There's a simple way to help people come out of training feeling really empowered to do it on their own, and it even has a snappy mnemonic. 

See One, Do One, Teach One

Back in the 1980s, when my friends were all mowing lawns and babysitting for $5/hr, I fixed computer issues for church ladies at $20/hr. I learned an awful lot about professional services stuck in basements that smelled strongly of cat urine. One of the key ideas I quickly picked up was; the longer I could keep them in front of the keyboard themselves, the better things would end up later.

I know it’s common in the medical field, but I feel like I first heard this as a clear practice mantra from military friends:


It’s a simple way to make sure complicated, and important procedures are learned and retained:

  1. See One. You’ve got to be shown what to do.
  2. Do One. You need to repeat the process you just saw, yourself.
  3. Teach One. To really internalize the know-how, there’s nothing like showing someone else how it’s done.

This process has helped countless people master complicated and dangerous skills they thought were beyond their capabilities. Let’s get into some details as to how and why this works so well for software training.

See One

There have never been more ways to show someone how to do something online. When someone asks where I learned how to accomplish some new home improvement project, I almost always come back with “YouTube University.” It’s truly amazing how much you can get out of a 5-minute video or two. Maybe you’re sitting next to someone’s desk, maybe it’s a live screen share, or maybe you’re making content to be recorded and watched many times - regardless, there are a few key things to making that first “See One” experience stick:

Don’t give us a lot of back-stories first. You can almost always jump over the first minute of a YouTube video because it's just the person talking about themselves or providing useless background. (ie: the top of this blog post!)  Sure, as the teacher, you feel that the context and history of what you’re about to express is important. It may be, but if you ask someone to listen to all of that first, you’re using up their precious attention without giving them much in return. Consider if the background couldn’t be put to the end after you’ve shown them how to accomplish what they came for. Consider if it's actually that important at all.

Do quickly set the scope. Tell the person exactly what you’re about to show them, and define what ‘done’ looks like. Start with a clear statement that gives them a map:

“We’re going to spend three minutes updating some content and putting an image on the page, when we’re done you’ll be able to post your own press releases.”

If you skip this step, the viewer has a voice in their head the entire time wondering, “when will this end?” They don’t know if they’re in for a sprint or a marathon, and they won’t focus their attention to match.

Don’t go for longer than you absolutely need to. There’s a temptation to train someone on everything they might need to know. There’s an even worse temptation to fill 30 or even 60 minutes of content because that’s how modern calendars are broken up. If at all possible, break your content up into bite sized chunks. Even if you’re going to go through 10 different 5-minute videos in an hour session, having them as encapsulated ideas in smaller videos will make it much less intimidating and much easier for people later. If you’re doing a live training, you should be stopping every 5 minutes at a natural completion point. It’s not even that important if people have questions, you’re just giving their brain a chance to digest.

Do One

People are really good at half paying attention. We live in a world where ‘multitasking’ is still considered desirable by some, and there have never been more distractions. Chances are your training materials are less interesting than you might hope, so keeping people’s attention is a real battle unless you do this simple trick.

Make it clear from the get-go, “this will be a hands-on training, you’re going to be doing it with me.”

If you’re helping someone in person, don’t let them give you their chair/keyboard, even if it's painful to keep pointing at what they should click next. If you’re doing remote training, make sure you can swap to have them share their screen when you say, “now you try.”

This is going to do a couple of things for you. Most obviously, they are going to pay more attention when you’re talking because it will be made painfully clear in a few minutes if they didn’t.

More importantly, you are going to get a chance to deal with their fears directly. It’s natural for someone to feel intimidated about doing something important on their own. If it wasn’t somewhat complicated and important, they wouldn’t need training in the first place. It’s easy for someone in this situation to avoid dealing with that uncomfortable feeling of fear, and instead just assume this might be easier later 'after I’ve had that training.' They half pay attention, and when they do try later, they get stuck, thus fueling the story they’re telling themselves that they can’t do it on their own.

When you force them to do it in front of you as part of the training, you’re leaving them knowing that they can do it. After all, they just did.

Last, you buy yourself some time to let them talk. Anyone who has led long training sessions knows it can feel like you’re preaching to an empty room, and having some structured time to let other people talk is a wonderful way to balance the relationship a little. They may open up about other related issues they need training on. You may (very likely) notice other things they do that was unexpected. Perhaps they don’t understand some fundamentals you assumed they did, or they may even have an unexpected way of accomplishing something that you could learn from!

These types of training sessions are far better than asking your “students” to watch a video or read a paper. They bring out the kind of open-ended questions that you only get from a face-to-face discussion.

Teach One

This is rarely done but is tremendously helpful. It builds on the practice that 'Do One' started but in an even more meaningful way. Make them show someone else how to do it.

It’s one thing to have watched it; it’s even better to have done it, but to be in a position where you’re showing someone else how to do it is powerful. It demystifies the expertise you have. Sure, there’s probably lots of background knowledge and context you have that make you the expert trainer. That doesn’t mean you’re that special, though. The reality is that if they can consistently do something themselves, they can teach it as well.

Teaching forces you to codify your knowledge. You will be forced to look at the topic from another person’s perspective. Training the new concept will enable you to leave no stone unturned and ensures that you explore the knowledge material from every angle.

While preparing for the training session, you will be able to get a deeper level of understanding by asking yourself questions like:

  • What are the most important things for them to know? 

  • How can I demonstrate this? 

  • What exercises would help them develop the skill?

While explaining the new concepts and processes, you will also be able to grasp the topic and better understand the topic by answering the queries from the ‘student.’

Teaching others builds confidence. Getting to watch others teach it shows you how they think about the problem as well. Maybe they use the tools in a way you never would. Quietly take a note and correct that behavior later, or take that note to your product team and wow them with people’s creativity. 

Not only will your trainees be more confident in this specific task, but after teaching others, they’ll start to feel more confident in solving other problems themselves. You’re confident enough in their skills to let them train someone else, so they should be confident enough in themselves to try to figure a few things out on their own too.

If there isn’t an opportunity to have them teach someone else in front of you, have them teach it back to you. Make them 'Do Two' instead of just the one, and on that second attempt, get them talking about why they’re doing what they’re doing, what they should be looking out for, what not to do, etc.

Here is a summary of knowledge retention by learners:

  • 90% of what they have learned when they teach the notion to someone else.

  • 75% of what they have learned when they practise what they learned.

  • 50% of what they have learned when involved in a group discussion.

  • 30% of what they have learned if they watched a demo.

  • 20% of what they have learned from audio-visual.

  • 10% of what they have learned when they’ve learned from reading.

  • 5% of what they have learned in case they’ve learned from a speech.

Keep SO-DO-TO in mind as you write your training materials and plan your training sessions. You may have to get creative in how you apply this wisdom given the medium you’re working with, but anything you can do to keep your sessions “hands-on” will make it feel more fun and impactful.