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Is Self-Paced eLearning a Shortcut to CAD Software Knowledge?

3 Feb, 2021 By: Paul Burden

Viewpoint: A shortcut implies a quicker way to achieve a goal. Does bypassing instructor-led training accomplish that? Or is a combination of the two training types most effective?


Many people wonder, Is there a way to learn CAD software that is faster than attending instructor-led training? It’s a valid question, especially since we are often tasked with multiple projects and tight deadlines.

I came across a Tweet recently that implied “traditional learning,” whatever that is, is “dead”! Perhaps unsurprisingly, this claim was made by someone deeply involved in the production of self-paced eLearning. I can see the benefits of self-paced eLearning, where someone develops CAD software skills without ever leaving the office or speaking with an expert ... but is there really no place for traditional learning? What about a combination of the two?

For a variety of reasons, more and more companies and individuals are looking to self-paced learning methods as alternatives to instructor-led training. As everyone seeks the quickest route to develop skills and reach proficiency, demand has increased, and so too has the variety of options and providers.

This demand is driven by many factors: No one can deny that it is costly to take an employee away from the office and out of production for multiple days. The use of multimedia and interactive content is attractive and can be engaging. I also believe that software companies encourage the movement toward self-paced learning, because it fuels the perception that they are modern and current and that their software is easy to use.

My own feeling is that self-paced learning with tutorial manuals and online resources can absolutely be a faster way to learn how to use CAD software for some individuals, in some circumstances. I also believe there is still a place for classroom-based instructor-led training. This all comes down to the simple fact that we don’t all learn the same way. Call me a dinosaur, but I am, in fact, still a proponent of using instructor-led training for learning the basics.

Despite what CAD software manufacturers may want you to think, their software is complex, and for good reason. Whether I am designing a bridge or a pump, I want the design tool that I am using to be complex enough to create my designs, deal properly with any design changes I am bound to experience, and be able to incorporate the design alternatives I inevitably will want to consider without having to start over each time. To take advantage of the powerful capabilities in the software, I need to have a solid foundation in the basic skills needed to use the software and a clear understanding of fundamental modeling strategies.

I believe one of the best ways to build those fundamental skills is through interaction with experts and other learners, where there can be dialogue and an exchange of ideas. It is this real-time communication that teaches modeling strategies, provides an opening to challenge ideas, gives the opportunity to ask questions, and invokes conversation. Interactions with the expert instructor, as well as with peers, in an instructor-led session make traditional learning incredibly effective and relevant.

I coach a youth baseball team, despite not having played a lot of organized ball when I was younger, so I had a lot to learn when I started out. Trust me, I referenced YouTube videos and other online resources frequently (and still do!), but what helped me to make sense of all the excellent information I found online was interacting with new and experienced coaches at clinics that I had the good fortune of attending.

I was overwhelmed when I started out. There are as many opinions on the proper way to hit a baseball as there are on the correct sequence of features in your CAD model. It was only after I began to discuss hitting techniques with experienced coaches and hitting instructors that I could digest the information and come up with approaches that worked for the players I coach. For me, gaining a foundational understanding of the basic techniques and strategies in an immersive situation enabled me to make better use of the advanced and varying information I could access on my own.

While there is nothing wrong with exploring shortcuts, I do feel the fastest way to build the skills for using CAD software is to use a combination of instructor-led training (whether that is held in person or online) and self-paced learning (with instructional resources such as books, videos, eLearning, etc.). Interact with an expert to lay the foundation, then build on it with “non-traditional” methods.

Working with an instructor doesn’t mean you need to be in a classroom for five days straight, or that you need to be in a classroom at all. Many training providers, such as Rand 3D, have come up with creative ways to deliver live online classes over the web, provide on-demand instructor support, and blend various methods into a learning offering. For more information on this type of learning, contact me or click here for more information.


About the Author: Paul Burden


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