It’s 1988. I have received my joining instructions for my first AutoCAD Basic course, and off I go to sit in a classroom with 21-inch CRT monitors, a projector, a screen (if I am lucky), and a flipchart/whiteboard (with pens!), plus the all-knowledgeable AutoCAD instructor. In my case, my instructor was a lovely guy named Andy Corden, who later in my career became my applications engineer when I worked in CAD sales. Small world, huh?
Fast-forward to 2014: I sit down and boot up the laptop. Headset on, at my desk, during a lunch break. I have an hour to get some training in while I munch on a salad. I double click on the icon, and the training video kicks in, with a voiceover, with exercises to follow the videos. Oh my, how things have changed!
Technology has certainly moved on since 1988. Everything is much more compact and mobile. So where does that leave you with regard to CAD training? Do you stick with the tried-and-tested classroom methods (instructor-led training [ILT]), or do you move down the technology path and go for computer-based training (CBT)? Or do you live on the edge and go totally online for your training?
We have this incredible technology paradigm in our hands every day: the Internet. Use it to your advantage. There are an incredible amount of training tools out there that are completely free. Most CAD software vendors (Autodesk included) have a YouTube channel. Instead of watching the latest grumpy cat video or those trashy X-Factor videos, use YouTube as a blended learning tool.
Consider signing up for a monthly subscription to one of the online training providers. There are many, but some typical examples are as follows:
All of the above are great online training providers who offer one-off purchases of a particular title, such as AutoCAD, Revit, or Inventor, or you can go for a monthly subscription. Lynda.com is great like that. With a monthly subscription, you can choose any title.
A lot of the training organizations (such as Autodesk Authorized Training Centers [ATCs]) out there now offer live online training classes, too. You sign up, pay your fee, and just log in at the prescribed date and time. They use products such as Citrix GoToTraining, WebEx, or Microsoft LiveMeeting. They are normally presented in a lecture format, very similar to Autodesk University (AU). There are, however, tools out there that allow full online learning, in exactly the same environment as a classroom, too.
Speaking of Autodesk University, have you considered AU Virtual? This is a great portal where you can see all of the recorded classes online. You can attend AU from your desk, either at work or at home.
CBT is very similar to the above online method of learning, but the training resources are localized. Often, using the online-subscription model mentioned above, the learning content is purchased and then stored on an individual’s computer or on a server using the typical client/server infrastructure model. This does tend to be the preferred option nowadays, the main reason being that the training progress of each individual can be monitored and assessed to ensure that proof of concept and retention are being maintained.
It is also a great way to benchmark a CAD team on what they are good at and what needs to be improved upon. There are even benchmarking tools out there that highlight what needs to be trained. Check out KnowledgeSmart, a UK based company at www.cadsmart.net.
Individuals can also benefit from CBT. This normally involves buying the learning material on DVD and then transferring the content to a laptop or a tablet. Some content providers now have their own apps for mobile learning as well.
You will never replace the classroom and the instructor. People will always learn from people. It is in our genetics. In the same way our parents taught us to walk and talk and our teachers taught us to read and write, we learn by example. A CAD classroom is still the best way to learn. Watching a qualified CAD instructor go through an example with you, imparting tips and tricks as he or she goes along, is still the most coherent way of learning. Look at Autodesk University. It has more than 650 classes, all taught by world-class AU speakers, in either a lecture or lab (hands-on) format.
Instructors are the core of all learning for CAD. Without their knowledge and valuable industry experience, there would be no training content, whether that be in the classroom, on the computer, or online.
So, which way do you turn?
The way forward is to form a training strategy—a process that builds and allows for a workflow that facilitates continual learning. Blend your learning. Use classroom training as your foundation, and then build up a blended learning environment for yourself or your team. Create “lunch-and-learn” sessions at work, where you show a YouTube tips and tricks video. Maybe get a guest speaker in for a “pizza-and-beer learning night” for your team, where they can ask questions of the speaker and learn from the speaker’s knowledge and experience.
Look into both online learning and CBT. Those are extremely valuable training resources that are already structured in a similar format to the classroom. They are also a great way of refreshing and updating knowledge after classroom training, and they reduce the overhead costs of sending your team to a training provider. Look for a provider or a consultant that could advise you on the way forward.
Investigate all the options out there. There are many, and you will find one that works for you and/or your team.
For more on CAD management and training, check out Save Time and Money: 4 Computer-Based Training Resources, 4 Tips to Build and Train a Lean, Mean CAD Team and 3 Must-Know Tips to Be a Successful CAD Manager.