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What's Your Techno Typeand Why Should You Care

January 1, 1996
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Related Topics: Basic Skills Training, Training Technology, Featured Article
Human resources professionals generally acknowledge that workers each are different. They learn differently, and they have multiple intelligences that must be assessed and addressed.

But you wouldn't know this was true from the packages that software developers, and even trainers, drop off on our desktops. Whether it's an off-the-shelf staple like WordPerfect for Windows, or a custom program created just for your company, the documentation is clearly of a one-size-fits-all character. Workers are expected to be quick, capable learners—or else. Michael Finley, technology columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, shares his and others' observations of learning types.

Individualize technical training.
The truth is that there are more kinds of users than you can shake a stick at. And difference matters in the marketplace. The most recent annual survey of training needs, conducted by Elin Computer Resources Inc., a Montreal-based training company, found that organizations are ravenous for training that zeroes in on the individual and pulls the levers that help an individual learn.

Sampling some of North America's largest firms with 2,500 personal computers, the survey—conducted during the second quarter of 1995— revealed that more than 40% of companies plan to increase spending on computer training by an average 35% and that nearly three in four companies spend at least $100,000 a year on computer training.

The survey also revealed that while budgets are going up, less than 50% of North American companies are using a tracking system to monitor their training investments. "There are a number of good tracking programs out there, but companies either don't know about them or are choosing not to use them," says Risa Edelstein, president of Elin Computer Resources Inc.

Those who do track, find that most training fails to effectively teach 100% of their students. But there's hope. Through a round-robin of HR professionals and trainers on the Internet, I've discovered there are different ways to slice and dice technology learning styles. One can adapt training to an individual's personality type or to his or her dominant part of the brain.

Susan Boyd, a veteran trainer in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, divides her tutees into Doers, Thinkers, Feelers and Watchers. "Think of how you'd assemble a stereo system if you were each of these types," she says. "That will give you some idea how we all differ." A Doer will want to jump right in, open the carton and start fitting things intuitively-testing the system until it works. The Thinker will want to examine the documentation and consider the assembling process before handling the components. The Watcher would prefer to have someone who understands the set-up demonstrate how to do it. And the Feeler might have the most difficulty setting up the system unless there's someone to ask for help.

Boyd loves analogies and has used many of them to illustrate her book, "Accelerate Computer Training with Analogies." A favorite one is the notion that some computer users are inherently trailblazers, hardy and exploratory souls who laugh at the rules while they clear a path for the majority. The rest of us are mere settlers. Trailblazers skirt the cutting edge of technological change and often pay a high price for the privilege. Settlers warm themselves by the fires on the techno soil the trailblazers have won.

Toni Savage, systems operator of CompuServe's Office Automation Personnel/HR forum, views things even more concretely. "Some people sit down and read the manuals straight through, before they even see the system. Many people never look at the manual. Some people buy time on the telephone, asking tech support [the same questions] over and over again until the bulb lights up and they get it."

Savage is convinced there are two extremes of computer users—Mouse and Non-mouse. "They're really analog and digital people. For years the digital people ruled the roost. They understood the command line and had no problem typing instructions. Today the analog people are coming to the forefront. They bypass the keyboard and just point at what they want to do, and it happens."

What mystifies Savage is that some people can't master the mouse. "Their minds don't correlate the forward motion of the hand with up on the screen." This peculiar block almost qualifies as a computer learning disability.

I've created nine separate, completely unscientific, learning categories, corresponding to people I know and work with—including the Techno Natural, to whom everything comes easy, the Plugger, who learns only with great exertion, and the pure Technophobe, who has no business getting close to anything more complex than a two-slice toaster.

There's nothing wrong with any of these types, but each of us—from the happiest to the unhappiest computerist—is prone to certain failures. The Technophobe avoids. The Plugger stalls. The Dreamer denies. The Worrier worries. Even the Power User balks at the sheer volume of all there is to know.

Diane Gayeski, a trainer and consultant from Ithaca, New York, points out that culture and background also shape personality types. An easy-going, give-and-take classroom style feels natural in democratic America, but will seem weird just about anywhere else.

Strive for one common level of functionality.
Whatever analogies we use, we all concede that these differences exist. What do we do with this realization? How do we incorporate it into training regimens so that all workers, despite their differences, are operating more or less off the same page and at the same level of functionality?

First, we need to identify who is what. An intuitive trainer at a small organization can sort people out without much difficulty—by listening to questions, giving periodic comprehension quizzes and by observing the expressions on people's faces, ranging from lit up to vacant.

In a larger organization, you may want to try standardized tests. There is the well-known Myers-Briggs psychological test, which describes how we see ourselves. People who are high on the E scale (for extrovert) may learn best in a group, in which they can interact with others. People scoring high on the I scale (for introvert) may prefer a more subdued setting.

One of the most-used behavioral instruments is DiSC (the letters stand for dominance, influence, steady and compliant). Carlson Learning Company, holders of the DiSC trademark, sells a software version called DiSC for Windows. By administering this or a similar test to new employees, personnel professionals can cross-reference people's thinking abilities against job requirements, including technological ability.

Caution: If you test people, communicate that your intentions are to get at learning differences and minimize the problems they cause—not to grade individuals.

Another tool that can be commandeered for techno typing is called START (stands for STrategic Assessment of Readiness for Training). It's available from H & H Publishing of Clearwater, Florida. Basically, it's a 56- question paper survey that looks for learning strengths and weaknesses and evaluates people's anxiety levels, motivation, ability to concentrate and how they learn best.

Once people have been triaged for techno type, then you're free to redesign the training regimen. Sandor Schuman, an Albany, New York-based trainer, uses two methods. The first begins with sticking with the classroom approach, but dividing the class into subclasses according to skill levels: those with at least some computer background, those who are comfortable learning at an accelerated pace and those professing no previous computer knowledge.

Then you address each group on its own wavelength. The fast-track class should be taught rapidly. The analyticals should be taught using straightforward sequencing of information. Individuals who need to learn the new information to keep their jobs should be taught with lots of testing, to make sure they're acquiring the skills.

The second method is to establish prerequisite or familiarization classes. People learning CorelDraw should first understand the basics of Windows. People signing up for a course on a software upgrade may need to be taught the entire program from scratch—not just the points covered in the upgrade. "Here's where you can provide the one-on-one assistance that some people will need," Schuman says.

One-on-one assistance means the trainer needs to get into the individual's head, poking through the clutter and locating a key that will open that person to better understanding and acceptance of programs and systems.

Boyd, the analogy trainer, has developed keys that work for different people. Beginning users may relate to the computer best if they think of the hard disk as a closet. Or the computer itself might be thought of as a vacuum cleaner —it's powerful, but it only follows your lead. One of her students suggested you should properly use a computer password just like you do your toothbrush: Change it often, and don't share it with anyone.

Knowing learning styles is helpful and can facilitate better understanding, but Gayeski warns HR professionals against taking amusing books about personality type and technology too seriously. "A lot of what's written is pop psychology at best," she says.

In addition, once training is under way, the content being taught usually dictates the form. It doesn't matter if your students are auditory learners, for example, if the topic is, say, desktop publishing. Audio tapes about visual topics just don't cut it.

Besides, the number one reason some people have trouble learning a new program or system is that they're afraid. They're afraid of breaking it. They're afraid of failing. They're afraid of looking stupid in the process—and they're afraid of not making the cut.

In these cases the challenge to human resources professionals is to turn down that fear level for employees—and turn up the level of learning.

Personnel Journal, January 1996, Vol. 75. No. 1, pp.107-109.


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