The Four Surefire Ways to Ensure Your Nonprofit Technology Training Is Successful

Submitted on Fri, 2/28/2014 - 11:00am
Wondering what to do before, during, and after leading an effective technology training. The design work you do prior to delivering your session, if done well, can have a huge impact on whether your participants walk away inspired to practice their skills or apply their knowledge in the real world. Here are four tips that will help you design fun, interactive, and highly effective technology training workshops.

Our session at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference will share lots of great advice about what to do before, during, and after leading an effective technology training. The design work you do prior to delivering your session, if done well, can have a huge impact on whether your participants walk away inspired to practice their skills or apply their knowledge in the real world. Here are four tips that will help you design fun, interactive, and highly effective technology training workshops. 

1. Design for Real World Application

A successful training is one where people use the skills and knowledge that the training provided.  So, think carefully about the topics you will be training people on and their ability to implement the new skills and knowledge back at their offices.      Many times, it may mean that more than one person from an organization should participate so the ideas can be transferred back to the whole organization.  Participants should be encouraged to bring more than one person.  Since this isn’t always possible, it is important to incorporate opportunities for them to capture their learning so they can share it.

Also be sure that you target the right level of authority:   This means both the “doer” and the “decision maker.”  Workshop curriculum should include time for participants to synthesize what they learned into some  ”reporting out and up” takeaways to share with their organization. In my workshop design, I always include a “learning artifact” such as a strategy poster or worksheet and allow time in the workshop for participants to practice presenting. Workshop topics also have to be practical about the amount of investment required to implement ideas – and always include some “low hanging fruit” or actionable steps that don’t require a huge amount of organizational change or monetary investment.  

Be sure you build in some time at the end of the workshop for participants to reflect on what they learned and identify “one small action step” or one idea they will implement next week.  This is a great exercise for people to share with the whole group as a part of your closer for the day.

2. Match Learner’s Experience and Expectations to Learning Objectives

Every training should start with a description and learning goals. Learning goals are brief statements about what knowledge or skills you want people to acquire during your training. I like to use Bloom’s Taxonomy to help me brainstorm learning goals that are true learning goals.

Your goals should match your learner’s experience and expectations. That’s why with any workshop and if possible webinars, I like to do a participant assessment survey before. The survey questions gather information related to the learning goals that tell me about participants current experience or level, expectations, and attitudes. Depending on the topics that I will covering, I also try to determine any organizational challenges to applying the information.

If the training is an extended peer learning program over several months, convening a group with similar skill levels and contexts is important. So, I develop a maturity of practice diagnostic, that allows me to determine readiness and it also helps with curriculum development. It also helps when I need to vet participants.

3. The Importance of Pre-Work

Most training workshops require some pre-reading or work assignment to complete the workshop. This can help get everyone on the same page and help save you valuable time in your session. The pre-work can be a curated selection of articles related to the topic, a couple of chapters from a book that will inform the content, or the entire book.

Pre-work can also other tasks beyond reading. Assignments might include doing an assessment, a brief written exercise, reviewing online sources, or anything that supports the learning goals. If your workshop will be using an online platform for participants to set up journals or engage in online conversations this too can be part of the pre-work.

When I am designing a training that will have multiple sessions, I also ask participants to do a pre-assignment where they take a few minutes to think, dream, and scheme about what they would like to take away from the training, how the skills or knowledge will impact their organizations, and to generate some questions about the topic. 


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Photo Credit: Gary Clark

4. Design for Interaction and  Learning

Remember that researching and developing your content is only half of the design work. You have to design exercises or discussion questions so people will learn the content. If you are a trainer, you are working with the human brain every day and you need to know as much as possible about how humans learn and how to teach a topic well. Understanding what holds people’s attention or breaks it can make the difference between delivering a session that is valuable or a waste of time.  

While you don’t necessarily have to run out and get a graduate level degree in teaching, you will improve your training results if you understand different learning theories and integrate this into your design.

There are also very practical learning theories.  One of my favorites is Sharon Bowman’s principles in “Using Brain Science to Make Training Stick.”

  • Movement is better than sitting
  • Having participants talk is better than listening
  • Images are better than words for instructional aids
  • Writing is better than reading
  • Shorter is better than longer
  • Different delivery options are better than the same

Also keep in mind that the way the room is set up can help or hinder interaction and movement and learning.   Certain room set ups encourage interaction between the participants and the workshop leader and with each other, others do not.   Roundtables and circles are preferably to theatre style or military style with desks.     It is also ideal to have a flexible training space where furniture can be moved around easily and with enough room for participants to spread out and work in smaller pairs or groups.

There’s lots more practical information that we’ll share at our session on how to deliver an interactive session and what you need to do after the session is over to help continue the learning.   

What planning and design steps have you found successful when you deliver a technology training?     


Trainer’s Notebook: What To Think About Before A Training by Beth Kanter

Feng Shui of Training by Beth Kanter

Effective Training: Keep Them Moving by Beth Kanter

Content Delivery Is Not Learning by Beth Kanter


Jedi training masters Beth Kanter, Andrea Berry, Cindy Leonard and I will showcase a variety of techniques to help you improve your training delivery skills at our #14NTC session “Learn, You Will: Interactive Tech Training Tips from Jedi Masters. It will be one of the most interactive sessions of the conference - mark your calendar for Friday March 14th at 10:30am!


About the Author: Beth Kanter is a well-established international leader in nonprofits’ use of social media.  Her first book “The Networked Nonprofit,” introduced the sector to a new way of thinking and operating in a connected world.  Her second book, “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” is a practical guide for using measurement and learning to achieve social impact.   She is the author of Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, considered the go-to source for how nonprofits can use networks and social media for social change.  Beth has over 30 years working in the nonprofit sector in technology, training, and capacity and has facilitated trainings for nonprofits on every continent in the world (except Antarctica).  Named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and one of the BusinessWeek’s “Voices of Innovation for Social Media,” Beth is Visiting Scholar at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation 2009-2013