Lesson Plans-Why Does Instructor-Led Training Fail?

31 Dec, 2006 By: Matt Murphy

Training must evolve to match participant and company needs.

I've been in the instructor-led training business for more than 20 years. Yet if I delivered computer-based CAD training the same way today as I did when I started, I would be destined to fail. Why? The rules for delivering instructor-led training have changed. For those who are participants in a learning experience and for those who train others, we need to take a closer look at why training isn't translating into productivity.

In this installment of "Lesson Plans," I will examine why so many participants in a training activity fail to transfer that knowledge to job skills. I'll also describe the key reasons why training today fails to translate into user productivity. After all, user productivity is always our goal (unless you are viewing training from a management point of view)?

Training Must Keep Management Happy

Management is concerned about one thing: the bottom line. It wants to get the most out of its investment. I'm not just talking about the investment in the software and hardware, but also in the personnel who use it. All trainers face this challenge. You must try to maximize training so it also meets the goals and expectations of management?

Don't Follow Tradition

Traditional classroom training doesn't work because it's not interactive, it's not applicable and it simply doesn't address the issues and problems that today's designers face each day. Update training doesn't work, either. It gives you snippets of many new features and new functions, but it also lacks the understanding of how to apply these things to the daily design process. Both traditional and update training fail for the same reason: No one has evaluated the current design process to determine what features and functions are important to the users.

Traditional classroom instruction tends to have an out-of-the-box feel to it. From the presentation to the exercises, training participants often feel the training isn't relevant to how they work. Participants can't see how the training is going to help them if the examples don't apply to their projects and design issues.

Whether you are a trainer or a participant in a training session, you must ensure that the focus of the training addresses the needs of the company and the skill sets of the people.

Request Process-Based Training

The most effective training is process-based training. I will cover this type of training from a trainer's point of view in later columns this year. What you need to know for now is that you should make sure the training is not out-of-the-box or taught from off-the-shelf training materials and guides.

Process-based training addresses management concerns to increase the bottom line, because the training incorporates specific practical drawing issues and problems, as well as successful solutions and methods.

Address Skills and Learning Styles

Today we find a great division between the generations in our training classes (see "What is Your Learning Style?," Cadalyst, December 2006). To address the learning styles of these people, we need to rethink our learning space with improved understanding of the generations, generational approaches, communication, expectations, engagements and collaboration techniques. Knowing your audience is critical to addressing and delivering learning to its expectation level.

The age of the learner has a direct effect on how he or she learns. Twenty years ago, we had only Baby Boomers in our training classes, and they were learning CAD technology for the first time. Now we have members of the X and Y generations on the job and in our training classes. Do these individuals, who were born into the multitasking computer and instant-messaging generation, learn the same way as the previous generation did?

This broad generalization is intended to help you understand the different learning styles of students of different ages. Bear in mind, of course, that individual students will not always fall into these clear categories. People's learning is affected by many other factors such as personality, personal and professional experience, intelligence and willingness to learn.

Our job as trainers is to find a way to incorporate the learning styles of each group. An additional challenge is to create a teaching model that addresses these styles when two or more generational groups are in the same class.

On the flip side, the generations we instructors were born into typically influence the way we prepare and teach our classes. We must be aware of this situation and adjust our instructional delivery. For example, your instructors today come from the Baby Boomer generation. We tend to provide interactive learning, structured presentations and step-by-step exercises and training materials. We leave little room for exploration and self-directed training. We need to be aware of these differences and address them as instructors as well.

Training by Immersion or Vignette?

When you schedule training sessions, you can do it one of two ways: training by immersion or training by vignette. Training by immersion means that everyone takes two or more consecutive days out of the office to get trained. Believe it or not, this is the least likely way for people to retain and apply new knowledge! Yet this method is still the way the majority of training is delivered. Why? Is it because it's the optimum way to learn or is it because it's optimum for scheduling?

By the end of the first day of training, I need to start to practice and apply what I just learned. By the second day I'm overloaded. The mind can absorb and digest small segments of learning more easily with personal practice and review time between new episodes of learning.

With today's hectic schedules, doesn't it make more sense to learn in smaller increments? How about one day of training or multiple half days followed by a few days between sessions? Half days of training provide time to practice and absorb the material more easily, provided you've given specific drawing problems or tasks to be completed. Think about taking your lunch hour, sitting down with your colleagues in a conference room and having brown-bag learning. The smaller you can break the content down, the easier it will be to digest.

The other reason for training by vignette is to space the days or hours of training to allow for practice and initial application of the knowledge. The sooner you can apply it, the sooner the knowledge or skill will stick. It also gives time for a follow-up session to address questions and concerns so the new technique is neither abandoned nor applied improperly.

Follow Up and Follow Through

The post-training period is probably the most overlooked and underspecified aspect. Yet follow-up training conducted within a 30-day period ensures that participants have implemented the processes. This step is the key to successful training.

In many cases, a follow-up session is interactive. This session allows a group to share successes and also to address problems and pitfalls they encounter as they get the new methods integrated into the company's design process.

Making It Work

As a trainer or a user, your job will be to evaluate the successes and failures of training, its productivity and its implementation. Don't settle for generic, out-of-the-box training! The best training addresses the needs of all your learners, comes in small digestible vignettes and concludes with a thorough follow-up session to ensure that the appropriate knowledge translates into implementation and productivity gains for all participants.

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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