What Is Training?

For the past 6 months, Training & Certification UPDATE has focused primarily on Microsoft training and certification issues. When my editor asked what we could do better, I replied that I thought we needed to spend more time on training in general. Hence this column, Training Perspectives, which will run biweekly and cover broader training issues than just the training people need to achieve certification.

Those of you who have read my Certifiable columns know that I am a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT); I also own a training services company. The combination of being an occasional student, teaching in the classroom every week, and running a training business gives me a unique perspective on the process of teaching new skills. I hope that some things I've learned during the past 6 years will help you make more informed decisions about training.

Now, because this column is titled "Training Perspectives," let's start with a brief discussion of what constitutes training. First, the word "training" connotes teaching skills more than teaching conceptual understanding. Certainly, product-focused training has more to do with teaching someone to use the product effectively than with teaching the theory behind the product. The primary goal of vendor-specific training is, in fact, to produce more knowledgeable users because companies know that people won't buy a product they don't know how to use.

Second, for training to be effective, it must be appropriate for the target audience. People don't learn the same way. Some people learn best by listening to a teacher explain how something works; others learn best by reading a book or seeing a demonstration. Yet another group learns best by experimenting, or what I call "getting your hands dirty." Therefore, creating training suitable for all types of learners is a difficult task.

Third, training is goal oriented. Very few students start college with the goal of learning to perform a specific task; yet every day, people attend training classes with specific goals. The nature of training is either to teach students the skills they need to perform a task or to enhance those skills so that they can perform a task more effectively.

In general, the first question you must ask is what do you want to gain from training? If you want to learn how to build OSs, you need a degree in Computer Science, not a Windows 2000 class. If you want to manage networks, however, a college computer science class probably won't teach you as much about managing networks as several Win2K classes would. Knowing what you want to do is the first step in deciding which path you should take to learn the appropriate skills.

The next question to ask yourself is how do you learn? If lectures put you to sleep, you most likely don't learn well by listening, which means an instructor-led class is probably not the best choice. If, on the other hand, you can't make yourself study on your own, the structure of an instructor-led class might be exactly what you need. If you learn better by reading a book, either self-study or online training might be the best choice.

Finally, you must define your goals for training. Many of my students tell me their goal for training is to pass certification tests. Unfortunately, the goal for Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) courseware is to teach customers how to use Microsoft products, not to help students pass a test. Most students are surprised when I tell them that taking a class isn't the best way to prepare for the certification exams. The reason lies in the fact that the students and the courseware have different, incompatible goals. After you define your goals, you can more easily determine which kind of training will help you attain them.

Next time, I'll discuss the pros and cons of instructor-led training, self-study, and online training. A lot of hype surrounds training (especially online training), and having an objective view of each approach's strengths and weaknesses should help you decide which is best for you.

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