As I wrote in A Career in Technical Training, many technical trainers do little more than recite what you can easily read in the text book. In this article, we will take a look at how you can create an engaging technical training class from day one.
I always begin each technical training class with a personal mission: Create a fun, positive, interactive learning environment in which people participate their way to knowledge.
In a technical training class, your audience-the students-will always be comprised of a disparate set of individuals. Some folks may have self-financed their training to boost their career potential and others are attending training on the company dime and sometimes view their training as a mini-vacation week.
The first group always pays rapt attention. After all, it’s their nickel. The second group is sometimes comprised of individuals who may or may not want to learn. Often, their attentions only peak when topics relate directly to issues they face at work.
As an instructor, your goal is to captivate all of them, to bring them a class in which they will learn and have fun.
To me, this goal is always best achieved through interaction.
As a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, I was often called upon to teach the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) classes. These MOC classes are laid out in detail and they always begin with teacher/student introductions and why everybody is in attendance. As the instructor, you always want to pay close attention to the students’ names and especially why they are attending. Are they self-financed or on a company vacation?
These course introductions begin the class well as everybody participates and is active in the class. However, the MOC then dictates that you need to get through a plethora of PowerPoint slides in a certain amount of time. This often results in the teacher simply reading technical slides as fast as he or she can and quickly losing the interests of the students.
This is where I diverge a bit and begin the class with a question rather than with a PowerPoint slide.
For example, if we are on the first day of the networking class, I tell the students to close their books and then I face the whole class and ask: “So, how do you think networking works?”
Many students then look at you stupefied. “Isn’t that what you are here to teach us?” you can see them thinking.
Then, I will address a student by name and ask: “So, Mary, how do you think computers talk to each other?”
She may respond something to the effect, “I don’t know…a cable.”
“Exactly,” I’ll respond. “Anybody know what this type of cable may be called?”
At this point, several people are already participating, “Ethernet? Cat 5? …”
After one hour has passed in a session like this, with me drawing their ideas on the whiteboard, the class has collectively come up with the fundamentals of computer networking with you steering them in the right direction. Words like physical layer, protocols, Ethernet, and TCP/IP are all now tangible terms that make sense to them.
In this way, the students actively acquire more knowledge than any PowerPoint slide will teach them and they have fun doing it.