Tip #253: Teaching Complex Data Entry

In early December, Nichole Codrington, a Training Coordinator for Mylan Technologies, Inc., sent in this message:

“A topic that I would like some info on one of these days (if you are ever looking for a topic) is on how to make training lively and engaging on boring topics. Specifically on filling out complex forms. People at our company often have to train others on how to fill out very complex forms and it can be truly awful boring stuff. I would love some ideas on how to help them make their training more engaging, interactive and meaningful while still getting the outcome of people filling out the forms correctly.”

I was brainstorming on using e-learning for this as well. Articulate has some features like hotspots and such that could be engaging. If you have any examples of e-learning about how to fill out a form I would love to see them.

Nichole, thanks for your patience while we completed our quick tips in December.

I have a number of thoughts about possible approaches you might try:

1. Make sure there is an organizing principle. By this I mean that there is something familiar to which the participants can relate the form.
I once audited training conducted by a state Department of Transportation in which the participants were being taught how to fill out a complex form. It was apparent that the participants were having difficulty remembering a long list of unrelated information. It wasn’t until lunch time, when I could chat with the instructor, that I found out the actual form they were filling out was a driver’s license application form. Although every participant in the room, at one time or another, had filled out that form, they hadn’t recognized what it was- or had it identified for them. Once they knew what the form was, and recognized that they themselves had experience with the form, everything fell neatly into place.

2. Keep in mind that when people are learning information that is entirely new and unfamiliar to them, you should only introduce 2-3 items at a time. If possible, teach the different sections of the form at different times, independent of each other. Provide a story problem or scenario that gives the necessary information from which the participants need to draw to complete that section of the form.

3. If you can make the information meaningful to the participants, or if they are already familiar with the information requested by the form, you can introduce 4-5 items at a time. Again, using a story problem- either a realistic one or one that is humorous- can add interest to the learning experience.

4. What about having the participants compare completed sections of the new form to similar completed sections of the old form, if there is one? You could assign different tables to prepare to explain to the rest of the group: (a) what information has stayed the same; (b) what changes have been made to the form; (c ) why the changes were made; and (d) what the consequences will be as a result of these changes. For this, they would also need reference materials with background information about the changes.

5. I spent 10 years working in state government, where we were very good about telling folks WHAT they needed to do and WHEN they needed to do it- but rarely WHY it was important for them to do it. Without that context, it is very difficult for people to remember and/or buy in to a change. So, make sure to tell them WHY different information is needed, if you don’t have them discover and report it out themselves to the larger group.

6. Since adults are competitive, you might make a fun game out of completing the form correctly. For example, have each member of a 5 person table group responsible for completing one section of the form. Keep the form going around the table until all sections have been completed. Then have the tables pass their completed forms to the table on their right, so each table can critique the work of another table. Draw the correct answers from participants at the different tables- and reward the table groups that completed their forms correctly. Hopefully, every table will get a prize!

7. It helps to have a large glass jar, filled to the brim with colorful peanut M&M’s, sitting on the front table. As you begin the training, you can raise their interest by telling them that their correct completion of the form will help the participants at one of the tables win the contents of the jar. You will definitely have their attention!!

8. You could provide or ask the participants to come up with an easy-to-remember acronym for the steps involved in completing the form.

9. You could have the participants create lyrics about how to complete the form using a familiar tune. I’ve mentioned in earlier Tips that, to this day, I still have to sing with Jiminy Cricket when I spell ENCYCLOPEDIA! (I was singing it to myself to spell it correctly now!)

10. You could place a description of each step for completing the form on a separate note card, put all the note card into an envelope, and distribute one envelope to each table group. Then give the signal to start and see how quickly and correctly they can place the note cards in the proper order.

11. You could create a relay race using the acronym for the steps to fill out the form. Write each letter of the acronym vertically, one letter below the prior letter, on the left hand side of a flip chart page. Count out 12 paces from the flip chart and put a strip of marking tape on the floor to identify the starting place for the relay. Follow these same steps to set up a second flip chart, so that you can have two teams competing against each other. Then each person on the team needs to take a marking pen and fill in one step at a time that relates to the acronym. You can then have each team review the other team’s work to make sure that each list is correct- and reward both teams.

12. What about a gallery walk, with each page labeled to relate to one section of the form. For example, Tips for Completing Section 1. Break the group into five or six smaller teams, give each team a different colored marker, then have each team start in front of a different flip chart page. Give them 2-3 minutes to brainstorm their ideas- then ring a bell and have each team move to their right, so eventually every team will have a chance to identify tips for every flip chart. Have individuals read what it written, getting clarification from the writing group responsible where necessary. Take digital pictures of the flip charts and provide them to the group after the session. This will refresh their memories and reinforce their learning.

Well, you already know my preference for even-numbered lists (sorry again, Lou). If you have other ideas to add, please write in and we’ll print them next week.

Also, I have neatly avoided Nichole’s question about the use of e-learning. I’m counting on those of you who are less technologically-challenged and more e-learning astute to give her some suggestions. Please don’t fail me!!

Next week, we are going to tackle a very interesting topic that Janis Taylor mentioned to me as a possible Tip in early December: cognitive load theory. Are we starting the year with heavy-hitting topics or what?

Last week, I requested your assistance in responding to Nichole Codrington’s request for information about how to use e-learning to teach complex data entry, after Tip #253 identified twelve ways to teach it in the classroom. Judi Lepper, SPHR, Officer, Instructional Designer III, Private Client Group at National City sent in this wonderful response:

Hi Deb! “Thanks for the great newsletter. I have a few suggestions regarding e-learning solutions to the complex form question, and many of the same approaches you have suggested for ILT may be implemented in the e-learning. My first question would be, is the complex form to be completed an online form?” “If so, Nichole can add interactivity in the e-learning in a number of different ways:

Using screen captures for the form, allow a pop-up or explanation box to appear when they roll over certain fields so they can explore at their own pace and learn the value and importance of why each field is important.

Provide guided practice completing the form, e.g. “Based on the given scenario, select the appropriate option from the drop-down”. The e-learning can then provide corrective feedback based on the learner’s choice, to help them understand WHY it was right or wrong.

Using screen captures, provide the learner with practice completing the entire form based on the elements that they have learned above. There are several screen capture tools to enable this kind of practice, and to demo the appropriate completion (i.e. Captivate)

I echo all of Deb’s points about chunking the material, explaining WHY it is important, having an organizing principle, etc. In addition, each activity Deb mentioned below can be adapted to the e-learning. Make sure to keep the e-learning as engaging as possible, using games, puzzles, relay races, etc. Lectora (authoring tool) just released version 9 which includes a Media Library with several games they are excellent ways of teaching material in creative ways.

I hope this helps.

Judi, Nichole was thrilled with this information when I sent it to her last week. Thank you from both of us!

Janis Taylor, Technical Training Developer, PMCC – Product Lifecycle Data Management, Philips Healthcare also responded:

Feedback for Nichole: Regarding an e-learning option for training on your forms: If the form is completed on paper today then I wouldn’t consider it. If the form is completed electronically, then yes, e-learning is an option. And it can be combined with many of the good options Deborah describes below. In other words it doesn’t have to be all e-learning or all classroom, but a combination. Maybe an e-learning ‘prework’ component followed by classroom?

Janis, thank you, as always, for adding your perspective!

We have Janis to thank as well for the topic of today’s Tip: cognitive load theory.

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