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My development team is looking to expand into some new areas that we don't currently have direct skills for. We're trying to evaluate the available training courses, but there's not much depth of differences that you can plumb from a webpage or two and a brochure. So the root of my question is what should we be looking for while selecting a training course?

I think the best approach at this point is to send an RFC (request for comment) to the firms we've identified and ask the following:

  • syllabus of coursework
  • amount of hand's-on-work versus lecture
  • preparatory references they recommend
  • instructor biographies
  • rough estimates of number of students trained*
  • amount of time in training*
  • amount of time in training on this subject*
  • results of end-of-class student satisfaction surveys
  • expected student background
  • general class size
  • how they tailor the course to the individual student's needs

*No, these aren't great measures for the quality of a courses but I struggle to identify a more relevant metric.

The Real Question(s) -->
What else should we be asking about or investigating?
Is there a superior approach to evaluating training courses?

This question is perhaps the closest to answering my question, but it didn't gain much traction. In addition, it seems oriented towards how to design the course instead of what to look for.

This question is related, but the person asking the question didn't appear to want the training. That's definitely not our situation - we have a known skills gap and we're looking to close it.

The links from this question didn't really have any content that met my needs.

This question and this question are related to the training (iOS development) we're particularly interested in. The questions are slightly stale, which is part of why they are off topic for P.SE. One nugget that I liked from these two questions was to purchase and review books published by the training firm if they're available.

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1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I actually think you have a good set of questions to ask. These are the other things I would consider:

  • What published materials are included with the course. Most classes come with custom course notes, but some include published material. For example, a class I took on business analysis once included books by guys like Karl Weigers and Alistair Cockburn. I can't guarantee you'll agree with everything Weigers and Cockburn say, but research will show that those guys are reputable sources. If you get the actual title of the book, you can of course read reviews online. And regardless of how you receive the course, good materials provide a platform for both reference and continued learning, as they'll likely go into detail the class won't have time to. Some courses won't come with books though; some have dropped or reduced books from their courses in efforts to cut costs.
  • Similar to the above, see if the class comes with source code or examples. Most programming classes do, but be sure. The C# class I took, the instructor did a nice job of including a big file of the exercise solutions but he also added several custom examples from our class where he went beyond the printed material.
  • What post-course support is provided? You may have questions after the class, or you may be taking the class a couple weeks in advance of when you'll use the material. Would the instructor be able to answer reasonable questions after the class?
  • Look for references or find testimonials about the course. Don't get the ones from the provider's web page, only positive comments will show up there. But check with other people at user groups, online, forums, sites like this one, and anywhere you can to see if they've taken training from the provider. Can't beat the first-hand accounts.
  • See if you can converse when asking about some of these things with the actual instructor. If you can't find other feedback on the course or instructor, this may be a way to get a preliminary gauge of the instructor's comfort level with the material and his/her communication skills. Ah, nothing like those days at university when I'd walk into the first day of a math class and find out the instructor didn't speak my language clearly. Math + inability to communicate = too much fun. And it's probably similar for a complicated programming subject.

There was a post on here a couple years back (since deleted) where someone asked about training and one of the responses was from an arrogant former instructor that was quite cynical about training and thought all training was worthless. There was a sliver of validity to his point ("The sharp ones already know the material or could figure it out themselves, the dumb ones won't ever get it..."). But I think that person's concerns depend a lot on either the instructor or student or both not being very serious about the material. A good class can do a lot, and I think you're showing that you're serious about it. Best of luck to you.

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+1 for the great answer. Your math story reminded me of a friend who had to interrupt his math teacher and ask him to speak in English since he had reverted to Polish in his excitement over a particular subject. –  GlenH7 Sep 14 '12 at 11:44

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