I have written and rewritten this post over a dozen times over the last year, but it’s time to hit “publish”. My main point, in case you don’t want to read the full post, is this: who you hire to train you matters. Their skill set, their experience on a topic, it matters. You wouldn’t hire a yoga instructor to teach yoga unless they practiced it themselves would you? Would you go to a psychologist that didn’t have the qualification? So why would you hire someone to train you in qualitative research software if they didn’t use it for analysis themselves? I see NVivo trainers in this category All. The. Time. I also see people in my sessions who have been left confused, lost and anxious as a result of poor training.
The most recent incident is why you are reading this post. An organisation in Australia that provides research software training for universities across the country recently hired someone to train in qualitative research software, that did not know how to use it, nor did that person do any qualitative research. The organisation approached me to ask if that person could attend my training (for free) to learn. While it great that they are now providing qualitative software training, the lack of skills concerns me. This organisation will now be providing CAQDAS (Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis) training to Australian universities, by someone who knows very little about the software or qualitative research. If you are organising training, why would you hire someone to train you in something they don’t use or understand themselves? This is not a one-off incident, I have seen it happen a number of times.
Research software training should be applied training, on how to use the software for the specific purpose. These days we can search the actual mechanics of the software online, the where to click and how to click, to perform certain functions. What you can’t search online is how to apply the software for analysis. What features of the software are useful for what purposes, what features are terrible and shouldn’t be used? Answers to these questions are more challenging to find, but in my opinion, are essential for good training.
For example, can the trainer explain how to use the different tools for analysis? Or even how certain features can hinder your analysis? What about understanding when it is time to walk away from the software and do things differently? To me, the application of the software is what matters, and this is why you have training.
If you don’t have an understanding of qualitative research, how can you know what tools may be useful for different projects? I’ve personally found that there are some tools within software that look very useful, but do not add any insights at all. In fact, I’ve spent more time trying to figure out what they mean and how to interpret them, then actually finding them useful.
Similarly, there are tools that are very useful, but without knowing how to use them, or how people may use them for analysis or want to pull out the information, it would be difficult to competently advise how to best use the software for research (if at all). For example, there is one tool in NVivo that looks very useful for taking notes, however, the inability to extract or search these notes means that another note-taking tool in NVivo is more useful. Without knowing how and why the tools would be used, it would be difficult to provide effective training.
I want to say this, I know people need opportunities, especially those starting out, or are new. I am not saying don’t give people opportunities to train in CAQDAS, but if you do, choose people who are interested in it and who have the skills and/or a little experience. Given them a chance to learn, grow and develop. There are lots who fit that category who need work, especially in this current climate. I see far too many researchers who have become lost and stressed as a result of poor training. It has cost them time and created confusion. For those hiring a trainer or looking for training, please ask questions and check they type of training that will be provided. It will make a big difference in the long run.