Librarians in all types of libraries provide training and instruction. Whether it’s for staff or patrons, the timing of the training is usually critical. Teach first-year college students about a database when they have no assignment that requires them to use it and it will likely go in one ear and out the other. Teach staff how to use a library technology long before they will use it again and they’ll likely forget how it works.
Even when we get the timing right, infrequent use of a tool on which people were trained will lead to forgetting. At my previous job, I would need to cover the circulation desk maybe three times each year. In spite of having been trained years before, I felt lost if anything more complicated came up than checking books in or out.
Relearning your lessons
Screencasting software, technology that creates a video of activity on the computer screen along with the user’s narration, is sometimes used to solve this problem. The software allows a trainer to create videos that show specific processes within a web system so that users who have gone through a training can refresh their memory with a video later on.
Meg Cordes, library web specialist at the Victoria University of Wellington Library in New Zealand, sees problems with creating one-size-fits-all videos. “These are good teaching tools, don’t get me wrong, but video tutorials may lack task context, be inadvertently jargon heavy or be scanty on details relevant to that individual.”
Cordes trains public and technical services librarians on how to use their library’s web content management system and web analytics tools. She has found that librarians who don’t use the content management system frequently often have difficulties remembering how to use it, even after training.
Instead of creating screencasts of how to use each system herself, Cordes decided to have each staff member create his or her own screencast during the training. She had library staff use Jing, a free screencasting tool, to record their actions on the screen and provide their own narration. This allowed each individual to explain how to use the system in ways that were personally meaningful, which resulted in a video that reflected his or her unique needs and communication style.
According to Cordes, staffers who recorded Jing screencasts “reported that having control over their own instructions was empowering. They trusted the videos they created because they could hear themselves give explanations they remembered.” The fact that staff members have to teach themselves how to use the technology via a video may, in itself, lead to better learning. Being able to teach something you just learned demonstrates a higher level of understanding.
The video exercise was also a good assessment tool for Cordes to determine how well each library staff member understood the lesson. “Someone repeating what you’ve just taught them shows whether you’ve taught them well and lets you set them right during the recording process,” she said.
Jing, while user friendly, might still be overwhelming for someone lacking tech savvy. Explaining a new tool by using yet another new tool may create too much cognitive load for some individuals. In smaller groups, Cordes can provide support to individual users while they create their videos. In large groups, this is not feasible.
Creating screencast videos to reinforce learning can also add significantly to training time, but it’s likely worth it. Having an individualized video that users can fall back on weeks, months, or even years afterward will help to ensure long-lasting learning for all, no matter how often they use the tool on which they were trained.
MEREDITH FARKAS is head of instructional services at Portland (Oreg.) State University. She blogs at Information Wants to Be Free and created Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki. Contact her at librarysuccess[at]gmail.com.