In last week's column, I said that training involves teaching skills to students who have specific goals. This week, we start exploring how different forms of training apply to the different ways students learn and to the different skills they are trying to learn.

The traditional form of training is instructor-led training (ILT). Modeled on the classroom style of teaching, ILT involves having a knowledgeable teacher explain concepts and demonstrate successful techniques for using a product, usually with the aid of a book. Application-oriented training, such as Microsoft Office classes, often involves demonstrating a particular skill and then reinforcing that skill with hands-on activity. Technical training, such as most Microsoft MCSE classes, usually combines teaching the concepts behind a product and explaining how to perform specific tasks, which hands-on lab exercises reinforce. Because technical training's goal is to prepare students to perform a wide range of tasks, it tends to be broader than application training.

The two main benefits of ILT are the instructor and the structure of the class. The instructor is an asset because, unlike a book, the instructor can adapt how he or she teaches based on the students' levels of understanding. The structure of the class helps students schedule time for learning and lets them make mistakes in a controlled environment. On the first day of a class, I tell my students that if I can't teach them more in 5 days than they can learn on their own in a month, I've failed. Having a person who can answer questions and lab exercises to reinforce the class content should be highly effective training.

Unfortunately, ILT is becoming a commodity business. Many training center owners have the misconception that anyone can teach technology and that anyone can learn how to use technology. But not everyone can be a good trainer, much less a great one. Similarly, many students who take technology classes shouldn't be there. Perhaps some of them could become technology experts with proper education in math, problem solving, and science, but it's almost impossible for any teacher to teach—in a handful of week-long courses—some students what they need to know to administer a network.

If you decide ILT is right for you, here are some guidelines to help you decide which training program offers the best value. First, the instructor part of ILT is the most important part. Before you pay for training, ask to see the instructor's resume and professional certification transcript and to speak to him or her. A good trainer has equal parts technical and public-speaking expertise. Don't underrate communication skills; someone who knows a lot but can't explain anything is just as ineffective as a great speaker who doesn't know anything.

Second, ask to see the courseware. Read through it to see whether the book explains the concepts in a way you can understand. If the courseware includes lab exercises, read through one of them to see whether you can get the gist of what the lab is trying to reinforce. You want to determine whether the courseware will help you retain what you learned in class.

Finally, ask someone to help you determine what you need to learn before you start the class. All courseware is written to a target audience, and few students fit all the prerequisites. You should, therefore, spend time before you take the class brushing up on any areas the instructor thinks you need to know to understand the class's concepts. If possible, spend 10 to 20 hours prep time for each week of class.

ILT is the most expensive training format, but it offers the most potential for learning much in a short period. Because you or your company is paying a lot of money for the training, you have every right to find out whether the trainer and the training center can meet your needs. Before you pay, spend the time to make sure you'll receive a good value for your money.