In an industry such as information technology that is ever changing, a detailed and thorough training strategy is a must if trainees are to learn and adapt quickly.
“From an IT point of view, this is a complex environment that we’re in,” said Scott Ambler, who has been doing IT training and mentoring for more than 15 years and is the practice leader of agile development at IBM Corp. “So you need to make it as easy as possible for people to learn new skills and to improve their existing skills.”
For Ambler, the most successful training includes the following components: assessment, introductory training, hands-on experience, advanced training and educational opportunities. To set off on the right path and make the best use of training time, a pre-assessment is vital to understanding where each trainee stands in terms of skills.
Real-world experience must then follow the introductory course because, without application, skills can be easily forgotten.
“The introductory training is critical to give people the basics,” Ambler said. “Then you need to follow up quickly with hands-on, real-world experience. If you don’t give [trainees] an opportunity to actually apply their skills in a real setting, [you] lose them.”
The best training strategy is holistic and encompasses all learning styles.
“Some people are more visual thinkers and they need to see diagrams, whereas others are nonvisual thinkers,” Ambler said. “Other people just want to dive right in to the details, whereas some people need to see the bigger picture and need to be walked through all the implications. If you’re trying to train up a large group, one size is not going to fit all, and you’re going to have to find different ways to communicate the same information to different types of people.”
In Ambler’s training, he provides several different training platforms so all participants can relate to the material.
“I’m a firm believer in hands-on [activities], so I try to have more assignments and more workshops where I can help people figure this stuff through,” Ambler said. “I’m also a firm believer in non-solo development, so if it’s a programming course, then I’ll get people paired [up]. If it’s a modeling course, I’ll have group work.”
The tagline, “two heads are better than one,” applies to Ambler’s training where non-solo development is fully embraced as part of the learning process. During his training, partners collaborate with one another to develop an understanding of the issues at hand.
“You could be pairing with somebody, and they’ll have different skills and a different background, so what might be confusing to you could be blatantly obvious to them and vice versa,” Ambler said. “In that situation, the person who knows what they’re doing can help the one who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and that person will still learn because the novice will be asking questions and challenging the beliefs of the other person. If neither of you are really all that familiar with the material, then at least you can struggle along together and you’re less likely to get stuck as a result.”
To bring training full circle, organizations need to support the learning experience. Not only does the support solidify a trainee’s learning, but it also acts as a motivator.
“If you send somebody on a course and then [they] aren’t given an opportunity to practice or there’s no follow-up, then what does that tell them?” Ambler said. “It’s like you’re given a two-day holiday to go and learn some interesting stuff, but management doesn’t really care about this topic that we trained you on. You need the supporting signals in the environment to say that not only did we train you on [this], but [it’s] critical to our success and we want to get you good at [it].”