • Get to know as much about your trainees as you can before the course.

We will be covering these issues and others in separate resource articles.

However, IT training does differ in the number of important respects from non-IT training.

There are four key areas to consider when putting together your IT training:

  • Base your training around your users not the software or hardware.
  • Don’t use the manual!
  • Remember your test data.
  • Use the EDIP model for skills training

Base your training around your users, not the software or hardware.

There is an immense temptation to base your training around the functionality of the software or hardware. Try to avoid this at all costs.

Think about it? Do your delegates arrive in the course thinking about the different software modules or features of the hardware? No they don’t.

In their normal day-to-day jobs they’re immersed in thinking about what they have to do to succeed or simply get through the day. So if your course mirrors that, it will seem more natural to them and the learning will be more effective.

Let’s take an example. Suppose you are delivering a course on some new project management software. Most of this software is driven by a series of menus and sub menus. It is very tempting to work your way methodically through each of the menus and submenus. You might first give a description for each menu and illustrate with a computer how to use the screen that each menu item leads to.

There is an alternative way.

Consider the jobs that your course attendees do on a day-to-day basis. Write down the main activities that your delegates carry out. This list might include these items:

  • Set up initial project planning meeting.
  • Establish project milestones.
  • Identify discrete project tasks.
  • Assign Project tasks to individuals.
  • Calculate project critical path.

Now if your course followed these headings wouldn’t it be easier for your delegates to follow?

Don’t use the manual!

The vendors of most hardware and software produce a user manual. You may also have created a user manual of your own for reference by the delegates after the training.

It is very tempting to base your training on the manual. However whilst it may be the simplest option, it’s rarely the most effective.

As suggested earlier base your training around the jobs that your trainees do, not around the user manual.

Remember the EDIP model

By skill I mean something that is carried out in a number of steps, with each step needing an action – e.g. Turn the stop valve a quarter turn anti- clockwise. A skill will require multiple steps. When you are training people to carry out a specific skill, there are many ways you can do this, some are generally more successful than others. People who have attended our train the Trainer program would have been introduced to the EDIP model.

This is a proven model for successfully teaching a skill. It is based on the training approach used by many armed forces. For them, successful training can be a matter of life or death.

The model suggests that you should split all skills training into four sections:

  • Explain: Provide an explanation for the particular skill that you’re training in.
  • Demonstrate: Demonstrate the skill without users copying.
  • Instruct: Each trainee has a chance to carry out the skill with support from the trainer or from reference materials.
  • Practice: Give all trainees opportunity to practice the skill on their own.

What many, particular new, trainers do is to jumble up the several stages of EDIP. The steps can be mixed together in a number of ways, each with its own resulting problems:

Trainers will often combine the “Demonstrate” and “Instruct” steps.

The result is that as the trainer is showing how to use a particular function at the same time as asking the trainees to copy the steps. This is “synchronised training” which often leads to quite significant problems.

For instance, some trainees may struggle to keep up as they see their colleagues are more easily able to follow the trainer. This can lead to frustration and anxiety. They may pretend to follow the instructions to avoid appearing foolish in front of their colleagues.

All of this can be avoided if you demonstrate the skill first without asking trainees to follow it step by step.

After this you can give them a chance to carry out the skill by themselves. They can then proceed at their own natural learning pace. You can work with individual trainees if they seem to be in any difficulty.

Trainers skip the “Explain” step altogether

Trainers who skip the explain step can leave their trainees feeling bewildered.

Trainees won’t understand the context in which the skill might be applied. Also some trainees learn best when they understand the underpinning theory. The lack of an “explain” step leaves them somewhat frustrated that they cannot understand why you are training on this particular function.

Trainers skip the “Practice” step altogether

Particularly if time is tight, trainers can be tempted to omit the opportunity for trainees to practice the new skill. This is dangerous. Just because someone has carried out a skill once doesn’t mean that they have effectively learned the skill.

They have only really learned the skill when they can carry out it out without support, consistently and to a high standard of accuracy.

Don’t forget the test data!

It may seem obvious but if you are delivering the same course a number of times it is crucial that any test data that your training is built around is refreshed before each training session.

We have worked with a number of companies where preparation of the test data system has been left to the last minute. Without a clean reliable set of test data the exercises built around this data will soon be seen to fail. This can lead to frustration amongst the trainees.


There are many things to get right when training. This article looks at a few issues that are unique to training in IT, software or hardware.

However, to provide effective training, trainers need to follow additional guidelines which apply to all training, whatever the subject.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joe Deegan October 8, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Great post! I love what you said about developing the training around the user not the software. We need to avoid giving tours of the software in both elearning and ILT. I recently re-designed a tech training course that was designed so that each section covered a different menu option. There was no context to how these menu options are used in the real world or how they relate to each other. I re-designed it with a “Day in the life of” storyline that put the learner into a more realistic situation completing tasks that they will actually be doing on the job. This was much more effective and got great reviews from the learners. I wrote about this in more detail at the link. Thanks for the food for thought.

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