March 1, 2024

You’re the Boss: A Tech Tool for Training

Tech Support

Everyone does online presentations of one sort or another today. But do you always question the people who are sitting through them to make sure they’re getting the message?

You might want to start, especially if you’re doing any sort of training or tutorials for employees or customers. Teachers, and those who study learning, have known for a long time that people are much more likely to process and retain information if they’re tested on it — and a well-known 2007 study at Washington University proved it. And testing gives trainers, teachers and marketers a chance to see what’s getting through to whom and to adjust accordingly on the fly.

Of course, you probably don’t have a professional educator on your staff to design effective test questions and immediately evaluate each response so that presentation-watchers can be matched instantly to the right follow-up material and questions. What you want is to have all that happen automatically. But how do you build that sort of interactive testing into a PowerPoint presentation or online tutorial?

It’s not an idle question for some small businesses. Take DBS Financial in Akron, Ohio. DBS, which provides car loans to consumers, has three types of training it deems crucial for its 30 employees: how to handle customer collections, how to stay in compliance with the extensive regulation of the collections business (protecting consumer privacy and so forth) and how to stay in compliance with company human resources policy, which covers everything from phone use to avoiding falling on company property during the icy Ohio winters.

“We’d show videos, or have people come in to do classroom training, but it was a huge pain,” said Sam Snellenberger, who runs the company. “We’d have to cycle in employees in three different groups to make sure there was adequate customer coverage, and by the time we were through it took up most of a day. You could see people’s minds wandering during the presentations. And then supervisors would have to work with individual employees to make sure everyone understood everything.”

So DBS started paying $160 a month to use a sort of PowerPoint-like Web-based service called MindFlash that makes it easy for people without much background in training to develop presentations with multiple-response questions. “Everyone does the training now at different times, whenever it’s easiest to free the time up,” Mr. Snellenberger said. “We know everyone’s getting through the material, and we can see who’s having trouble with the questions so we can follow up with them.”

He adds that besides improving the quality of the training, the new approach also reduces the company’s liability if an employee runs into trouble, because it can prove the employee got the training and passed the test. (MindFlash pricing varies with the number of test-takers, and new users will pay a bit more than DBS because of a price increase. Also, bear in mind that if you cancel the service you lose access to past test data.)

I found MindFlash pretty easy to use — I didn’t even bother to take the company’s tutorial or read any help documents, I just plunged right in. You can prepare any documents or presentations or videos using whatever software or services you normally do and then upload them to MindFlash as “slides.” Then you stick in quizzes wherever you want — MindFlash guides you through the process of setting up different types of questions, and gives you plenty of simple options for how to deal with right and wrong responses. It took me about an hour to put together a micro-course on brewing beer at home, complete with quizzes. Feel free to give it a try. And here’s a more extensive demo about training new hires that MindFlash put together for this post. (You have to register with MindFlash to take my course but not to see MindFlash’s.)

MindFlash isn’t the only online training tool out there — another is eLeaP (and PowerPoint does, in fact, let you add a very bare-bones interactivity to a presentation, but it’s not as easy to incorporate as with these dedicated tools, and it doesn’t leave you with user data). One of the big advantages to this sort of interactive question-and-response capability is that what users see during a presentation can be tailored to their responses to questions as they go along. Not only does that make this sort of tool great for training, but I could imagine it being terrific for customer support — and possibly even for marketing, because it offers an effective means for qualifying customers based on their responses.

I couldn’t find anyone using these kinds of training-presentation tools for marketing (MindFlash told me it’s trying to find out), or any marketing tools that allow for this sort of powerful and easy interactivity, but I’d be curious if anyone out there is doing something along these lines. Let me know!

You can follow David H. Freedman on Twitter and on Facebook.

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