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Probably the most important thing to do when designing a training course is to determine whether or not there will be any “hands on” exercises. It’s best if there are; the most effective learning is by doing, not by seeing or listening. Read the rest of this entry »


The basic purpose of training is to impart complex knowledge to people who don’t have it. The source of that knowledge is, almost by definition, the Subject Matter Expert, or SME. The job of a training developer is to take information from an SME and create training. The idea that the SME can develop training by virtue of his expertise ignores the skills inherent in training. To understand why this is true, ask yourself why elite athletes in individual sports have personal coaches. If there’s someone who can help Tiger Woods be a better golfer, why isn’t this person out on the tour beating Tiger Woods? Read the rest of this entry »

A lecture or seminar can’t go on forever, although I’ve seen people try. The normal recommendation is to take a ten to fifteen minute break every forty minutes to one hour, but those breaks can be so boring, and letting everyone know how much time is left and getting them to return is never easy. As a free service to any presenters out there, I offer the following tool,  a web-based break timer that displays the words, “Time remaining until next lecture:” and a randomly selected quotation from my ever-expanding collection. More instructions on additional features below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the most important tasks for an instructor in a classroom setting is to gain credibility with the students, and one of the simplest things an instructor can do to help himself in this regard is to dress appropriately. Of course, one must dress in a businesslike manner, but “appropriate” means different things to different audiences. This is especially true with an audience of engineers. An instructor dressed “too well” looks like someone from marketing. If you walk into the room in a shirt and tie, you must earn your credibility. For an engineering audience, a polo shirt and Dockers is almost an unofficial uniform. Dress right, and credibility is yours to loose.

What purpose could be served by teaching rudimentary technology basics to non-technical employees? What good does it do for HR or finance employees to understand what a transistor is? In short, one must accept pretty much on faith that knowing where your paycheck comes from is good for morale. If one accepts that employees deserve a layman’s explanation for financial results, it is not too great a stretch to conclude that they also deserve a layman’s explanation for the technology that is the basis for those financial results. There is also a benefit to the trainer, especially one who normally teaches only other engineers and assumes a high level of background knowledge in doing so. Occasionally examining our hidden assumptions is a healthy thing for anyone.

There are three kinds of students in corporate education. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I call them learners, vacationers, and prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »