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The four common hurdles when teaching technical skills – and how to tackle them

Teaching technical skills

To celebrate World Youth Skills Day, Exasol technical trainer Michael Bailey shares his thoughts around the most common challenges people face when learning new professional skills. From low confidence to remote sessions, these are trickiest stumbling blocks and how you can overcome them.

There are many things I love about training people. I’m able to impart knowledge to people, help them use it to solve issues and challenges they face in their work and above all, I get to have fun. Keeping training engaging, positive and enjoyable is always my number one goal. If I’m smiling, my trainees are smiling. 

However, as with any job or situation, there are mountains to climb. When delivering technical, data-related training, there a few regular hurdles which crop up – some are age old, and some are directly related to the challenges of remote learning.

Here’s my guide to the most common challenges I face as a technical trainer, and my advice on how to handle them:

Clinging to old habits when learning technical skills

Strangely, in order to embrace new things and master new skills or software, we often need to let go of the things we already know. The people that come to my training sessions are always eager to learn, and motivation is never a problem, as they know the things they will learn will help them do their jobs better and make their lives easier. But scratch the surface, and they often have trouble fully embracing these techniques, due to the ingrained habits they’ve picked up. 

The challenge here is not to criticise this reliance on old habits, but to build on them. By showing someone that they can tweak their style or use different software to achieve a better result, you can push the benefits of the technology and get people excited about shifting their approach. 

Self-confidence around data skills

One of the trickiest barriers I face when training people is their own lack of self-confidence. Unlike younger students, adults can be very reluctant about verbalising any nervousness or sense of uncertainty, so it’s important to spot the signs of someone who is struggling to understand. The biggest indication is when someone ‘retreats’ from the room (or Zoom call). They will go quiet, not offer opinions or questions and just generally appear less engaged and comfortable. 

Once I’ve spotted the signs that someone is beginning to retreat, my job is to re-engage with them and make the training environment as positive, relaxed and accessible as possible. The atmosphere and mood in the room is as (if not more) important as the course content and delivery, because people will only learn in a setting they feel comfortable in.

The distraction trap

I always run my courses as interactive, collaborative sessions, peppered with real life examples and challenges from the trainees. This ensures that everything we discuss is relatable, relevant and directly applicable in their everyday jobs. However, it is very easy to get sucked into a customer’s narrative, and I need to make sure that participants (and I) don’t get distracted by one topic, question or data scenario. 

Firstly, doing this would prevent us from uncovering and discussing other examples and issues, but the main reason is that my job is to teach people how to use the platform to solve issues themselves. If I get sucked into solving it for them, they won’t come away with the technical skills and knowledge they need to help them when future issues arise.

Remote learning

Without doubt, one of the major challenges facing trainers and trainees everywhere over the past 18 months has been the switch to remote sessions. The logistics of holding sessions in this format is restrictive at best, as challenges with technology can be common, from bad quality audio to intermittent connection.

On a more social level, remote sessions will never be able to compete with in-person training in terms of atmosphere and interaction. Again, it’s up to the trainer in this case to provide entertaining, interesting content and an overall sense of fun and positivity, so that people stay engaged and feel involved.

Ultimately, training should be fun, informative and useful – people should leave each session feeling like they’ve learned something they can apply in their working lives and that they’ve enjoyed themselves in the process. Challenges will always crop up, but as long as these fundamentals are kept front and center, everyone is a winner.

Michael Bailey is a technical trainer at Exasol. This means he works closely with our customers to help them get the best out of our platform. Previously, he taught IT skills to k-12 teachers plus university and high school students. He also developed and delivered workforce engagement management courses for admins, partners, and end users globally.


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