What makes a successful course?

This post is in response to a question I was asked a few weeks back. This is an issue I have been grappling with as I revelop and refocus my business. I’ll refine this as other factors occur to me.

Factors that make  a success if right

Prior Intelligence

Particularly essential for custom and on site courses (many one site course are custom in some way), I find it very useful to be able to talk to the client once the sales/account staff have done their part.

  • Version of Software the client has or is getting
  • How the client uses or plans to use the software
  • Clients objectives, current problems etc.
  • If they can send a sample of what they are needing to do or problems they are having
  • Skill levels of the trainees in the group, any questions coming from them…

After this I usually prepare a document including course objectives, course outline and specification of what we need in the training room – critical if the training is on site and avoids some confusion – eg “We’ve got Acrobat, oh that’s only the reader…..”

Done right this helps to build the relationship with the client (and if they are a training manager, with the ultimate client within the organisation) and reduces the things that can wrong on the day.

Good Courseware

For more complex software, I find courseware that follows the process of using the software to do a task is better. This is a major weakness of much of the Dreamweaver and Acrobat courseware I have encountered. The successful use of this approach is why I use and recommend of the Captivate work books by IconLogic.

See my related post on this topic

Right Trainer for the group

This one’s hard to explain, I think it is that the trainer needs to fit the culture of the group. Not every trainer works for every group. When I figure out the science of this I will let you know.

I do know that the more information the I have  ahead of time, the more likely I am prepared and adapted to match the group. 

Right Trainer for the Topic and Level

As a general rule I train in the tools I use. If I use the application in practice, I am better able to handle questions from left of field, or know where I can find the answer.   Sometimes the intelligence gathering phase reveals what they need is at a higher level than I might work at for a particular product  or is a different product altogether (eg if a “macros” requirement in Excel turns out to be  VBA. I mainly work in vbscript in ASP, can dabble in VBA, but I’d refer training in  VBA and Excel to Jack Coad)

As an aside, I have learned and do learn proprietary apps for clients, as required.

Getting off to a Good Start

  • Starting on time, no delays due to set up dramas etc.
  • Right setup, right versions, right exercise files
  • No major late arrivals
  • Courseware at venue
  • and so on…

It just helps get the event of to a good start with right mood, a professional touch. Showing the group something useful early on is also good for developing credibility and trust. For this, nothing beats showing people how to solve a problem or save time before the first break.

Factors that detract if they are not right

Good Venue/Room

  • enough room to move around to get to all trainees
  • environmental factors – working a/c etc
  • Whiteboard/Data Projector
  • Being able to face the group and see your own computer screen
  • no safety issues like too many laptops running off piggy backed power boards, stray power leads just where people walk

PC setup

This ties into the intelligence gathering step, setting up for the right version of the software, additional software, browsers etc loaded. Seems obvious – but for some apps courses eg Dreamweaver, Acrobat or Captivate set up can involve a lot more setup than a regular Word/Excel course, especially a custom course. For example, if you want to cover and actually use  collaboration or distributing forms in Acrobat 9 you need Outlook set up with working email accounts (so Exchange or other mail server as well). Advanced Dreamweaver needs IIS and a range of web browsers and so on.

Post Course

On some advanced courses, I come away with a short list of questions not resolved during the day. These might be more technical questions, unusual problems not seen before. I aim to solve these during the day as much as possible, it cuts down the homework for me, and for the group we finish with all the loose ends tied up. But sometimes due to restrictions on internet access or time, I have some questions for homework.

As I am able to answer them I pass the answers back to the client via the sales/account manager. Many of the postings on this blog are these questions edited and reused, recorded on line for ease of reference in later courses.

This follow up is of value to the client and to me as it gives me an excuse to explore odd corners of various applications and broaden my own knowledge. These questions always recur on later courses.

Your comments as always are welcomed.

Steven