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The Case for DIY User Training

Making some quick training videos for end users could save time, money and IT headaches.

How often have you said or heard a colleague lament the common idiom: "You know, this job would be so much easier if it weren't for all the users"? It's no different than a doctor complaining about all of those patients. In each case, we have a job to do and a constituency to serve. And we have an interest and responsibility to help them help themselves.

When it comes to IT pros, users are the reason we're here. If we can but give them the tools, perhaps they can manage their own requests. Perhaps. And yet in all my travels and all my conversations, there's this standout idea that I find regularly gets omitted: training.

Not our training. We talk about that all the time. Rather, theirs. Actually training our users on the technologies they're forced to use.

It's not entirely a novel idea. Those outside IT are charged with getting everything else in the business done. Technology to them is a means to an end. Using that technology isn't always entirely obvious. Considering the surprising low cost of today's video training hardware and software, is there an argument for doing your own user training in-house? Not a lot, mind you. Just a bit, for those few special pain points that drive the most help desk tickets. Let's explore what you'd need.

Inexpensive Training Wares
I've been recording video training for more than a decade, most recently for my current employer Pluralsight. In that time, I've tested several recording configurations. My current recording rig starts with a beautiful Shure SM7B microphone mounted to a floor stand with telescoping boom. I preamp that mic through a CloudLifter CL-1 mic activator, which itself is connected through a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface. It's the job of that last little device to convert the A/V world's XLR connectors into USB that'll plug into my desktop.

Next is the video. Among industries, IT has perhaps the easiest job in building video training: There's no need for actual "video" -- some person standing in front of a camera. Creating a short video on "The Six Steps to Connect to Our Company VPN" requires little more than your voiceover atop a quick recording of your screen. You can literally narrate whatever you're clicking on as you click: "Now, let's click the Connect button." And so on.

A variety of software packages exist to facilitate the recording. This software ranges from the exceptional (and exceptionally priced) Adobe Premiere to the lesser-featured (and less expensive) TechSmith Camtasia. I prefer Camtasia. While it doesn't do everything, it does what I need. It's easy; it's simple.

The audio in your recordings is perhaps most important. Someone watching your training will usually accept a poor view of what you're doing. That same user won't listen long if the audio isn't good.

Notwithstanding, an expensive rig isn't necessarily to capture good audio for internal purposes. I've seen $10 USB microphones, the ones most people use for Skype, offer acceptable sound. For a few dollars more, I've used headset mics from Sennheiser for hundreds of hours of recording. There's generally a logarithmic ratio between dollars spent and audio quality. A few more dollars equals a much better sound. After that, it takes many more dollars for a very small improvement.

Regardless of what you choose, make sure your mic plugs into your computer via USB and never through the headphone jack. The difference is palpable.

Ready to Roll
With software installed, microphone plugged in and a quiet place located, you're ready to begin. Filming your own DIY user training video starts just like any help desk call: You acknowledge the issue, you explain the solution, and you show what you're doing as you talk through it.

Good user training needn't be long, nor overly produced. In fact, the opposite is a worthwhile goal. Pick the top 10 reasons people call into your help desk and film a little five-minute video with a solution for each. Whether your users are strongly technical or exceptionally not, you'll be surprised at how a little education and self help can go a long way.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @concentratedgreg.

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