Big Biz Rants...

OK, I Admit It – I’M BIASED!
So for my very first rant, I’m going to get up on the soap box and shout loud and clear about something that is VERY near and dear to a lot of trainer’s hearts.

 ILT vs. CBT
For those of you in the training business, you’ll recognize those acronyms right away. For those of you who aren’t, they may look like another cryptic computer- related acronym – and you’re right, it is. However those two 3-letter acronyms have been enough to drive entire industries both for the good and the bad.

Warning: For those CBT advocates out there, I suggest you surf on to another page because it’s going to get messy from here on out.

Instructor Lead Training vs. Computer Based Training
Now, now, I know what you’re thinking . . . You’re probably thinking. “Gee, he’s an instructor; I’ll bet I know which horse he is backing.” You’re right again. I have to admit that I make my living by teaching and consulting and so do thousands of trainers out there working everyday for companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Cisco, Oracle, Novell, Raytheon and other big companies.

Sure CBT’s have their place in life and I don’t want to start out by bashing them right away <grin>. In fact, I know plenty of courseware developers and instructional designers that make a living off of CBT’s, and that’s all great and good. The good news is if you have those kinds of skills, CBT’s aren’t going anywhere and I really do believe that more and more training will continue to gravitate towards the CBT world.

The bad news is there is NO WAY for a CBT to replace critical parts of the learning experience that only ILT can give you. For instance, getting AWAY from the office – not just for the sake of getting away, but for the sake of being dedicated to the task of learning without distractions. For instance, interacting not only with the instructor but with your peers and colleagues. The ability to ask a question right when you think about it. Maybe I’m just getting up there in years, but if I have to wait till the end of a CBT module to submit an email and ask a question, well, I’ve already forgotten it!

I’m sure some of you are getting ready to say, “Hey, Big Biz, you have heard about that little pause button in a lot of CBT’s? We can always write down our questions.” Tell that to your average techie who hates documentation.  Documentation is a necessary evil in the IT business and if I have to stop what I’m doing to write down a question, which probably won’t mean the same to me when I get to the end of a CBT, it’s almost not worth it to me.

And let’s just forget about all the technical pro’s and con’s for a minute, I’d like to point to the end result. When you come out of an ILT lead class vs. a CBT run course, how do you feel? What do you know? How much have you retained? The experiences are totally different. Let me take one example of a hardware company that I know of: They shall remain nameless to protect the innocent ;-) but I know of a growing trend in this particular hardware company to do away with critical hardware-oriented ILT classes and shift everything over to CBT’s.

I’m sorry, but if you were a tech who showed up on my doorstep to work on some gear, and you proclaimed that you never even saw or touched the product but you did take a “refresher course” or CBT on how to disassemble, repair and re-assemble…I’d tell you to hit the bricks. OK, maybe if I was in a good mood, I’d tell you to have at it and then I’d sweat bullets, wondering if you could actually fix the gear correctly.

I think we all know of some rookies who have ran through CBT’s, studied some books, took some tests, got some certifications and can’t even spell IP, let alone troubleshoot a network problem.

And that’s going to be the focus of another rant in the next few months. It relates to this one though, in an effort to cut back on expenses -- and we all know that training is typically the first to get cut -- and migrate towards CBT’s, I really think we are trashing the quality and level of expertise that we expect in anyone who is in this business.

CBT’s do work – and I really do think they have their place in life.  A good example would be the IT veteran, who has a good foundational set of skills, has already worked with similar hardware or software, and can apply his or her background to what they learn in a CBT. 

CBT’s are also a great alternative if you can’t get your company to send you to ILT classes because after all any training is better than no training at all.

But we’re losing sight of what it takes to transfer knowledge to a good percentage of American working adults these days. I forget which famous director said this, it was either George Lucas or Steven Spielberg (I think it was George Lucas, didn’t he come up with THX?) He said, “If I cut the sound out of a picture, and all you have is what is on the screen, the chances of you figuring out the movie are very slim.”

Then he said, “However, if I cut out the picture, and all you have to go on is the sound, most people can get through a whole movie - and yes, there is no picture, but you understand the finish and you know what was going on.” He said that in a quote about why he backed the THX sound system used in many home entertainment systems and movie theaters around the world.

I think the same applies for training: A CBT can only get you so far – ILT will give you much more. Think of it as a race, CBT does can get you halfway there; ILT classes will get you 100% there.

Now are there bad classes? Yep. Are there terrible trainers? Oh, yeah! Are there times when books are wrong, lab steps blow up or things go bump in the night?  Definitely! There has been and always will be things that can and will go wrong. 

However, that is inherit with anything. An ILT class can give you so much more out of your training experience. Yes, they are expensive. Yes, it requires time out of the office to get training, but I can’t help but think that centuries of instructor lead classes from K-12, college and post graduate schools are wrong. 

If CBT’s are so great, why aren’t they replacing more schools and colleges around the country? I’ll tell you a good reason why, because they CAN’T replace the value of learning from someone who has already been down that road and can relate experiences or stories, and try to drive point’s home two or three different ways.

So you might say, “Yeah, but what if I don’t understand a topic that the instructor is explaining?” Many instructors that I know will gladly let someone else explain a topic, in the event that maybe they aren’t relating well to explaining something properly. I can tell you that I’ve got many students I see who know their stuff and are very good at what they do, so if they can help a fellow student out and explain a topic in maybe a different way than I can, I say go for it.  Try getting that out of a CBT!!!

I’ve been around the training business since 1997 and I’m only an 15-year veteran of the training business, but my techie days go all the way back to the Commodore 64, and that’s well over 20 years of experience. Just ask anyone who has been around the techie business for 20, 30, 40 or more years and they will be happy to tell you how it was in the good ole days,

I know some guys who were not allowed to step foot on site at a customer location unless they spent 3 – 6 weeks training in a rigorous environment (if you ever worked for IBM back in the day, you’ll know what I’m talking about), and up till 2001, the training business was totally different. 

I don’t think 9/11 totally trashed the business but it had a profound effect on it.  Between that and the dot com bust, I’ve seen classes dwindle from 12 – 14 students, down to 10, 8, and 4. That’s going to be another rant of mine in the future, some of our courseware developers NEED to understand that the business is different these days, and the standard 8-5 classroom routine just ain't cutting it when you have low student counts.

Anyway, I think I’ve ranted enough for my first rant. Come back next month and if you have a rant you’d like me to go off on, shoot me an email and let me know.

Take care and I’ll see you next time.