Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.

Top Tech Training Tips for Nonprofits

Top Tech Training Tips for Nonprofits

More than 35,000 nonprofit and library staff members and volunteers have attended TechSoup's webinars in the last three years. Based on our experience, these training tips are guaranteed to help almost any nonprofit.

1. Just Do It. Whether you want to upgrade your technology, implement a new tool, or put new technology policies into place, you should always include training in your plans. Always, always, always include training in your technology plans. Did we say that enough times?

What seems intuitive, useful, or exciting to you can seem complicated, overwhelming, or unnecessary to new users. Training helps ensure that your staff will both adopt the tool willingly and use it correctly.

2. Know What You Want People to Learn. Clearly describe the skills or knowledge that people will acquire during the training. These are your learning objectives. Learning objectives help attendees know what to expect from the training. They also help you evaluate whether the training was successful.

Learning objectives don't have to be super in-depth. Just a few bullet points will do. For example, for an Adobe InDesign training video that TechSoup recently created, the objective we chose was that viewers would understand the functions and uses of the five most commonly used tools on the InDesign toolbar.

Ideally, you will also have a short pre-screening or pre-assessment to determine what your staff members already know about a technology program or process. Answers to these questions will help you focus on the concepts, behaviors, and attitudes that need to be addressed during training.

Check out Bloom's taxonomy for teaching, learning, and assessment to learn more about how to develop learning objectives.

3. Incorporate Training Best Practices. Adult learners need to be motivated to learn, should be able to associate what they already know to the subject of the training, and should be engaged via multiple delivery methods, including auditory, visual, reading and writing, and kinesthetic (hands-on practice).

Check out these ten tips on facilitating adult learning.

4. Keep It Friendly. I like this quote from Stephanie Gerding, library trainer extraordinaire: "Successful technology training has less to do with technical knowledge than with other abilities, such as patience, listening skills, enthusiasm, and empathy toward learners struggling with new technologies."

Technology can be intimidating. A friendly, welcoming environment encourages people to ask questions and to feel comfortable not knowing all the answers. Setting the climate for learning starts with you! Be open to questions about and/or challenges to the content or learning activities.

5. Have Fun With It. There are a lot of technology topics that, while important, can be super boring. (I'm looking at you, security best practices.) Think about how you can make tech topics more fun: funny images on your slides, an entertaining video as part of your presentation, goofy hats.  

At the far end of the goofiness spectrum, when we launched the Adobe Creative Cloud discount offer at TechSoup, our training manager donned a cloud-printed bodysuit for his staff training presentation. I'm not saying you have to wear a ridiculous outfit, but a playful approach can help make boring or intimidating technology topics hugely more engaging.

Remember that you, the trainer, are also a learner. Be sure to communicate this to your charges so they know (and can take some comfort from the fact) that you had to learn the subject just like they do. Research indicates that adult learners are more open to horizontal learning — or learning from peers and friends.

6. Use Real-World Examples. Don't just talk about features, functionality, and step-by-step tasks in your training. Relate the features and functionality to the everyday work of your staff. Real-world relevant examples will help them see how the new technology can help them in their daily work.

Every new technology comes with a specific vocabulary, so it's important to define new terms, acronyms, and jargon. Be sure to connect these new ideas and terminology to concepts learners are already familiar with from their day-to-day work. By making connections between what they already know to the concepts you plan to share, your team members are much more likely to feel comfortable with the new material.

An example: Most of TechSoup's webinar attendees work at nonprofits, so we used donor data examples during our Excel Basics webinar.

7. Give People a Chance to Practice. Alternate your presentation modules with hands-on practice time. Avoid long sessions where training attendees have to sit and learn passively. Practice and repetition helps build the brain connections that will enable staff to apply classroom learning to real-world problems.

eLearning Industry has a great website with some ideas on how to reach your adult learner audience.

8. Provide Handouts and Documentation. Let's face it, many of us walk out of trainings excited to implement what we have learned, but then our everyday work gets in the way. Research indicates that most of us forget information that is not deployed in a real-world setting in as little as three months. This means it's even more important for you to document key ideas, actions, or practices in handouts for your learners following a training.

9. Break It Down into Manageable Chunks. We've all been to mind-numbing six-hour training sessions where our attention wandered off in the first half hour, never to return. Note to trainers: Humans have short attention spans. And it's not necessarily a bad thing!

Develop short micro-learning sessions or modules that mix passive and active activity. For example: show a three- to five-minute video segment, facilitate a discussion on highlights for two minutes, or have learners engage in a small group activity related to the topic for five minutes.

10. Gather Feedback and Evaluate. Remember the objectives you set before you created your training? Those objectives help you measure what learners accomplish — either in terms of basic knowledge or in changes in their attitudes and behaviors. After the training, ask attendees to complete a survey or demonstrate that they acquired the skills you outlined in your learning objectives.

11. You Don't Have to Do It All Yourself. Take advantage of all types of delivery models: in person and online. If you do a lot of training, online learning is a great way to reach a large audience, track learner progress, and build a curriculum that is accessible to all your staff.

There are also many great online training providers. Browse TechSoup's Training and Education catalog for donated and discounted training offerings from SkillsoftQuickBooks Made EasyAtomic Training, and more.

Good luck. And have fun!

Ariel Gilbert-Knight is director of content at TechSoup. Susan Hope Bard is the organization's training and education manager. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.