Friday, 14 March 2008

Learning and training methods

Learning is characterized as “any relatively permanent change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience”. This also means that it also happens outside of schools, e.g. at workplaces. Give us an example of such a “lesson” that helped you to improve your job performance. Try to generalize this isolated experience of yours into a “training method” that would help others to improve their performance as well.

I am lucky enough to work for a 'learning organisation' - an organisation that I believe
"enables individual learning to create valued outcomes such as innovation and efficiency"
(Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007). I am encouraged to learn on the job - the work that I do
(managing and developing middleware engines and data hubs) is a little specialised and there
is more information to acquire than a week long course could ever hope to teach. One of the
biggest advantages (to me at least) of the Internet is that it allows other specialists to
blog their experiences and methods for achieving different results and I just have to tap
into this via Google.

Yesterday I was faced with a problem - one of the processes that I had set up for getting
data from point A to point B in a format that point B would understand was not working
properly. After looking at the problem with a colleague I came up with an action plan, one
item of which was to make the middleware engine talk directly to the source database and
poll information, rather than writing the data out manually and having the middleware engine
poll that. This is a much more efficient way of doing things, but was marred by the fact
that I had never engineered a process in this way before.

So I had to give myself a lesson on how to make this work - no one else in my office knows
how. My first step was to use Google to try and find some examples that other people have
done. Getting the search terms correct is an art in itself - using as many technical words
as possible really focuses the search results. I found one promising blog post straight away
from a blogger whose resources I have used in the past. His method was based on an older
version of software but I gave it a go. However what he prescribed didn't work - there
wasn't sufficient detail for me and some of the concepts he used I know nothing about.
I started looking for other examples and found another a few minutes later by a well
respected blogger who has recently left Microsoft. His example was perfect - he gave a step
- by - step guide but also relied on the fact that the reader (i.e. me) had plenty of
background knowledge. I started working through his example on my computer and trying to
mirror exactly what he was doing. Some of it required a little guesswork and the first
solution I ran failed completely. But I got there in the end and after about two hours of
training I was able to implement a technique that would a) solve my immediate crisis and b)
stay with me and be re-usable again on other problems.

This self - teaching training method requires patience to work - it's not the same as having
someone teaching you face to face because bloggers quite often concentrate on just the
important steps in a process and leave the rest to you. But I would definitely advocate it
to all software professionals - for me classroom training is a waste of time because what
you are learning is quite often out of date.

Huczynski, A & Buchanan, D (2007) Organizational Behaviour (6th Ed) Essex: Pearson Education

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