Tips from the Pros to Make Training Stick

Whether training comes by downloadable Web-based study-at-your-own-pace videos, one-hour Web-based seminars called Webinars, single-day classroom sessions or week-long intensive classroom courses, trainers’ goals remain essentially the same: Be effective, impart what students need and get feedback to improve the training.

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But each type entails unique training requirements, techniques and challenges. For example, with Webinars, “you can’t look in people’s eyes to see if everyone is getting it,” observes Carl Henning, deputy director of the Profibus Trade Organization (PTO)—the North American Regional Profibus Association (www.us.profibus.com), in Scottsdale, Ariz.  

PTO solved that by using a downloadable Java applet. “It tells me if attendees are engaged in the Webinar or out looking at their e-mail or something. This is a ‘Yes/No’ tool.” Using it, Henning can inject a poll that allows him to track attendees’ participation. “It’s a one-question survey to indicate: ‘Are you following?’ ” The questions PTO asks also help it understand what attendees do or don’t understand.  

With its one-day classroom sessions, PTO combines Microsoft Corp.’s PowerPoint-based demonstrations with live demonstrations of automation equipment and configuration tools. But, Henning notes, there’s no hands-on involvement.  

“We try to keep this [type of training] a little light,” he says. That means breaking up the training with raffles of “silly things,” such as collapsible coolers, randomly during the day when natural breaks in information flow occur. PTO also schedules mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks. And at the end of the day, there’s a wet bar, “to get people to interact and ask questions that they might not have asked before the whole group,” Henning remarks.  

Interaction is important in all courses that Natick, Mass.-based Cognex Corp. (www.cognex.com) conducts. For its regular week-long events, this vision-system supplier finds that its three-and-a-half-day courses provide the content and confidence students need to use the vendor’s product, says Miguel Perez, the Duluth, Ga.-based manager of customer education. That structure allows people not only to learn about the vendor’s devices, but also, on the last half-day, to focus on their applications. That last half-day, which consumes the morning, also allows students to get afternoon flights home. With this arrangement, Cognex hopes to entice students to stay, rather than leave early and miss something valuable.  

In its training, the company focuses on best practices, and provides one workstation for every two students. “We break all training modules into 90 minutes,” explains Perez. Within each module—there are five daily—there will be a demonstration, usually with PowerPoint. Then, there’s a building exercise.  

To instigate and accelerate up-close-and-personal interaction, the vendor uses managed lunches. “We take our students to a local hotel and have lunch with them,” explains Bob Settle, the Duluth, Ga.-stationed vice president of worldwide training. “We also have other members of our company who work on the products attend the lunch.” Before lunch ends, there’s a roundtable discussion in which Cognex shares information about its product, and students can share ways in which they use the product. Students also get advice on product usage.  

“It’s good to get students here,” Settle notes about his company’s training centers. “They get to attend roundtable classes and they get to interact with a key group of people.” But, he notes, “if we had to take the class to a specific customer—which we do—then there’s the opportunity for attendees who might not otherwise attend.” And that is training’s real goal: Creatively increasing end-users’ opportunities to learn and get better at what they do.  

C. Kenna Amos, ckamosjr@earthlink.net, is an Automation World Contributing Editor.
 

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