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Use Robert Mager’s Principles As a Guide to Training

Larry Smith is a Global Enablement Specialist for Hewlett Packard Software and Solutions. His primary role is to provide technical training and enablement support for a suite of Application Security solutions collectively known as “Application Security Center.”

As part of the HP Global Enablement organization, Larry is responsible for providing technical training and support to HP’s extensive network of internal pre-sales engineers, partners, technical support staff and professional services organizations worldwide.

Larry has been in the field of Technical Training for 25 years and has held a range of positions including Technical Instructor, Technical Support Engineer, Training Manager, Product Manager and Project Manager. Larry can be reached via LinkedIn.

Q. What is one book that influenced the way you approach training & development?

Although I think it was called the Mager Six-Pack at the time, the current version is called The New Mager Six-Pack= by Robert F. Mager. It’s not one book but a set of 6 books, coincidentally, which really served me well as I transitioned from a military and DOD perspective on the “business of training people” to a private sector perspective on the “people training business.”

Q. What were your big “takeaways” from the book and how did they influence your approach to training & development?

As I recall I rec’d my copies of the Six Pack while attending an ASTD Conference about 1991. At the time I had been teaching about 6 years with the majority of that time spent serving in the US Navy where I learned to be a Technical Instructor. In 1991-92 my managers and I were trying to formulate an ISD model and methodology to be used companywide at Asea Brown Boveri (ABB).

The standard was largely based on Robert Mager’s approach to instructional design and evaluation and even incorporated many of his specific elements such as goal analysis and performance measurement.

My formal training in the field of “Technical Communications and Training” came directly from the US Navy and as such I was very comfortable with every element of the ISD model we were developing. Criterion based training in technical fields had been a cornerstone of the Navy’s approach to training and education for a long time.

Probably the most influential book of the series dealt with goal analysis and developing training objectives to meet the goals of training as it helped me to define elements of training programs which are still in use today. In fact, 18 years later I can still go online and read my very words in course descriptions and collateral. Not exactly exciting stuff for most readers but it does illustrate the timelessness of Robert Mager’s theories.

My feeling is that his principles are to the field of technical training what buoyancy is to sailing a boat. It’s not an external force, it’s just the nature of the business we are in.

Q. Did you get to apply what you learned from the book into a real-life training & development program?

I apply many of the ISD principles every day in my current position and will likely continue to do so as I continue to evolve my career. The thing about learning and applying a sound ISD model is that you’re always learning and applying it in different ways but it almost becomes second nature.

It also becomes easier to adapt to changes when you have a sound foundation. Although the path may change, the goal of what you are trying to accomplish is always the same. This helps when you’re trying to learn a new technology or subject and you don’t have to struggle with a way of analyzing the subject.

I have seen countless times when a person not familiar with needs analysis found themselves in a struggle trying to develop appropriate training content for an audience they didn’t know, an unfamiliar technology they didn’t understand and all while working with SME’s that they didn’t really like.

Kind of strange, but in the business world it happens that people are often cast into roles for which they were not well prepared. At least in the case of Technical Instructors, Training Managers and Course Developers I have been able to help guide them by introducing them to Robert Mager’s principles and helping them to become more successful in their careers.

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