Companies have to ensure that their trainees assimilate lessons fast and imbibe them deeply. A long training phase results in a lot of revenue loss, and an incomplete understanding of lessons will result in the trainee having to spend a lot of time retraining himself on the job, or wasting his co-worker’s time by asking for help, or in the worst case, making mistakes which could affect business.
As a trainer, you need to first keep in mind a few basic techniques and formulate a training methodology. The process is independent of what you teach. You could be teaching apache, DNS or walking them through the features of cpanel. But a common teaching methodology is applicable for each of these topics. The following points try to capture the essentials of a training methodology :
1) GETTING STARTED :
a) Organize study material – You need to make sure the trainees are actually using the material prepared for them. They should also find the material convenient to use.
Make the material as modular as possible, and email them the modules, one at a time. This is a far better approach than asking them to use your online tutorials. Most students don’t prefer using online study material. You need to hand it to them directly, and give them only what is required at the time. Don’t email them the entire course manual, as they would simply get lost in a sea of information. There is also a risk of them skimming through all the topics without really focusing on them one at a time.
b) Make them understand the business – Before getting into the technical topics, it is extremely important to make them understand how the hosting business works.
All the components of a hosting operation need to be listed out and connected, preferably using diagrams and examples. They need to be familiarized with the various vendors, contractors and service providers that your company uses, and the relationship and significance of each of these entities.
2) LAYING THE FOUNDATION:
a) Get their basics right – Start with the basic topics and make them understand it thoroughly. Specifics can be taught later.
For instance, it is important to first make sure they understand the basics, such as how apache and DNS works, before teaching them how to compile stuff. Explain how a domain name resolves to IP, how webservers serve pages and how email works. Lay a strong foundation, and build on it.
b) Enter topics quickly – Don’t waste time with introducing the topic and giving prefaces. Keep increasing the “detail level” gradually. Make it easy for the students to enter. Once they’re in, turn up the heat.
While explaining DNS for example, first explain to them that it acts like a database which associates domain names to their corresponding IP addresses. You could then explain the series of events that happen outside a DNS server, during the process of domain name resolution. Next, the structure of a DNS server can be explained. Specific details such as TTL can come much later, after the trainee has understood what DNS is all about.
3) THE PRACTICAL APPROACH:
a) Talk less, do more – Demonstrate how things work.
Your training process should mostly consist of lab sessions. Once you’re done explaining how an email is delivered, show them what actually happens on the server. Try sending email and showing them the complete verbose output, with all the handshakes and transactions that take place. Show them the relevant files that come into play, show them log messages, open the inbox and show them the email itself, walk them through the headers for the complete picture.
b) Make them lose their inhibitions and gain confidence – Set up prototypes for them to work on.
One of your most important objectives as a trainer, is to make your trainees lose their fears. You may find that your trainees are just too inhibited, while working on your servers or while using the admin tools and control panels You may often find them taking too much time doing simple tasks, because they’re too unsure and are low on confidence. Just like you probably were, the first time you entered a live server or tried to modify a real account.
The solution to this is to constantly engage them in practical exercises on prototypes. Avoid using live servers. Instead set up a local server farm in your intranet, complete with domain names (that resolve locally within your intranet), accounts and control panels. Set up as many exercises as possible, so that they become comfortable with the type of work, gain confidence and lose inhibitions. The trainees evolve into productive, efficient employees in quick time through this.
4) TEACHING TIPS
a) Always draw a real life parallel – A real life association helps them understand the subject and ignites interest. For example, instead of spending 10 minutes explaining what Mailman is, tell them it is a sofware that works similar to yahoo groups.
b) Never “lecture” continously for long – Talk in short, crisp sentences, interspersed with questions and similar interactive sessions.
c) Drill it in – Repeat what you said over and over again, in differently packaged sentences and actions. Our memory seems to absorb data more effectively when we encounter it repeatedly.
d) Be passionate about the subjects – The excitement and interest that you arouse in the trainees is directly proportional to what you have towards the subjects.
e) Teach through stories – While explaining a flow of events, package it in the form of a story.
Though a cliched teaching technique, it is also one of the most underestimated ones. Stories bring about an element of liveliness, curiosity and enthusiasm in the teaching sessions. Besides, it also helps memorize information very well because the stories greatly improve association and recall.
5) EXERCISING THE BRAIN
a) Give their brain a tough workout – Devise methods which will ensure that their brains get a lot of exercise.
It is a well known fact that our brain gets more exercise when you throw things at it that don’t meet expectations, as opposed to those that do. So set up as many twisted and unpredictable problems as possible. Don’t help them a lot. Let them wrack their brains and arrive at solutions. Refrain from spoonfeeding.
b) Set up interactive exercises – Organize quizzes, seminars, competitions. Make the whole training programme look like one big tournament. Conventional oral examinations are also highly recommended, preferably on a daily basis. Let there be prizes and trophies, to add the vital elements of appreciation and achievement.
Your organization’s employees are its jewels. But it is not possible to create a jewel without first mining and polishing the gold. All the best with your training efforts!