Apr 17, 2014

Tips for Training Co-Workers in Excel

A friend of mine said yesterday that knowing Excel was everything you need to know these days. It was a joke of course but it had an ounce of truth in it. It made me think again about the role of this application in the office life and even more on the way we acquire the skills. In my opinion the workplace is where we get the most of it and it is in the best interest of organizations to provide better environment for that. External Excel trainers are good only to an extent as they are usually far from the business context, not that flexible, do not have enough time outside the classes and are expensive. A better alternative is the in-house training by an employee with proven expertise. Another is hiring a trainer that comes from or still is in a business similar to yours to do a customized class. I would like to share with you some tips from my experience for a successful in-house Excel class. It is assumed that the class will be held by a non-professional lecturer. 

Make a pre-course survey and/or test
Do this to tune up the course content, establish the skill level of participants and to get/set the expectations. 

Prepare a course outline and classes
Careful preparation of the course plays a big role in its success so do not underestimate this. Create a draft and go over it few times, ask the corporate sponsor for opinion as well. The objective is to to have very clear idea what is happening, when and how. 

Classes should be of same level of skills
It will ensure a good pace, covering all the course content, healthy discussions and the feeling of satisfaction coming from the new knowledge at the end. 

Use problems class meets every day
Take typical tasks from the day of your co-workers and make it central to the class activities. The participants and management will be much happier and more impressed if you help them in the workday-difficulties or save them time and efforts in repetitive tasks. Use data types, formats, sizes, etc that are typical for their work.

Prepare a workbook with all the class tasks
It should include all the class tasks with their text, objectives as well  as required output where applicable and other details that would help keeping the focus on the course instead of on non-productive activities. 

Be practical
An expert could be lured in showing too much of a skill but remember that Excel is just a tool in their line of work. Adjust methods and techniques according to the requirements of the job. For example, a simple VLOOKUP is enough for somebody using small and fixed data sets and introduction of more advanced methods is not always a good idea.

Prepare problems for homework
Give class homework to do in their own time and make time for review of their solutions. Make sure you would have the time to answer questions about it outside the class. 

Be available outside the class
People will come with questions and need of an advice not only on the class activities but to other problems. This is a great chance to get to know people and business in your organization better as well expand your own knowledge ans skills. 

Participants  should use their own PC/laptops
This makes them feel more comfortable but also you would avoid any problems related with settings and setup. Plus, they would have all class materials handy. 

Do not show too many ways for doing a thing 
It is a good idea to show how to perform a tasks in more than one way but not too many would be confusing - better know one thing well than bad many things. 

Teach how to get better in Excel
One part of it is to focus on the approach of solving a problem, not the specific solution or what a formula does. Include using help and Google. It will be of a great use to introduce some useful websites - Chandoo, Mr Excel, PeltierTech and others according to their level. 

Prepare a workbook with references, solutions, hints and links to take home after the class
It is useful for participants to have a single entry into the course materials after completing it. They should be able quickly to remember how to perform a task, name of a website even to copy a formula.

I hope some of these could be useful for you. I am far from exhausting all the good practices but it was not the objective.  In case more and more requests for Excel classes come to you then maybe it is a good idea to read some professional guides on good courses and good methods for teaching.

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