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Evaluating Your Options for IT Training

Brien Posey, Freelance Writer and Former CIO | 11/21/2012 | 43 comments

Brien Posey
With so many enterprise releases this year just from Microsoft alone, it is time to start figuring out how you're going to train your staff on all of it.

As an IT professional, it is your job to make sure that the information systems under your control help the organization to meet its business objectives. Part of that includes evaluating your staff and the applications in place to make sure you can competently deploy the right applications.

Normally the task of evaluating new applications is relatively straightforward. This year, however, Microsoft is releasing an unprecedented number of new products. We have already seen the release of Windows Server 2012, Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8. Other products such as Exchange Server 2013, SharePoint 2013, Lync Server 2013, and Microsoft Office 2013 have reached RTM and will be released to the public very soon.

Part of what makes the evaluation process particularly difficult is that not only are there an unusually large amount of products to evaluate, but most of the products in Microsoft's current release cycle are designed to work together with one another. As such, the only way to get the maximum benefit from many of the new Microsoft products is to also purchase other Microsoft products.

I recently spoke to a CIO and asked what his plans were for getting his staff trained on the latest Microsoft products. His response was that his people are smart, and that he was sure they would figure out the new software.

While it is theoretically possible for an experienced IT professional to implement, configure, and manage the new Microsoft software without any formal training, forgoing training is a bad idea.

Proper training helps to ensure that the software is implemented properly so that your data is protected against disaster. Training also ensures that the IT staff will know what to do when problems occur.

Since there is no denying the importance of proper training, the next logical question is how best to provide that training. There are a number of different training options available, including training centers, in-house training, and video training.

Sending IT staff off-site to receive training from a Microsoft authorized training center is the most comprehensive choice. The main advantages to this approach are that your staff will receive hands-on training, and they can get all of their questions answered by a knowledgeable instructor.

One of the main disadvantages to this type of training is that the staff members will be out of the office for the duration of the training (which usually lasts three to five days). Another disadvantage is the cost. Training, especially for large teams, can be prohibitive.

Another option is to perform training on-site by bringing the instructor to your team. Although this type of training has proven to be effective for some organizations, the employees who are receiving the training sometimes have trouble focusing on the training because they are in the office, surrounded by day-to-day distractions.

Also, the per employee cost of on-premises training is often similar to that of attending an off-site training class. And instructors usually require a minimum number of students to be registered. For smaller staff sizes, this might prove difficult. The organization might have to provide the lab hardware used in the training class as well, which may or may not be possible depending on how far you are in your evaluation process.

Another especially popular option is video-based training. Many ompanies provide video-based Microsoft training classes (as well as training classes for other vendors). These classes typically cost a small fraction of what in-person training costs. However, there are disadvantages to video-based training.

For one thing, your staff members do not have a way of asking questions in the event that they do not understand something in the video. Another disadvantage is that your staff might be reluctant to spend the necessary amount of time watching the video, because they feel that day-to-day tasks should receive higher priority. Even if an employee does take the time to watch the videos, they might not get as much out of the video as they would a live training class because of being continually interrupted by phone calls, office chatter, and things like that.

One last option that is sometimes effective is to send one or two of your sharpest people to a training center, with the understanding that they will be responsible for teaching the material to the rest of the IT staff upon their return. Keep in mind however, that while this approach can save you a significant amount of money, it only works if your staff members are able to learn the material quickly and do an effective job of teaching that material to others.

In my opinion, using a Microsoft authorized training center is the best option for training your IT staff if you can afford it. If live training just isn't in the budget, then video-based training can be effective, so long as you make it clear that the training is a high priority and provide an environment in which the staff members will be free from distractions while they learn the material. You'll have to make the choice that is right for you based on staff size and budget. But don't skimp on the training. It is part of making your systems work, especially this year with all the new releases.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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sohaibmasood   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   2/15/2013 11:39:01 PM
Re: Training and Motivation
Sure, that is also an advantage. You can focus only on the training and close all other noise. 
StaceyE   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   2/13/2013 4:54:01 PM
Re: Training and Motivation
Personally, I think that it makes the whole learning experience a little bit more exciting. You get to meet new people and do not have the "distraction" of your day-to-day work during the process.
sohaibmasood   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   2/4/2013 11:07:49 AM
Re: Training and Motivation

Thanks for agreeing with me here. I have been consulting for HCM of various organizations and I have found out the same thing. People are motivated more when they are sent off site for trainings. The approach works well to compartmentalize and get away from work to just learn something new. 
StaceyE   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   1/31/2013 4:18:11 PM
Re: Training and Motivation

I agree, that off-site training is a good morale booster. I have found that I learn better when I am not in my work environment trying to learn something new for the job. I like the idea of sending one or two people off site for training and having them train other users when they return. In my experience, that approach works very well.
nasimson   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   12/29/2012 4:14:09 AM
Re: Decisions, decisions
@RPatrick: Older Workers, Yes. Millenials, I dont think so. And like you said, it really takes a lot of factors and study to realize which approach works best. 
nasimson   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   12/29/2012 3:54:28 AM
Re: Decisions, decisions
@Toby: Tests and assignments are a regular part of the online education. Without it a person may not even give any importance to the ongoing lectures and class activities. 
nasimson   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   12/29/2012 3:53:19 AM
Re: Decisions, decisions
@Susan: Ahan! Well, you are right in that case. I think it varies from person to person. The attention span and the effectiveness of answering it is a technique learned over time. Some people might have to listen to it once while the others might have to make notes of it and then learn them to get what they want.
Toby   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   12/11/2012 9:55:00 AM
Re: Decisions, decisions
@Susan:  You had to be tested to see if you could be trained? Actually that is a good idea as it may indicate you are better getting training through some other channel.
Susan Fogarty   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   12/10/2012 9:18:29 AM
Re: Decisions, decisions
I do think online training/learning can be effective if the students are invested in the content, but a lot of times that is not the case. At my former job, before you were allowed access to any of the web tools (and there were many), you had to take a training module and then pass a test on it. The test were difficult -- I had to pay very close attention to the training and take notes to be able to answer the questions. That training was pretty effective.
nasimson   Evaluating Your Options for IT Training   12/9/2012 4:51:54 PM
Re: Decisions, decisions
@Susan Fogarty: Yes, that is true. With so many distractions, it becomes really difficult for anyone to concentrate during an online lecture or class or any type of E-learning. 
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