How to Develop a Training Guide for Your Mobile Data Collection App

Although you should design apps that are intuitive to users, and test them thoroughly before deployment, training is still a vital part of your program. Your users need to understand the processes within the mobile app and the standard operating procedures that often happen externally. This is an important part of effective change management, especially when introducing a digital data collection tool to a previously paper-based workflow.

A training guide is a tangible resource to help your users feel less lost both during and after training.


Key aspects of a training guide

There are different types of training guides, but all of them should include a few key elements to be useful to and practical for your users.


Important daily activities for field workers

Break down what tasks the field worker should start with and complete every day. This step-by-step guide will help people who are feeling overwhelmed by the transition to digital by building on their existing knowledge and simply point to where current processes can be completed in the app.

An example could be:

  • Ensure your device is charged and sync your data every morning
  • Register any new clients using the “Register” module
  • Visit all pregnant women using the “Pregnancy” module and then record all vaccines given in “Stock”
  • At the end of the day, check your appointments for tomorrow
  • Sync your phone and switch it off


Guide to care for the phone

If the device belongs to the project, be clear about it and the consequences for any loss or damage. And don’t assume that everyone has owned a mobile phone before, they may need more guidance on basic care.

Some examples:

  • Keep it in a safe, dry place
  • Don’t let your children play with it (they could change the settings by mistake)
  • Check your airtime by dialing *147#
  • Make sure it is fully charged (include instructions on how to use solar charger)
  • This is a work tool; if lost or stolen, report to the mHealth coordinator


Basic outline of workflows and a guide to modules

Introduce each app module by showing the icon, what the purpose of the module is and when to use it. For example:

A summary of modules available in a mobile data collection app

Deeper explanation of any complexity in the app

If any workflows are complicated or need extra explanation, add this into your training manual. For example, if it links to an offline process, explain step-by-step how and when the transitions occur.


Basic troubleshooting

If people are new to smartphones, they may need assistance with troubleshooting, such as checking their mobile network is switched on, that airplane mode is not interfering with their network connection, or that they have data bundles. Other aspects of troubleshooting could cover their accessories, such as a solar charger or powerbank.

Sometimes a workflow itself needs troubleshooting, which can be covered by a helpful Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. Sample questions include:

  1. What should I do if I register someone by mistake?
  2. What happens when my phone is broken but I need to record the interview?


Who to contact for help

Sometimes users may try to troubleshoot problems themselves and get stuck, or the problem may not be solvable without outside help (i.e. forgotten password that needs to be reset). It is important to have a support structure in place for the duration of the project. And if different individuals are responsible for different problems, explain the breakdown clearly, so that everyone follows the correct channels. Ensure that the details are clear and easy to access in a crisis – for example on the front page or in a highly visible section.


What type of guide best suits my project?

Depending on your users, project type, budget, and complexity, you might want to consider one of these types of training guides. There are many different styles, but we will often design one of these three:

  1. One-page reference sheet
  2. Comprehensive user manual
  3. In-app training module


One-page reference sheet

Pros: Requires less printing, serves as an easy reference for field workers and summarizes important information in one place. You can also print two-sided for a bonus page!

Cons: Can be similar in cost to a manual if you choose to laminate or place in a plastic sleeve. Additionally, there might be too much information to fit on one page.

Example: ONSE Health Activity One-Pager

A sample one-page guide to a mobile data collection app from ONSE

Comprehensive user manual

Pros: If the workflow is highly complex and involves interaction between real-life and in-app processes, these might need to be explained in more depth than a one-pager can provide. It is also a more traditional approach and level of detail that users might expect of a paper-based guide.

Cons: Expensive to produce, and if anything changes in the app, expensive to reproduce and distribute. Paper can be easily lost or damaged. It might overwhelm users and may not be necessary for a simple (or extremely user-friendly) app.


In-app training module

Pros: Always available on the user’s device and can easily be updated as workflows change, with little-to-no cost except the time to create it. You can also analyze which sections users navigate to most often, in order to determine if a refresher training session is necessary.

Cons: For first-time mobile users, it may be intimidating to have the training guide on the device they are not yet comfortable with. If their device has issues, they may need to access the troubleshooting section on a colleague’s device which could be hard to coordinate.

Example: mLabour

A sample in-app training module for a mobile data collection app

Final thoughts: Training as sustaining

Whichever style of training guide you decide to create, it is a good idea to view it as a living document. No training guide can be expected to account for every complex user problem in the field, so don’t view it as a one-time exercise.

Check in with your users regularly: Are they using the guides? Do they have further questions that need to be clarified? Monitor your support channels – if everyone is asking similar questions, perhaps it is time to rework the app to be more user-friendly or run a brief refresher training on that specific workflow. If you add any modules or tweak any workflows, it might also be a good idea to circulate new training guides or an amendment to the guides.

Just as apps can be iterated on for improvements, so should training materials. Used correctly, they can reduce the support burden on your team and increase your users’ confidence. Confident and informed users are fundamental to any project, so invest in your training guides wisely.



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