Microsoft releases a slew of (mostly) free training tools for MS Office, Windows 7

A new program by Microsoft offers tons of resources to bring users up to speed, even on the Ribbon menus.

If there is a silver lining to the frustration caused by Microsoft's new Ribbon menus, it is this: the company has created a program geared to end user training of Office 2007 and Windows 7 comprised of more than a dozen (mostly) free tools. Microsoft calls this program "Cultural Adoption of Software in the Enterprise" or CASE (as in, "making the CASE" for new software, or maybe "get off my CASE" -- I'll leave that interpretation up to you.)

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The program was developed by Redmond's global sales team, though you don't have to be a global enterprise to get most of these tools. A Softie friend of mine, a salesperson for Microsoft, filled me in on the details. Essentially CASE is a collection of training items such as step-by-step videos, instructional pamphlets and ready-made SharePoint sites, training presentations and more. There are also a few fee-based items, but most of these are available as a Software Assurance benefit, for those who  have an SA contract.

I joke about the pain of the Ribbon menus (and several training tools are dedicated to it), but the truth is, after rolling out new PCs or software, IT professionals naturally want to see a great return on that investment. That doesn't always happen quickly. A lag in productivity occurs while users figure out how to use the new software even when IT provides training. This is unavoidable. People have different ways of learning (audio, visual, tactile) and different speeds at which they assimilate information (immediately, with some practice, with much repetition).

Traditional classroom training also puts IT at risk for the increased expense of more help desk calls. To add insult to injury, after rollout, IT often spends time fielding requests for features and functionality that already exist.

By offering users a wider variety of training types and beginning the "training process" before you even roll out the software, you can limit this lag time and reduce help desk expenses.

Below are a list of the training freebies that Microsoft is giving away. It includes the links where you can access the item directly, if it is available on one of Microsoft's public Web site.

Pre-rollout stuff:

Office 2007/Windows 7 Posters and Booklets -- These are intended to build excitement for the product by showing off the new features. (See example, pictured right.)

A "Buzz Day Event" -- something your Microsoft sales team would help you set up prior to rollout to help you build excitement for the new software. Yes, it sounds somewhat dorky, but getting people eager for their new tools is a big part of the psychology of training.

Microsoft Technology Center -- part museum, part training, part sales pitch, this is a Silicon Valley facility where you can come in and play hand-on with the latest enterprise technology. You'll be briefed on how Microsoft engineers would roll out a complex solution for your network.

After rollout

A Windows 7 introductory video (four to five minutes) -- can be included with the standard image and it has a customizable shell so that companies can insert their own information. Ask your sales rep about it.

Tips and Tricks Webcasts and podcasts -- includes instructional videos on specific tasks, such as "How to create a 15-minute presentation (with graphics) in one hour."

Enterprise Learning Framework (ELF) -- A TechNet resource that maps out an enterprise training program for individual Microsoft products. Ranges from one-month prior to rollout to after-deployment support and guides you to the videos and other resources Microsoft has available for training on a products specific features.

OneNote Training Notebook -- puts training materials about every Office product into the user's OneNote Notebook. (Make sure your users are trained on OneNote before using this.)

SharePoint Productivity Hub -- A Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007 site collection that offers training materials for end users. It includes a social component. Users can blog about their favorite new tricks and you can set up a designated "coach" where someone can answer training questions. You can control the site completely. It can also be linked with your internal training systems.

Get Started Tabs* -- add-on links to demos and training. I've linked to the Excel one, but there are Get Started Tabs for other Office products.

Office 2007 Presentations for Trainers -- all packaged and ready to go.

Up to Speed Training Courses (20 to 30 minutes)

Help with the Ribbon menu

Why the Ribbon? A six-minute training video on the Office's new UA. (Microsoft actually does have an answer that question, too, by the way. You'll have to watch the video yourself to find out.)

Search Commands -- An Office Lab tool that lets users quickly find commands used in Microsoft Office 2007. I need to point out there's a whole third-party market of tools that do away with the Ribbon menus and return the classic menu. Good for that stubborn user. Just search on Replace Office Ribbon Menu in your favorite search engine.

Interactive Guide -- Maps the commands in Office products from 2003 to 2007

Items covered by Software Assurance

Microsoft also offers a few options that are available for a fee, but may also be covered as a Software Assurance benefit. These include Training Vouchers and eLearning Courses as well as a few ways to let employees buy and be trained on products for use in their home offices.

Other items for a price

Quick Start Guides -- similar to the Quick Start guides included with boxed software but these are ordered from a company called Brainstorm.

And, if you are really called forth to root for the team, maybe you'll want some Office logo T-shirts or pens from the Office Shop. (Then again, maybe not.)

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