Pretty much everyone in the industry has attended training classes over the years. Some have probably been good, some so-so, and others downright terrible. But you do have a certain amount of control over what you get out of your training opportunities, so that you don’t waste time, effort, or money.
For a training class to work really well for you, both sides of the training equation have equal responsibilities.
First, it’s incumbent upon the entity putting on the training to share with you useful material presented in an interesting manner. This sounds obvious, but have you ever sat in a class and had the “instructor” read his PowerPoint slides to you? Did he sound like Ferris Bueller’s history teacher? Were you waiting for a meteor to hit the classroom to release you from the mind-numbing boredom?
When evaluating a training program, look for something that’s application-based rather than product-based. Product-based training is usually a not-so-well disguised “sales pitch” to get you to buy that product. You get all the features and benefits as well some installation specifics—but you can get that information from simply reading the brochure and installation instructions.
Application-based training, on the other hand, doesn’t simply tell you what you can read for yourself. In addition, it isn’t a big sales pitch. Application-based training examines real world problems and challenges you face every day, and shares with you real-world solutions to help solve those problems.
Will the manufacturer tell you about the product? Of course, they will, but only in context of how it can help solve your problem and help you install your jobs faster, more efficiently, and more profitably.
Application-based training also recognizes that you’re in business, that you have customers, and that you are a professional. You don’t have time to waste, and you want information that directly relates to your job.
Moreover, since you’re a pro, the program doesn’t need to share with you compelling reasons for using a particular product beyond a free hat and t-shirt. In other words, the product should be showcased in the context of solving a problem. And product aside, a well thought out application based training program will provide you with solid information you can use the very next day in someone’s basement, no matter whose product you use.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll be inspired to learn more, too.
How can you get the most out of a training program?
Start by thinking of training as an investment. To maximize your ROI, start with these tips:
- Show up on time: If the program starts at 8:00 AM, be there by 7:30. You’ll get a good seat; get the Danish you want, and get to meet the instructor. We trainers like it when attendees arrive early to say “hi.”
- Show up prepared: Bring a pen and paper, but being prepared means showing up with two or three specific things you’d like to learn or questions you’d like answered. I often ask attendees what they’d like to learn and too often, they shrug and say “everything.” News flash: we trainers don’t know everything! We don’t have ESP, either. Put some thought into why you’re going and what you’d like to learn. Have a training plan.
- Sit up front: Had a conversation with my parish priest a few years ago. He said the folks who habitually sit in back during mass are the ones who really ought to be sitting up front.
- Leave preconceived notions at the door: No one knows it all (not even the instructor!), and you may hear things in class that goes against the way you’ve always done stuff. That’s okay. Keep an open mind and remember why you’re there—to learn new and better ways of doing things.
- Ask questions and TAKE NOTES! Two non-negotiables. Asking questions and participating in discussions are powerful tools to help stay focused. It’s been a few years since we’ve been in school, and sitting still is hard. Focusing your attention for a full day is harder still. Asking questions and participating keep you engaged.
Taking notes is the most beneficial thing you can do in a training class. Studies show if you do nothing more than listen, you’ll forget about 95% of the material within three days. If training is an investment, 5% is a crappy ROI.
If you actively participate—by asking questions, joining discussions and, yes, taking notes—the retention rate hits the mid- 50% range. Better, but still not a great return.
Here’s where it gets interesting: the same studies show that studying your notes twice a week for 6 to 8 weeks boosts the retention rate to the mid-90% range.
Remember, just as experience doesn’t equal knowledge, attending a training program doesn’t equal learning. The learning part requires work.
For the instructor, the class is over at the end of the day.
For the attendee, it’s just beginning.
Nevertheless, if you put in the work before, during, and especially after the class, what you heard in class will stick and you’ll be able to apply it out in the real world.