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Given the popularity of online eLearning, IconLogic's approach — skills and drills — is making masters of novices in record time. These unique online, interactive, self-paced versions of his workbooks, include courses on Adobe Captivate, Adobe InDesign, and QuarkXPress. You'll find that these virtual classes provide you the benefit of the classroom, without actually traveling to the classroom.
The origins of the "skills and drills" methodology
It was the mid-1990s and Kevin A. Siegel, founder and president of IconLogic, Inc., was just starting out as a technical trainer. Siegel had already spent 10 years as a desktop/print publisher using what Siegel describes as "the usual suspects of the day including PageMaker®, Ready-Set-Go®, Ventura Publisher®, and QuarkXPress®."
According to Siegel, "I was making a career change of sorts and wanted to add professional, business-to-business training to my skill set. I first started using QuarkXPress in 1987 and felt it was head and shoulders above the other available applications. Over the years I gained significant experience using QuarkXPress. I had several war stories to share and felt like the training field would be a good way to impart my experience with others."
The two-day Introduction to QuarkXPress class went smoothly. Siegel remembers, "the only problem was the learning material I was using in class left much to be desired. The book looked great (four-color printing and wonderfully designed), however, the lessons were hard to follow and a bit disjointed — overwhelming to the students."
In addition to the overall difficulty of the lessons, Siegel said that few of the lessons were actually written in a step-by-step approach. "The lessons were cryptic, more of an overview," he said. "Given my experience with the software, I was easily able to bridge the gap and add the instructions myself verbally. Since my computer was projected to the front of the room, I was also able to demonstrate each concept.
"In spite of that, I was concerned that the students wouldn't be able to later use their books as reference materials. Sure they could write notes about the specific process to accomplish the tasks I was teaching, but if they had to write out each step, there wasn't going to be any way for them to watch what I was doing and then do it themselves."
At first Siegel said he attempted to stick with the lessons as presented in the book. "It soon became apparent, however, that my students were getting as frustrated with the lessons as I was," said Siegel. "After a while, I put the book down and began to teach the class from the top of my head, relaying my real-world experiences using QuarkXPress as I went along."
After the class was over and the students were filing out, one student approached Siegel told him that the class was really helpful and if the specific steps were documented somewhere, he'd buy them.
According to Siegel, that brief conversation sparked an idea that changed his life. He went home that night and began work on a step-by-step training manual.
"It was slow-going," said Siegel, "in fact, it took me nearly six months to finish the book. During that time, I can remember my wife wondering why I was wasting my time on a software training book and who would buy a book like that."
In spite of Siegel's admitted "ignorance to the step-by-step book-writing and publishing process," he forged ahead. He wrote detailed, step-by-step instructions that looked something like shown in figure 1.
Siegel followed the step-by-step instructions with short challenge exercises that he affectionately nick-named confidence checks. Those exercises challenged students to immediately put their new skills to work.
Siegel's fist foray into this new document process was called Accelerated QuarkXPress (these days it's Essentials of QuarkXPress 7). Siegel posted the finished book at Amazon, becoming one of the first print-on-demand publishers in the country (even though that term was not yet in vogue).
Siegel said he was pleasantly surprised when his Accelerated QuarkXPress book became a national best seller (based on Amazon's method of tracking sales). "Amazon was one of the first online resellers that allowed customers to comment on products," said Siegel.
Easy to follow. I appreciated the author's step-by-step instructions and the skills and drills approach offered by the confidence checks.
Remembering the review, Siegel said he had never heard of the phrase skills and drills mentioned in the same sentence as a computer workbook. "The description was perfect: A methodical, skill-and-drill approach was exactly what I was going for," exclaimed Siegel.
The skills and drills moniker stuck. One book led to another and then some 15 years later, Siegel had written more than 100 of his skills and drills workbooks including several on QuarkXPress (all the way up to the current version 7). Many of those books have, in turn, become national best sellers.
Blended learning is the wave of the future
With more than 15 years' experience teaching live, on-site classes, Siegel says his first love is training in front of a group of people. "There is nothing better than working with a small group of professionals (class sizes of no more than 12 people is ideal) and seeing their expressions as they learn and master new concepts," said Siegel. "It's very exciting to hear someone say, 'Wow! That's cool!' after you teach a concept that will actually save them time and/or money."
Given that most businesses now provide employees with high-speed internet access, the age of distance learning is upon us. "Just a few years ago, the technology to allow for live, virtual classes just wasn't ready. The hardware and software was available, but expensive and the internet just wasn't fast enough," said Siegel. "Today, internet speeds are crazy-fast, and getting faster; and the software to support virtual training (such as GoToMeeting) is very affordable. Virtual training is not just viable; in the right circumstances, I see it as a true replacement for on-site training."
Specifically, Siegel believes that virtual training is perfect for just about any kind of computer-software training and considering the rocketing price of transportation, it makes sense to offer classes online.
Siegel is quick to point out that virtual training is not the end of the game. "You keep hearing the term blended learning," said Siegel. "To me, blended learning means you're offering training using books, live or virtual training, and eLearning lessons that aren't supported by a live person."
"While each of those training modes is unique," Siegel continued, "Individually, they may not work if they're not step by step, include lessons that are short and sweet, highly focused, and very interactive. If you look at any of my books or courses, you'll find they meet all of those requirements."
No slowing down
Siegel hasn't slowed down a bit. He continues to teach live classes on various applications, including QuarkXPress, InDesign®, FrameMaker®, Captivate®, and others. As recently as 2007, Siegel was recognized by Adobe® as one of the top trainers in the world.