Guy’s Ezine 144 – Insider Advice on Training from a Trainer
Microsoft recently sent me a 10 year achievement certificate to celebrate my decade of being an MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer). This milestone prompted me to write the following insider advice on technical computer training. Please note, my diary is full and I am not touting for business.
Benefits of a technical training course
The biggest benefit of a 5 day instructor lead course is that you can learn away from the day-to-day distractions of your business. The only worrying factor is if nobody misses when you return to the office next week! Hand-in-glove with the freedom from interruptions is the chance to absorb oneself in a sytem such as Exchange 2007 or Windows Server 2008. Incidentally, it breaks my heart if the customer cuts corners by shoe-horning a 5 day course into 3 days.
What else delegates get out of a training course varies. Some take the chance to network with techies from other companies. A few button-hole the instructor and ask for solutions to specific problems back at their base. Others, especially on residential courses, combine business with pleasure, and party in the evenings.
The best time for training
The biggest debate in computer training is timing. Managers and educationalists would say that courses are best at the beginning of a student’s career when they know little or nothing about the subject.
Guy disagrees, and says technical training is most efficient when delegates have some experience of the product. My reasoning is because of their content, technical training courses assume a basic knowledge (despite what the pre-requisites may say). Also, when you have gained some experience of the product, you can go on a course and seek solutions to particular problems.
Despite the fact that complete newbies always think their trainer is wonderful and give the best critiques, I still believe that training delegates with 6 months experience makes for the most productive education. Those coming to a course with a medium amount of knowledge ask tough questions and give poorer critiques; yet at the end of the course I go home happy in the knowledge that a there was a lot of learning rather than a lot of teaching. With complete beginners I worry that they won’t be able to reproduce what they did on the course back at their base.
Let us take Exchange 2007 training as an example. I believe that before you start learning Exchange you need a good grounding in Active Directory. As a ‘Litmus test’ I would ask: ‘Do you know how to configure ‘Function Levels’?’ My fear is that even if the training goes perfectly, delegates with limited experience would return home and not retain their knowledge. Consequently, back at their base, they would not know how to check that DNS had been setup correctly, and not have the skill to install Exchange 2007.
Insider Advice for Training Courses
Surprisingly, surveys indicate that fewer than 1 in 5 delegates read the course outline before they book their training. Consequently many are overqualified. Others attend a computer configuration course when they would be better off on a network planning course. On the other hand, don’t be put off if the content is just what you need, but you only meet 75% of the pre-requisites.
A sign of a difficult subject is when there are many flavours of courses. In the case of Exchange or SQL, do read through the content decide if you need a course on Administration (Easiest), Design, or Troubleshooting (Advanced).
Guy’s instructor tip. Always ask to speak with, or email the instructor BEFORE you book your course. Indeed, the company’s response to this request will tell you more about the course than any flashy brochure. Again this is a pain for me, but it’s worthwhile to get the right people on the right course.
Once the course starts make life easy for your instructor. Laugh at their jokes, nod your head from time to time to show you comprehend, or ask a question if you don’t understand. Few delegates realize how a positive approach from their side of the desk can improve the instructor’s performance, and fuel their desire to go that extra mile for the delegates. For example, answer your company specific questions, rather than say ‘That’s off topic’.
For each topic, ask yourself, ‘How can I apply this back at my work?’ When I am receiving a course I buy a special little notebook and write down 2 or 3 tips from each topic so that I can try out the ideas when I get back to base.
How the attitude of delegates varies
In Iceland (the country) I ran a training course where the instructor’s machine had a squeaky fan, we all found it most irritating. One of the delegates said, ‘I have a spare fan in my office, I will bring it lunch time’. He did, and his friend fitted it while I ate my sandwiches. It was a labour of love to stay on in the evening and help these techies solve some of their actual computer problems, even though the topics weren’t on the course.
In France I had the exact same problem, this time all the delegates did was moan about the noisy fan, and the training company just shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘c’est la vie mon ami’. At the end of day 1 of 5, I bought a tube of WD40 and in a ‘kill or cure’ moment, sprayed the fan with oil. Phew – it worked, silent computing once more. At 5:00 pm Guy could not get out of there fast enough.
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Computer Based Training (CBT)
Because I find it difficult to get away for a 5 training course, I now rely on self-paced training material. What I find is that the simulations with CBT are much more responsive than they were 10 years ago. What I particularly like are realistic virtual machines where I can digress and explore things of interest, even though they are not directly related to the topic.
The reason that I promote TrainSignal training packages is that I like the company. My litmus test of a good company is how they respond when something go wrong, trust me, you will get support from people who care at TrainSignal. I have perused their training materials for Exchange 2007 and Windows Server, and I have also learned Cisco routing for real. There are other CBT companies with similar products, but none are better, and I say again with TrainSignal you will get backup from people who care about you.
Summary of Insider Advice on Training from a Trainer
Like many aspects of life, planning and research pay handsome dividends when you choose a training course. 5 day training courses are the best, but CBT materials are handy if you cannot leave your office for a whole week.
If you do go on an instructor-lead course then make it a two way street, you help the instructor to give a good course, and they will not only give you a rewarding time, but also answer your computer questions.
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