Teaching a Dog New Tricks

By Michelle Boule |
When you are training a dog, you do not start with something complicated. You begin with something small and easy: sit. From sit, you move on to tricks that build on that one skill, like shake and lie down. You never start with lie down or shake, because a dog has to be sitting to do those things.

Pullo with Ball

When we teach children to read, we sing them the ABCs first and then teach them how the letters form words. We do not show them words and then teach them the alphabet. We know that to learn a skill there is a logical progression of learning. We know this, but often, when dealing with technology, we forget about it. Like all other knowledge acquisition, learning how to use technology tools should follow a logical progression. We should start with cornerstones before constructing the building. If you are a technology trainer, consider what cornerstones are already in your staff's arsenal when planning a training.

In the midst of looking at technology tools for our libraries, we often consider the skill level or training needed for the new technology. What we rarely consider are the technologies currently in use that can help our staff learn the new tool. Staff are often reluctant to learn yet another tool even if it is the tool that you believe is going to make their professional lives easier and their job smoother. To busy and harried staff members, you are asking them to take time out of a packed day to learn something from the ground up.

But what if they did not have to start at the bottom? Next time you need either to convince staff of a tool's merits or train them on the use of a tool, make a list of technology already in place in your library. In what ways is the new tool similar to one or two of the more beloved tools, even print tools, at your library? What skills do staff already posses that will make learning a new tool easier? Are there aspects of the work flow of an older tool that mirror work flow of the new tool?

When Reference staff relied entirely on print resources, there were indexes for every subject. Indexes had commonalities regardless of the subject being organized. They were alphabetical. They gave specific citation information for the resources listed. Subjects were cross listed in a (mostly) logical manner in which the cross listings referred to one another. Once you had mastered the way indexes worked, you could then transfer your skills to other indexes. We do this today with databases. All serve the purpose that indexes once did, and they all have some sort of search function. Searching and learning is what librarians have always done.

As a trainer, I think it would be wonderful if we could use this idea of transference that we have used with indexes and databases when learning technology tools. I believe thinking about tools in this way may help us to find new ways to appeal to resistant co-workers. This approach may help to overcome the idea that I have heard expressed often in training, "There is always something new on the horizon. If I spend time learning Tool X, I will just have to invest more time I do not have tomorrow learning Tool X.1 or Tool Y. Why should I waste my time?"

With that in mind, I have created a list of things that I believe most Web 2.0 tools have in common. Keep in mind this is a simple list for beginners. Though these similarities will not teach a new user how to use the tool in its entirety, they will build confidence with the tool. A confident learner is one who is less likely to give up early. Start with something easy and then progress to things that are more complicated.

Tools are made to complete a task.

A Web 2.0 tool, like any physical tool, serves a purpose. It may look graphically more appealing than a ratchet set, but an online tool still serves a function. Do not let the fancy packaging either persuade or dissuade you of the usefulness of a tool. As a user, you should always ask, "What does this tool help me do?" If the function of the tool, like keeping a to do list or keeping track of your travels, is not of use to you or your staff, this may not be the tool for you. The usefulness of the purpose of a tool will sell the tool to staff at a higher rate than a tool that is simply pretty.

On a side note, never choose a tool based on its shiny factor only. If it is pretty, it also should work.

Online tools are accessible from anywhere.

At least in my opinion, the good ones are anyway. For your staff, this means a username and password. The number of usernames and passwords can be overwhelming sometimes, so encourage your staff to use the same or similar strong passwords for all their online tools. Have them create usernames that are similar so that they are not guessing, forgetting, and getting frustrated at this easy first step. Many tools are abandoned on the learning curve because of simple things, like lost passwords and forgotten usernames.

Just as in real life, Web 2.0 tools come with a circle of friends that can be cultivated and nurtured.

Web 2.0 is about interconnectivity with people. Web 2.0 tools allow you to have a group of people whom you consider "friends". Sometimes, this group is labeled "contacts" but it all means the same thing. You are often able to send messages to people in your friends list within the tool itself. There is no need for people to know your real email address or contact information this way. For staff members who are very private, this will be seen as a bonus. You also always have the option of unfriending people which can sometimes come in handy. The functionality of a friends list will vary from tool to tool, but the basic abilities will remain the same. Once you have managed one friends list, you can manage others.

Create a Unique Profile

Upload an image of yourself or something to represent you. It is just like attaching a document to an email. Upload and viola! Like a friends list, once you have done this once, you can do it again.

Find Out What is Going On

Most tools come with some way to send you updates on either your friends' activities or things happening around the web based on your profile. RSS is usually the behind the scenes tool that makes this work, so if your staff are already using RSS readers, you can incorporate this aspect of a new tool into the use of a tool with which they are already familiar.