If you are the CIO of an enterprise with a significant investment in Microsoft software, the question you most often hear from developers is: “How can we get trained on the new .NET products?”

What many people don’t realize is that training should begin even before targeted training is available for Microsoft .NET products. To stay ahead of the game, you should initiate foundation training as soon as possible to prepare developers for the formal Microsoft .NET training that is now being developed.

This foundational training should utilize three different readiness methods:

  1. Self Study (Reading or online training that we’ll refer to as SLT or Self-Led Training)
  2. On-the-Job Training (OJT)
  3. Instructor-Led Training (ILT)

This week’s article focuses on three different teaching styles and how they can be used to prepare for Microsoft .NET. Next week, we’ll look at preparing for the .NET platform by utilizing both on-the-job training and instructor-led training to prepare your development team.
What are the different teaching styles?
It is clear as I work with companies who are diligent about staff training that SLT, OJT, and ILT are the three most common methods of training. It is also clear that developers expect to learn certain skill sets, such as new languages, by SLT, or self-study.

Many developers typically learn new languages using an SLT method. Once they’ve mastered any single language, they are vain enough to believe that differences between languages—even on different platforms—boil down to syntax.

Even though this may be the case between languages on the same platform (e.g., COBOL vs. PL/1 on a mainframe or Visual Basic vs. C++ on Windows NT), it’s rarely the case when languages span platforms (e.g., COBOL on the mainframe vs. Visual Basic on Windows NT).

Nevertheless, most developers expect to learn languages themselves and platform fundamentals on the job.

Using OJT to teach developers platform-specific features allows them to see the use of the language or technology in context—a valuable exercise to make sure that they visualize proper applications of the language or technology rather than just the syntax. Using OJT as a training mechanism (when properly supervised) also results in a finished product that the corporation can use in production—most of the time.

There are many occasions when you may have two teams working on the same project, one using current technology and another using new technology. Deploying the most stable and functional version not only ensures that your production environment is sound, but it also allows both teams to see how newer language or systems technology may be used to solve current or future development problems.

Developers prefer to reserve ILT for situations where they don’t have access to either SLT or OJT resources. In those cases, an instructor can help them learn a particular technology or implementation. Most CIOs, however, make the mistake of assuming that the quality of an instructor-led class lies with the quality of the courseware.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The real quality of the class lies with the experience and teaching style of the instructor.

I’ve been in one-day ILT classes with good instructors who used an outline written on a paper bag in which I’ve learned ten times as much as a weeklong class where an instructor with only average skills used a comprehensive student guide. Given these guidelines for types of training expected by developers, what subjects make sense for companies preparing for the .NET platform?

Matching topics to teaching styles for the .NET platform
Companies moving to the Microsoft .NET platform should expect their developers to learn “foundation technologies” on their own time. These foundation technologies include Dynamic HTML, XML, and new languages like C#.

Many innovative companies are now allocating a portion of their training budget to each employee and allowing each employee to purchase books to help them learn foundational material. Companies can define what subjects are acceptable, with the understanding that developers will read these books on their own time in exchange for having them provided by the company.

In order to be successful on the .NET platform, your developers, at a minimum, will need to have an understanding of Dynamic HTML and XML. Depending on what types of applications they’re responsible for developing, they may also need to learn Active Server Pages, Visual Basic, Visual C++, and C#.

In reality, if the company doesn’t buy the books for them, most developers will buy them on their own. Instituting a book purchase program provides a carrot for the employee to have access to training materials and to consume them on their own time.

Using online training services can be another effective way to prepare developers for using new technologies. Unfortunately, many online courses are just books reformatted as HTML and placed on the Web.

There are three major advantages of using well-designed online courseware as an SLT resource:

If your developers use online courseware, you should expect the courseware to track what modules they have used and require them to pass tests to ensure they’ve learned the material before proceeding.

Good online courseware allows several students to take the course at the same time and share their issues and questions. A good online courseware system creates a community within which students can interact not only during the course, but also for some time after the course has been completed.

Finally, trainers who are very strong technically mentor good online courses. The interaction with these trainers is not as valuable as it would be in an ILT situation, but typically doesn’t need to be when covering foundation technologies.

Tim Landgrave is the founder, president, and CEO of Vobix Corporation, an application service provider based in Louisville, KY.

What has been your most valuable experience: on-the-job training, classes led by an instructor, or tackling development skills on your own? Send us your comments in an e-mail or post below.