CXO

You can teach it, but do you know how to use it?

Just because you know how to teach an application doesn't mean you necessarily have experience with it. Columnist Schoun Regan discusses the difference it makes when you teach something you've actually used, rather than merely using examples from a book.


Have you ever been experienced? I have.

As a training manager, you count on your trainers to pull off classes day after day, week after week. They know the software, can teach it well, and play by the rules. But, have they ever used the software to create something other than examples or practice files? Have they ever worked with the tool for more than a day? Have they ever consulted with a customer on real issues pertaining to the software?

The emperor's new clothes
I realize everyone is making a killing teaching certification classes. Countless customers see this as a way out of a dead-end job. The MCSE boot camps flood students’ brains in a very short amount of time, compared with some "colleges" that have only weekend courses that run an entire semester.

Your instructors teach these classes, and this is the career they‘ve chosen, and you're their boss. But if they don't have real experience, that hurts them in the classroom. Students new to the technology may not notice, but experienced learners who may be evaluating the class or renewing their certification will be more critical, especially at the prices charged for such classes.

Experienced students can be harsh to inexperienced instructors. I know an individual who can reduce inexperienced trainers to rubble. You need to keep your instructors on a logical application path for longer than you may think—this gives them a chance to gain experience. An example would be to have an instructor teach primarily Excel for four months while also doing consulting and phone support, if you offer that service. Impossible, you say? Try it for a year with a couple instructors and see how well it goes.

Don't bother to think differently, just think
Now sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful training company who shall remain nameless. This company would hire instructors with little or no knowledge of applications and slap a piece of paper on the wall to say they were certified trainers. Certified at what was always left up to the sales staff to explain to the customer.

These new instructors were then sent into the classroom with the same booklet that the students received. The business’ owner saw no problem with this approach during the company’s first few years, and the gritty instructor posse held its own. However, as instructors left for greener pastures, the quality of training went downhill, with the company’s reputation flailing wildly behind. A few extra dollars thrown at experienced trainers may have held those prized resources longer to allow the newer trainers a chance to catch up. So be warned: The lack of experience has the potential to ruin a company.

Got to give it up
Experience is the key to successful training. We know instructors that can fake it, but why should they? Allowing your instructors on-site experience is an invaluable tool for keeping them in your organization. Some training companies actually place their instructors in temporary positions at local companies doing data entry, database design, network assistance, and support calls. This gives the instructor the valuable real-world experience they so dearly need.

Allow me to take that one step further. Every instructor should do public service work for a small, nonprofit organization such as a local school, a homeless shelter, or a battered women's shelter. These organizations have almost no money for technology. This public service can take the form of setting up and maintaining a network, setting up a spreadsheet or database to track expenses, or teaching applications to both the staff and residents. This kind of public service has so many positives that I needn't explain them.

So, are you experienced? You've got to realize that experience counts. I have.

Schoun Regan is a consultant to training firms and travels across North America educating people for Complete Mac Seminars . If you'd like to comment on this article, write to Schoun .

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