Today I want to talk about how learning software isn’t always just an IT thing. I’m frequently called in to address a technical skills deficit when in fact the IT skills gap that I need to address is also being blamed for an underlying process-based skills gap.
What do I mean by a process-based skills gap? In this case, I mean a “soft” research skill coupled with a “soft” communication skill, supported by a particular technology (i.e., PowerPoint) in a particular situation (i.e., a research and presentation assignment).
I was recently called in to a certification program to help their students learn PowerPoint for a research assignment. Many of the students in this program are non-traditional students in that they weren’t high achievers in school and might still struggle to pass the TABE (test for adult basic education), and some are older and career shifting. Even so, the ubiquity of smartphone and computer technology is such that it’s easy for many to assume that computer skills do not need to be addressed when designing a program. When that assumption proved incorrect in this instance, the program coordinator called me in to address the skills gap with PowerPoint training. In fact, my skills-gap assessment revealed that the students were missing overall process-related skills as well, that is, the process of researching/compiling and curating content for communicating via a live PowerPoint-based presentation.
The training that I created/conducted for this program needed to teach the underlying process as well as the technology selected to support this process. What did this look like?
There are some things that every basic PowerPoint training should include, such as basic slide layout, how to title slides, and accessibility concerns (e.g., font size, color). In this case, I coupled this training tightly to the first assignment as an example for the overall process so that no one would wonder why this was being covered, and all of the training would be more meaningful and impactful for the students.
First, we reviewed the assignment together and talked about the types of questions we needed to answer to complete the assignment.
Then we moved on to the IT portion of this step: Internet research. We talked about what a web browser is, and how you can use any web browser to use the google search tool. We talked about how to convert our human questions into search terms, and practiced together. We talked about how to sift through results, use multiple tabs, and cite information. And we practiced. And the students spent some time researching their topics with me in the room.
Second, we needed to map our research findings to our research questions, and figure out what we wanted to say. We talked about storytelling (i.e., coherent sequencing and segues), first using the example of caterpillars turning into butterflies, and then applying this format to a few of the students’ assigned topics.
Third, we discussed how to communicate our findings to others, and how PowerPoint is just one way of communicating information to someone else.
We talked a little bit about the IT portion of this step (e.g., creating a blank presentation, slide layouts, alignment, font sizes), and we practiced with typing stuff in and changing font faces and names. We also talked a bit about the difference between a numbered list and an unordered bulleted list. And then we talked about how to group our information for PowerPoint, including unique slide titles and ways to incorporate citations.
We also talked about how to use sentence fragments as a way to remember what we want to say when we’re standing in front a group of people, and to give the audience enough to know what’s going on without overwhelming them with so much text that they’re reading instead of listening. And we practiced making sentence fragments from the full sentences we found online.
Finally, we entered the main title slide text, applied slide designs, and looked at how being consistent with design, font face, and bulleting across the entire presentation helps the audience decide whether you’re someone they should respect and take seriously or whether the presenter didn’t care to “give it their all.”
The students were then let loose to work on their assignment with me in the room, asking questions as needed.
In the end, because the students came to understand the underlying process, and how to use the software to support that process, most of them did a good job with the assignment.
So, if you’re struggling to learn some software, step back and think about whether it’s a process skill or some other skill you need to hone. If you’re not sure, or you think this type of training might be just what you need, reach out and we can talk about it. Let’s Connect!
Is there a time when you were struggling to learn some piece of software and then realized you weren’t clear on the process? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!