Lesson Plans-Eliminate Roadblocks to Learning New Techniques

31 Jul, 2006 By: Matt Murphy

A five-question quiz on how you learn software.

It's almost fall, one of my favorite times of the year. It's not my favorite just because I'm an old New Englander who looks forward to the cool evenings and colors of the foliage. It's time to think about training, education and learning something new. That's right—it's back-to-school time!

As professionals, we can get training any time of the year. But I thought it would be appropriate to start my first "Lesson Plans" column by looking at the reasons we professionals don't learn what we need to learn to become better and more productive users of our CAD software.

Here's a five-question quiz you can take to see if you're getting everything you need out of your current release, and also whether you'll get the most out of future upgrades. Let's look at the top issues that inhibit productivity. Keep track of your answers to determine your overall productivity at the end.

1. Are You Porting Customization from Older Releases? I hear this common concern from users who are on subscription or who have purchased an upgrade: "Before we install the upgrade, we need to make sure all our custom programs and menus work." Why? What they should really be saying is, "We need to evaluate the new software first, because new functionality may have been added to this release that makes our custom menus and programs obsolete."

Think about this situation. Every year, Autodesk launches new products in the spring. Autodesk has hosted worldwide launch events, Webcasts and local dealer events for all its AutoCAD 2007–based products that allow users to examine the feature sets, view product demonstrations and even test drive the software. Why would you make that upgrade and then force the new software to work exactly the same way as the old release?

The fact is that companies spend thousands of dollars every year upgrading to the latest release and thousands more to force it to look and work like the previous version. Hours are spent installing old menus and routines, thus disabling new features that have been added to enable higher productivity.

2. Are You Using Superseded Commands? I know AutoCAD users who still draw construction lines, as if they were board drafting, instead of using Object Snap Tracking. They also use the Zoom and Pan commands or the scroll bars instead of the Intellimouse wheel. I've even seen people still using the Insert command to browse and place blocks in a drawing instead of using tool palettes for single-click, drag-and-drop insertion and easy management of their block libraries. Imagine that!

 New Features Workshop
New Features Workshop

Why are they still using these old techniques? Usually it's because they don't know about the new techniques. One drawback to AutoCAD and other software is that superseded commands often aren't removed.

A superseded command is one that has been replaced by a more user-friendly or more productive method. When I refer to being more productive, I'm referring to doing a new or similar task with fewer clicks and picks. After all, it's all about the clicks and picks. Fewer clicks and picks means getting the job done in less time.

For example, the Line and Trace commands were replaced with Polyline years ago. The Block, Bmake and Refedit commands for creating and editing blocks have been replaced with the Block Editor or Bedit. Also Polar Tracking, Polar Snaps and Object Snap with Object Snap Tracking have replaced polar and relative coordinate entry from the keyboard and the use of offset and construction lines.

So how do you know a command has been superseded? Maybe I can convince developers to add an annoying pop-up window that says, "You're using an old command or method. Click here to learn the new and improved method."

3. Does Your Existing Software Have New, Unexplored Features? The What's New? or the New Features Workshop dialog box is the first thing people see when they fire up a new version of software (figure 1). It's also the first thing they close. Why? People seem to feel they just don't have time to learn something new, or they are comfortable doing things the way they always have. We often don't like stepping outside our comfort zones. But taking a few minutes now will translate into long-term economies of time. Even if you are informed about the new features, there's a difference between having the knowledge and applying it. Incorporating new functionality into your design process isn't easy.

After you know what the new feature is, you'll need to try it, apply it and then adapt. When the temptation is to go back and do it the way you've always done it, you're going to have to change. We definitely are creatures of habit when it comes to using software.

4. Are You Afraid of a Process-Based Analysis of Your Current Methods? Many people still think that speed is the key to being productive when using design software. Speed has nothing to do with it. Becoming productive with any software application consists of choosing the least number of clicks, picks and keystrokes. Period!

The best way to become more productive is to bring in an expert who is an experienced trainer, is trained by the software developer and has mastered the software in its intended method of use. You can't figure out this stuff on your own. Have your company conduct an analysis of your current design process. If you jump into training too early, you may get training and support materials that aren't applicable to the specific processes and methods used by your designers and company.

5. Do You Believe Training Makes You More Productive? Training in itself will not make you more productive. For training to succeed, you need to distinguish between implementing a personal productivity plan and a company productivity plan. The personal plan is the easier one.

A personal plan entails setting measurable objectives and goals for your training. It also means focusing on the aspects of the software that do not change the methods and standards of the company. For example, using Object Snap Tracking instead of construction lines can be part of a personal productivity plan. Whether everyone uses it as a method to accurately create drawings doesn't matter.

A company productivity plan requires a dramatic change to the company standard, practice or method. For example, in AutoCAD, using sheet sets or dynamic blocks is a radical change in the company method and standard for printing and managing reusable content. To change to these methods requires buy-in from management and even your IT department. This change may not be easy to implement. It's also the key reason why people are slow to embrace these radically different changes to the software.

The key to an implementation plan is choosing which aspects of your new or existing software will be incorporated into daily use, and which won't be. This plan is the only way to get true productivity gains.

Robert Green has covered the topics of preparing and delivering in-house training sessions in his "CAD Manager" columns. You may want to check out some of those at

So How Did You Score?

If you answered "No" to all the questions, you're on the right track to gaining greater productivity from your software.

If you answered "Yes" to two or more questions, you may need to take a closer look at how you're using your current software and prepare a more effective strategy before you migrate to the next release.

Next month, we'll take a look at the effectiveness of traditional teaching methods for learning CAD.

Until next time, don't close that new dialog box!

Matt Murphy is a member of ATCAB (Autodesk Training Center Advisory Board) and a certified technical trainer. He teaches AutoCAD productivity and Training the Trainer seminars for Autodesk University, AUGI CAD Camps and private companies. He can be reached at

About the Author: Matt Murphy

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