This second blog in our ‘How to…’ series has been produced in collaboration with Paula Jones, Owner of 6th Level Training. Paula is a highly experienced designer and deliverer of technical (as well as soft skills) training, and was a finalist in the 2010 IT Trainer of the Year Awards. I picked her brains over coffee, as technical training is something that I have less experience of. Here are her words of wisdom…
The main challenge in technical training is that by nature, it’s fairly prescriptive. It will often be a precursor to gaining an accreditation; typically Microsoft, Cisco and VMWare training. So it’s necessary to follow the instructor manual, use the slide decks and complete the set exercises. The main problem with this is that it can feel a little bit dry and it also can feel as if we’re just reading from the manual or following a process. Good technical training needs to come alive, so here are our top 5 tips for designing technical training that does just that.
1. Put the training into Context. Help people to see how the training will benefit them in their everyday work, and career development. If you just dive in with the detail, people don’t know where they’re going or why. This can impact on the teaching time and also transfer of learning, as the trainer will be having to ‘backtrack’ much of the time.
2. Allow lots of time to practice. People learn at different rates, and sometimes there will be technical problems. The trainer cannot coach everyone unless time is built in for this. Engage those who are doing well by using any problems as problem-solving or coaching opportunities. This stretches their own learning whilst keeping the group together.
3. Test your exercises. Unlike soft-skills training where a good facilitator can steer an activity and find good learning points even if things don’t go to plan, technical exercises have to work. However, you can build in deliberate ‘failures’ as a simulation which then turns into a problem-solving exercise, allowing delegates to bring together what they learned so far and demonstrate their knowledge/ability.
4. Use different training methods. An IT course doesn’t have to take place entirely in front of the PC. Get people away from the screen by including discussions, quizzes and case studies. Get them to create their own flow-charts and ‘How to’ Guides to tap into other learning styles, encourage group learning and check understanding.
5. Cover everything. If a course leads to a qualification, then check and double check that everything is covered, and that detailed notes are provided for delegates to review. Don’t expect them to rely on their own notes (although of course, these can be useful as a supplement).
Remember that technical training doesn’t have to be dull. Encourage the trainer to use music, discussion, humour and tell stories, use ‘amusing’ names in case studies and get the whole group involved in learning. The more people remember the event, the more they will remember the learning.