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Learning and Training

What's right for you...

This article actually started after our '03 August edition nearly a year ago. Being a trainer myself, I'm continually interested in any form of training; particularly new venues. In the course of the past year I've tested and worked with a dozen good sources for learning Photoshop and digital image manipulation. I've seen the good ones and the bad ones. Most importantly I've learned a lot about how the materials can be presented, which venues are compatible with me, and which venues seem to work best. So in beginning this article I'm compelled to first offer some fundamental observations.

#1 Test the waters: If you are purchasing training materials for yourself, you may have to experiment a bit to discover how you work best.

#2 Know your level: available training materials fall into several categories and should be considered carefully before a large investment is made. Will you be training as a basic beginner, or do you need more task oriented training. These questions directly impact the relative success of any training medium you choose.

#3 How do you learn? Are you a sit-down-to-work learner who takes the course from start to finish, or are you a hit-and-run learner looking for just the answer for the current problem? You need to establish your best model before purchasing a lot of training materials.
      Having said that, you need to consider where I'm coming from. I've found that a book, in almost all cases, provides a better learning tool for me than video, DVD, or even CD-rom based information. This is not to dissuade you from using those mediums. It's just that I find watching TV to be more than a hinderance than help -- I end up just watching the presentation and forget about the steps. Let's take a look at a few of the pros and cons:

DVD / Video Learning

Pros: This format offers a lot of value because it can infuse the training with personality. The monitor is always captivating and there's a huge value in watching an expert go through the steps. The better packages offer a lot of training, glamour and glitz for the buck. They take up little space and often contain much more actual content than books.
Cons: As I said before, this medium captivates and draws you into the presentation. You may find yourself watching more than learning. With the DVD or CD product it's also difficult to 'jump' around, or return to an earlier step. While most of the products we tested have relatively good interfaces and indexes, the process of 'backing up' presents a real barrier to practicing a technique or skill. Finally, video product is almost always considerably more expensive than book based learning.
      Also keep in mind, if it's DVD product you either have to have a DVD-enabled drive, or a TV/DVD player close by. I find the TV a better set-up because the computer may not always operate correctly running the DVD and large software programs at the same time.

CD / Book combinations

Pros: This format seems to offer the 'best of both worlds' since the CD can contain all the materials as well as video of the key techniques. The book then contains the text and the step by step essentials. They work better together in front of the computer, then the book becomes ongoing reference material for later perusal without loading media. Books usually have good indexes and contents listings as well, so for the hit-and-run learner (like me) you can get to the topic quickly without a lot of extraneous activity getting in the way. This format is also usually much less expensive.
Cons: By the very nature of books, they simply cannot offer as much 'entertainment' value as the DVD/video products. Many people find that the intertainment element makes learning easier and more enjoyable. Books also don't have the magnetism to hold your attention. Likewise they cannot show you the actual before/after technique in process. You have to imagine the process, then stumble through it yourself on the computer.
      CDs can contain some video, but by their nature cannot achieve the level of 'show biz' that DVDs and videos can. Books also take on the psychology of work -- many people cannot spend too much time with a book before becoming bored and restless.

Live seminars and presentations

Pros: This format offers the quality of live human contact. Not just with the instructor, but with fellow attendees. This infuses a real 'networking' aspect into the learning experience that nothing can take the place of. Usually there will be handouts or seminar 'kits' that provide the written, follow-up material. Besides, it's always fun and rewarding to get out and schmooze with the industry. Everyone should try it at least once.
Cons: Live seminars and presentations can never contain nearly as much information -- you'd have to spend days and days. They're also very expensive once you consider travel and accommodations. Generally this format is considered a luxury and is reserved for those with deep pockets, and time to travel. Additionally most people simply don't retain the information. You can't rewind or go back to cover a topic again. At the end of the day you wonder what you actually got for your money. Early beginners should stay away until you have enough knowledge to actually understand what's being taught.

Which way to go...

Follow along as we investigate some of the results of our little exploration into learning opportunities outside of the classroom. We warn you, since we've linked to a number of resources on other web sites, some of the links will undoubtedly go dead sooner or later.

NEXT: Video Training

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