I had a very positive training experience recently when I observed a beginning Access class taught by Cynthia Brown, a trainer based in Louisville. I particularly liked one of the techniques Cynthia used to evaluate the skill levels—and the expectations—of the people in the class. Those of you who aren’t already using this trick are in for a real treat, and so are your students.

Ask once, then ask again
Before the class started, Cynthia had filled up the whiteboard with some key points and an outline of the day’s lessons. The computers were in place with Office 97 installed. Even though she’d already met everyone in the room, Cynthia introduced herself to the group and told us a little about her background.

Next, just when I thought she was going to launch into the first lesson, Cynthia handed each of us a sheet of paper. She asked us to write five things we wanted to do with Access—things we hoped or expected to learn from the class.

She didn’t collect those sheets immediately. Instead, she told us to hang on to the lists until later in the session. “When you start learning some of the things you can do with Access, you’re going to think of other things you’d like to add to the list.” And, of course, that’s just what happened. When Cynthia collected the lists, some of the students had come up with 10 or more specific goals.

Use the lists to customize the training
On the second day of training, Cynthia used the items from those lists as examples when she demonstrated an Access feature or process. Without the lists, she would have illustrated the lessons using the Northwind sample database anyway. However, by taking advantage of the information the students provided the day before, she was able to customize the training to meet the precise needs of this group of Access users.

Let your students drive the curriculum
The first half of the training ended after two days, and the second half of training was scheduled for two weeks later. At the end of the second training day, Cynthia encouraged the students to continue adding to the list of tasks that they want to accomplish with Access.

Furthermore, she asked everyone to send her the updated lists via e-mail over the two weeks before the next session. With that information in hand, Cynthia will be able to deliver training that centers around using the software to solve problems and perform tasks right out of the so-called “real world” the students work in.
If you’ve got a good tip you think will help your fellow instructors in the classroom, please send me a note .