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Archive for June, 2011

Latest Thoughts on Training

Let’s talk training again.  I recently had the opportunity to attend two classes.  One was self-paced using pre-recorded content; the other was an online instructor led class.  Before I get into what I think about them, I want to define a few items:

Tutorial:  good for single item topics and are generally short.  Tutorials should teach how to do a task, not provide comprehensive knowledge.

Instructor led, classroom environment:  This is the traditional training setup.  With this style of training, you drive to some facility to sit in a classroom with a bunch of people you may, or may not know, and tell war stories to each other all week.  .  All the while you hope the training facility has some good restaurants around it for lunch.  Instruction gets in the way of all the kibitzing, but you find that you actually learned a lot when the class is finished.

There are two variants of the Instructor Led, classroom environment type that are becoming very popular with the training providers.  They are:

a.      Instructor Led, classroom environment, equipment somewhere else and

b.     Instructor led, online environment, equipment somewhere else.

Self-paced:  This is where you download videos, watch slideware, and more often than not, find yourself bored almost to the point of falling asleep.  This type of instruction can be so boring that a class that normally takes 40 hours might take two months to complete.

Now you may not agree 100% with my definitions and that’s fine.  But for the sake of this post, just pretend to agree with me.

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A little over a year ago, I wrote about a Cisco UCS class that I took.  It was of the Instructor Led, classroom environment, equipment somewhere else variety.  One of my chief complaints about it was the lab environment and all the problems we had accessing it.  Well, my recent experience with an Instructor led, online environment, equipment somewhere else type class shows me that the access issues are still prevalent.

Not a day went by where we didn’t have problems with either the presentation tool or accessing the lab servers.  I can understand why training providers like the equipment somewhere else concept.  It means fewer dollars spent buying equipment.  It also means that you can get better utilization of the equipment that is purchased.  However, this introduces a dependency on remote access systems, your network, and the availability of folks in some equipment room/data center to troubleshoot when problems arise.  In my case, the requirement was for a perfect network.  Any slight hiccup and you got kicked out of the presentation software.  If you were unlucky enough to have this occur twice in one day, you were SOL.  The only fix was for the instructor to kick everyone out and reset the class.

I will say this though: my training partner learned a lot about communication tricks during our labs.  Towards the end of the second day of class, I got kicked out of the presentation software (which also acted as a softphone) and could not communicate with my lab partner.  Rather than having the instructor reset everyone, I just used various little tricks to send him messages.  Tricks such as changing the Message of the Day in vCenter, opening notepad on our vCenter server to write him messages, and using the old “Net send” command from a command prompt.  It worked, but was not very efficient.

Even if there were no technical difficulties, I can definitely say that I am not a fan of the Instructor led, online environment, equipment somewhere else delivery method.  More specifically, I am not a fan of the online environment component. I thrive on all the interaction that takes place in the classroom.  I typically learn more from the other students than I do from the instructor and official content. (As people are apt to say, nothing beats real world experience.)  With an online class, it is very hard to interact with the other students.  I can’t really describe it, but it’s hard to carry on conversations.  There are no facial cues; it’s hard to get people’s attention, etc.

I also missed out on the troubleshooting opportunities.  In a classroom environment, when someone has a problem, everyone will huddle around their screens and work together to solve the problem.  Not easy to do in an online class.

Unfortunately, I foresee even more training occurring online.  Why?  $$$.  It’s cheaper to have an employee sit at home or his/her office space than it is to send them to a physical classroom.  This becomes more evident if the class is held out of state.  I only hope that training providers get more resilient software and other infrastructure.  Otherwise we’ll have ended up going backwards.

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As for my second class, it was a self-paced network training program.  All I can say about this class was that it was extremely boring.  It was so boring that it took me almost two months to finish a 40hr class. The class was basically slideware that read itself to me.   One peculiar oddity to note: If I accidentally clicked “Next” before the audio completed, it would pick up physically where it left off from the previous slide on the new slide.  Huh?  Yes, if the audio was in the middle of a slide and I clicked “Next”, it would then proceed to read to me from the middle of the new slide.  It acted as if it was a screen scraper of some sort.  You won’t believe how happy I was when I found I could turn off the audio.

At that point, I turned into a speed reader and went at a more comfortable pace.  I think I finished about 30hrs of instruction (according to student guide) in about 10 hours.  It’s amazing how much that audio slows you down without adding value.  I think I learned more with the audio off than I did with it turned on.

Remember what I said up above about interacting with fellow students?  Well, forget about it with the self-paced model.   What really killed it for me was the inability to ask questions and get answers in a timely manner.  Yes, there was an “ask a question” link, but I had to wait up to 24hrs for a response.  What should I have done while waiting for a response?  Continue? Wait?  Talk about a momentum killer.

I also have to add that I thought the content was fairly light.  It seemed to have a fair amount of business driver/marketing type slides as opposed to technical information.  It was also fond of rehashing them.  While there is value in having this info, I would have preferred more technical related content.

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I know times are tough and everyone is looking for ways to save money.  But maybe we need to rethink how training is provided.  If the goal is to prepare the employee, then maybe saving a few bucks isn’t so cost effective.  While I personally feel that most training is overpriced (come on, $500+ per day for many classes), I don’t think saving a grand is worth it in the long run.  I wonder how much more effective I would be at my job if I got more out of the training classes?  Would it be worth that extra grand in two months?  How about three months?   Could the payback be even a month?  Think about it.

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Categories: Philosophy Tags: ,