After the LFPUG meeting where I did my Physics for Flash Games presentation I was chatting to a few people and realised they have a lot of assumptions about training courses, most particularly about the environment and style of training. I’ve taught at a few different training companies and tend to categorise training courses into three distinct styles. These names are the labels I give to them.

Lecturing

Lecturing is something many will be familiar with from university. It involves a lecturer at the front of the room talking to anything from 20 to 500 or more students. The students have no say in the content of the course, except perhaps to ask occasional questions, and the lecturer makes no effort to ensure that the students have grasped the concepts being taught. A lecturer will attempt to pitch the course at an appropriate level for the students but with such minimal feedback there’s no option to adjust mid-lecture. Lecturing is also the normal style for conference presentations.

Teaching

Again, most will be familiar with this, probably from school. Similar to the lecturer, the teacher alone decides the content and direction of the course. The difference here, though, is that the teacher attempts to ensure that all students understand what has been taught, usually by setting exercises or asking questions, and will backtrack and review subjects if necessary to ensure everyone understands. This requirement to ensure understanding limits class sizes, usually to a maximum of 30 or so, with ideal sizes being fewer than 20.

Tutoring

In tutoring the student has a lot more influence over what is taught. The tutor constantly adjusts the content to the students needs, steering the course into new, unplanned areas if appropriate. The tutor may set tasks in order to discover what the students don’t know rather than just to check what they do know, and will then guide students individually through the tasks as necessary. Tutoring is a very personal training course and is usually very informal in style. Due to the attention to the individual students, class sizes will usually be small, with ideal sizes being fewer than 5 students.

Which is best?

I don’t think there’s an answer to which training style is best – it depends on the subject, the student and the trainer. However, it’s worth being clear about what sort of training you want and what sort of training a training company will provide.

In my experience, the majority of training companies provide teaching. It works well with a reasonable group size, and thus can be quite cost effective. It also effectively limits the knowledge required by the trainer since the training company and trainer are solely in control of what is and isn’t discussed during the course.

Lecturing occurs at most conferences. It also occurs in some training companies. There’s nothing wrong with lecturing and a good lecturer can teach a fantastic course. However, since it is entirely down to the lecturer to set the pace, style and content of the course a poor lecturer will normally produce worse results than a poor teacher or tutor.

Tutoring is rare in training companies. Because the tutor responds to the students needs the tutor must have a wider and deeper knowledge base than the teacher or lecturer. A good tutor will adapt to your needs and abilities and will atempt to put everything into the context of what you personally do or want to do.

How do I train?

My presentation at LFPUG was a lecture. That is the only way to pass on information to such a large group, and in such circumstances it is very effective. I like lecturing and I think the attendees learnt a lot from my presentation. However, after my talk many assumed that that is how I teach training courses, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

For the past three years I have exclusively taught training courses at Ubiq Creative Training because they use the tutoring style I describe above. Most courses are limited to a maximum of four people. Courses are informal, with the training room having sofas and a coffee table in addition to computers and desks. The training is all about teaching clients what they want and need to know. I like training people this way because I see clients make far greater leaps in knowledge and understanding than in any other training method. I also get to know the people I’m training a lot better, which makes the whole experience more interesting for me.

Which training styles have you experienced? And which work best for you?