When you attend a training class, you want to make sure that you make the most of the opportunity. Because you're investing time and money (either your own or your employer's), you should make sure that the experience is productive. (If you think you can't afford paid training, consider Microsoft's Hot Lab program, which offers half-day classes about new products for $40 to $70. Some vendors offer free training when they want to generate buzz about a new product and gain market share.)

Make sure that you fully understand any information you encounter in your classes. If an instructor covers something quickly and you don't think you've fully grasped the concepts, ask questions. In fact, I often look for a chance to ask a question early in a class to help break the ice and signal to other students that training is best when it's interactive. In training classes of typical size (i.e., 24 or fewer students), your questions shouldn't pose any problems for good instructors, but if you find that your queries disrupt the flow of the class, you might want to wait for a break or until after class to seek answers.

If your training environment includes a lab, read carefully and stick to the instructions for each exercise. I've found that you can very easily miss a step as you get into the flow of a lab exercise. If you finish the exercise with time to spare, you can then explore the interfaces and learn as much as possible about the product you're using. However, be careful not to make changes that might affect later labs. If you're not sure what limitations to adhere to, ask the instructor.

Next, ensure that you can take anything you learn in class and apply it in a real-world situation. With some training, you might experience a lag between training and product implementation, and you might forget much of what you've learned. Take good notes during your class. When you later begin to implement a product and vaguely remember something relevant from a class, you can check your notes and quickly refresh your memory. Some key things I try to make note of include

  • Installation and implementation "gotchas," including minimum hardware requirements and conflicts with other software. This information will help you to learn from others' experiences and roll out a product smoothly.
  • Product limitations, such as user-count limits and maximum number of records. Knowing a product's limitations will help you determine whether the software will fit with a specific environment.
  • Key interactions, such as what components depend on others and how these components interact. Understanding interactions can ease troubleshooting tremendously.

In addition to your notes, try to get as much additional material as you can. Ask your instructor for a copy of the classroom presentation. Typically, training presentations use Microsoft PowerPoint slideshows, and Microsoft has a free PowerPoint viewer that you can use to review slides from your class. Some instructors and programs don't give students copies of the presentation but might give out printed copies of the slides.

I also highly recommend that you get your instructor's name and contact information. If you have questions later, the instructor is just the person to ask. Most instructors willingly share contact information, so make use of this resource as necessary—but don't abuse it!

Along the same lines, you should network with the other students. These are people who are working in your field (or trying to get there). You might be able to help them, and they might be able to help you. Sharing knowledge, advice, job leads, and contacts helps every one of us become more connected and more effective in our jobs.

If you have any comments or tips about making the most of your training, email me. Your suggestions might appear in my next column!