Thursday, September 24, 2009

Training Tips -- Techniques for Successful Technical Training

I am not a professional trainer, but I have been doing some training in classroom settings for a few years now. My first attempts in 1999 were abysmal failures: I went through an outline of planned material, explaining material as it came to me, and drawing diagrams on clear-plastic slides projected on the wall. My students were patient, but didn't learn very much.

In January 2007, at a training class in Las Vegas, I realized that I was mostly just telling my students things they needed to know. I expected them to ask questions, and absorb the learning. It hit me that while I was doing what they had requested (giving them explanations of the new VoIP system they were installing), they probably were not learning.

Since then, I've learned a few things. The book, "Telling Ain't Training" was a great place to start. In addition, I've learned some tactical ways to manage training classes. This entry is my record of those.

Apply the Material Concretely

Find out what each person does, and then find ways to connect that to the material we're covering. Give the standard explanation, and then explain it using the terminology your students know. (In my case, this usually involves using the Internet Standard terms like "SIP Proxy" or "MGCP Call Agent", and the vendor-specific terms like "Session Border Controller" or "Application Server".)

Learning Require Practice

Students only learn what they actually practice. Sometimes the practice is mental (simulations or analysis in their heads), but most students need concrete exercises where they can practice applying the material. For example, if they're learning about IP ranges and subnet masks, then they need to be told how to do the calculation, then give a chance to practice it. Then they need feedback to know whether they did it right, and some explanations for the ones they got wrong.

Patrol the Room While Students should be Working

In "Telling Ain't Training," Harold Stolovitch argues the importance of activities for learning. My training includes lots of activities to work through. Each student works individually, but they can easily get distracted. So I patrol the room: I walk around and check to see what each student is doing. Students who want to do a good job and learn a lot will be encouraged to work on the activities.

Grade the Exercises

Look over each student's work, and evaluate how they're doing. Ten points per major exercise, with partial credit for doing part of the exercise, or getting part of it right. Find problems, and explain the problems to the students.

Post the Grades Publicly

After collecting grades, add up the collective grade and post them on the whiteboard. This is very politically incorrect, and may be slightly offensive. But it fosters good competition, and encourages the smart kids who were slacking off to work harder.

Post the Schedule for class time and breaks

My classes are a full week long. We need breaks through the day as we're working. It's best to decide on a fixed schedule, and follow it every day. My normal schedule is as follows:

  • Class 9:00am - 10:15am
  • Class 10:30am - 11:45am
  • Break for lunch
  • Class 1:00pm - 2:00pm
  • Class 2:15pm - 3:30pm
  • Class 3:45pm - 5:00pm

This schedule mimics the daily class schedule of many colleges.

Don't Lecture too Long

Try not to lecture for more than 30 or 45 minutes. Break up the lecture with exercises.

Call students to the Whiteboard

It's difficult to force involvement and practice that brings learning. Students can always leave the class, but those who stay are called upon to come to the whiteboard to answer questions.

Every class has quiet students, or students avoiding deep participation in the course. Find ways for them to be successful by doing extended projects together on the whiteboard. Encourage and help the students to get the right answer.

Request Focus and Discourage Distractions

Lots of neuroscience shows that people can't multitask well. A recent study from Stanford shows that people cannot switch effectively between information inputs ("media"). So if people are in my class, trying to turn up a customer T1, they're not going to do well at either.

I tell my students that the class will be harder and less useful if they try to do other tasks. They're adults and have to manage their own schedules, but they should do their best to focus on this class while they're in it.

The class schedule helps this: they know when we're going to take breaks, and so they can schedule calls, or work emails, around those breaks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Save an email ON the iPhone or iPod Touch

All my email accounts use IMAP, and it seems the iPhone barely caches
anything. Every time I view a message, it seems to download it again.

Sometimes you get an email that you'd like to save on the iPhone or
iPod touch. For example, it might be an email that you want to see on
a flight, or anywhere you don't have Internet access.

I've found two ways to store the content of an email on the phone:

(a) Reply to the message, then save it as a draft (Cancel -> Save
Draft). Then you access the saved message by going to the Drafts box
in that account.

(b) Copy the content of the email, then paste it into a Notes
document. The limitation here is that Notes can't handle rich-text
documents, so you lose fonts, formatting, tables, graphics, etc.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

AT&T Changes Email-to-SMS interface

I noticed today that AT&T had changed the Email-to-SMS interface on my US-based account. This is the interfaces used for delivery.

It no longer sends the email subject, or the email address of the sender.So if you get an email with no body, but only a subject, the resulting message just says "SMS message".

The source numbers are different. When I first got my iPhone, the source for the first email was "101010001". The second came from 101010002, the third came from 101010003. Just today, they started to arrived from 1410000001, then the next was 1410000002.

But even though I can't see the subject line or email address in my message, my replies do include the subject, and are sent to the original emailer.

I've read that AT&T is enabling MMS for iPhone users in its network, and perhaps this change is related to that migration. I don't understand all the fuss about MMS; we can already send and receive photos through email just fine, and the photos can go to folks who don't even have mobile phones.