The truth about most systems training

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Written by Sam Taylor on 14 June 2016
I’m not known for my patience on face to face courses, but I still feel it’s one of the best ways to learn new pieces of software, especially from scratch, taking advantage of having the expert in the room. For years I’ve tried to teach myself Photoshop, dabbled in it, googled things and watched YouTube videos, but I never really got it.
I recently attended a two-day course to finally crack it. What struck me as I sat on the course, is how dated and ineffective some of these courses can be – teaching a set curriculum rather than personalising learning for the audience.  
It’s the same format I used to use over 10 years ago training web design.
So how could we make it more effective and relevant?
Focus on the learner:
We were asked about our experience of using Photoshop (all of us, none), but not what we would be using it for. That could have helped pinpoint which parts of the syllabus were most important.
Keeping it relevant:  
We spent an hour looking at the tools panel, not actually doing anything with the package, to be shown tools we’d use on day 2 or not at all.  All of this information was in the course book, so why did we need to go through it?
However, that’s always been the way we do things. Why not tackle the tools as and when we came to them during the activities?
Be active early on:
We didn’t really get started on creating things until the second hour of the course, by which time we’d already had one break. I was bored and restless and checking my work emails, which is not necessarily the right mindset for learning new things.
Revisit durations:
We didn’t really get to the “good” stuff until day two – that’s a very long time learning the basics. Taking two days off from work is a lot to spare, especially when they are not useful. 
Be more than the course:
Everything was centred on the course.  But was there content – such as the tools panel we could have explored prior to joining the classroom. To help embed the learning could we have had a couple of activities to immediately put into practice?  
Keep the action going:  It would have been great to have a problem and work out how we would fix it using the software, but most of what we did was following the steps given to us by the instructor, or available in the book.  For this learning to stick we need a problem to solve and apply in real life. We need to be active learners.
Providing course books: Our tutor provided a published book as our course material. but in the digital age could this not be delivered more electronically? Often these books are printed in black and white, and could be brought to life using video, not to mention be more easily editable in an online format.
Ultimately the course did what I needed it to – I’m now moderately competent in Photoshop! I know enough to be able to erase myself from photos, and understand the principles of how the software works to be able to google the rest. I still feel that I could have learnt this in a day, not two. 
About the author
Sam Taylor is a Digital Development Manager whose passion is modernising learning. Sam can be contacted through Twitter @samt_el
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