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Special reports - Jan 2000 - Behind the scenes

QA Training
has partnered with Microsoft to jointly develop training course materials for Microsoft’s Office 2000 and Windows 2000 products.

QA Training has partnered with Microsoft to jointly develop training course materials for Microsoft’s Office 2000 and Windows 2000 products. This partnership draws on Microsoft’s technical expertise and QA Training’s real-world experience of working with Microsoft customers to develop courseware that fulfils all the training needs of the end user.

Over the last six months, consultants from QA Training have worked closely with Microsoft course development teams including the MSDN training team in Redmond, USA, to develop training materials.

To find out how this coalition between Microsoft and QA Training came about, Fiona Newbery (FN) spoke to Gordon Ritchie (GR), Microsoft Product Marketing Manager, QA Training:

FN: How did this relationship with Microsoft develop?

GR: A combination of our 15 year’s experience of authoring courseware and the practitioner experiences of our courseware developers allows us to build a more student focused course.
We approached Microsoft to establish stronger links enabling us to continue developing our satellite curriculum around their own courses and being able to bring it to market at the time of product launch. It can easily take five or six months to write a technical course and if that technology is new, even longer to research and learn. What we found was that Microsoft can not achieve all that they want due to bandwidth.

FN: Why did Microsoft need to call in a training company to help develop courseware for Office and Windows 2000?

GR: Microsoft drew on QA Training’s experience in courseware design and also the depth of knowledge and experience that our subject matter experts have. One of the more frequent student criticisms of Microsoft courseware is that there is a product bias. This courseware is written by technologists who are often too close to the product to appreciate it from the customer’s perspective – the conceptual level at which new technologies need explaining. Also, it is often difficult for them to appreciate the real-world scenarios in which the product is used. We had already been working with Microsoft in the UK on Windows 2000 and Office 2000 for 12 and 6 months respectively and had real customer feedback on the product and the training to build in to the material.

FN: What did Microsoft want from QA Training and what challenges did you face?

GR: Microsoft wanted us for what we are, subject matter experts. They wanted additional resources to be able to develop high priority projects where they were resource and time constrained. They expected excellent technical subject knowledge, design guidance on what and how much you can tell students, the logical flow of course content, technical exercises that were practical but yet stretching and all of this in a project managed approach.

FN: What knowledge or skills did QA Training bring to Microsoft?

GR:One of the most important skills that QA imparted was the solution-based knowledge that we had. The ability to integrate all of their technologies into a solution; train people on the concept, the scenario and then the actual technological components that make up that solution.

FN: How does the courseware differ from that of Windows NT 4.0? Will there be any different approaches i.e. real life skills versus theory?

GR: The amount of practical work in each course is increasing due to the complexity of the product and the need to ensure that the concepts are reinforced. In general, it is the testing that needs to be able to measure real-life skills and this is already happening in the MCSD field. Real life skills are tacit knowledge gained from experience, no matter how many anecdotal lessons are available in a classroom you can guarantee that the problem you have today won’t have been covered. What is happening in the courseware is that there is much more understanding being covered allowing students to logically work out what is going on rather than try and teach them every task possible and hope that they remember them.

FN: What are the main objectives for both Microsoft and QA Training when planning a new course and do these objectives ever conflict between companies?

GR: We certainly have lively review meetings where the strength of the product versus the educational value is debated. The common objective is to train the student in the product. If that is done badly, it will be implemented badly and that piece of software is less likely to be upgraded.

FN: What are the main objectives of the Beta testers?

GR: Beta testing courses are a major milestone in the courseware development project plan. The purpose of this is to test it meets the objectives set out: it is teachable from an instructor’s point of view; it is educational from a student point of view; and it teaches the understanding as well as the technology on which it is based. The Beta audience includes instructors who have not been involved at all with it, key Microsoft partners who will be assisting customers in their adoption of the technology and a peer group who can give a more critical view having been part of the design and build team.