Software developer Esri wants its customers to have a consistent, high-quality experience with its geographic information systems (GIS), whether at the company’s Redlands, Calif., headquarters or with an Esri distributor on the other side of the world.
To support that goal, in 2010, Esri made mandatory the CompTIA Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+) Classroom Trainer certification for its in-house and third-party instructors.
“Our training now with CompTIA CTT+ is really learner-focused, and based on a solid understanding about how adults learn,” said Aaron Zureick, an international training program manager.
Two years after the initial mandate, Esri responded to increased demand for online courses by requiring CompTIA’s CTT+ Virtual Classroom Trainer certification for its full-time instructors as well. Requiring the certification has helped: Students’ post-class surveys reflect improved instructor performance and a steady increase in students who would recommend Esri courses and/or their instructors.
“Our primary goal is to have our instructors use the CTT+ principles they’ve learned to get a better understanding of students and their needs, so when instructors send the students out at the end of training, they can be successful,” said Diana Haberkorn, Esri’s instructor team lead for CTT+ in the U.S.
That goal, according to instructor Jorge Ruiz-Valdepeña, is being achieved.
“With this new approach using CompTIA, students put the knowledge they gained in the training to work right away, which is great for all of us,” he said.
Powerful Products, Complex Audience
Esri’s software is complex, and often interdependent and updated. Those learning to use the software are equally diverse, varying widely in experience, industry specialization and product application. They’re also scattered across the globe, so Esri’s instructors must navigate a global tapestry of language and business culture.
CompTIA and its certification programs have helped Esri standardize the curriculum for their mountain of educators, who train clients on a variety of products like geographic information systems software, geodatabase management applications, and location analytics solutions for mobile applications and business intelligence.
Esri and its international distributors employ about 40 full-time staff members, 70 authorized third-party instructors and nearly 400 instructors. In 2013, with the help of international distributors, CTT+ was used to educate people in more than in 250 countries — and that’s on top of the 10,600 students trained domestically.
Esri instructors teach 20 different courses — traditional and online — to cover the company’s current products, plus more than 40 legacy-related courses. Instructors also conduct workshops and boot camps for Web and mobile application developers. An in-house team trains instructors on the CTT+ objectives at the company’s U.S. offices and at international locations, like conferences and distributor offices.
In the U.S., all of Esri’s instructors are CTT+ certified; they don’t enter a classroom if they’re not. Internationally, about 60 percent of the instructors are CTT+ certified, with 25 percent training for the exam.
“Some countries and distributorships, such has Esri Japan, have been very good at getting through the CompTIA process,” Zureick said.
Select members of Esri’s course content writing team earn the CTT+ credential as well.
The CTT+ exam is offered in English, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish, and Esri is lobbying for Arabic, Russian and French versions as well. “The time constrains of the exam, and the pressure of creating a presentation in a non-native language in a specific amount of time can be a bit challenging,” Zureick said.
Training Paradigm Shift
Esri instructors get their own education while preparing for and earning CTT+, said Ruiz-Valdepeña, who earned his own CTT+ credential after 25 years as an instructor. “They start thinking more in terms of how they can support the needs of the student, rather than simply delivering the training,” he said. Ruiz-Valdepeña now helps others prepare for the required CTT+ exams and demonstration videos.
The optimal learning environment requires more preparation and a deliberate approach, according to Haberkorn: “[This starts] with reaching out to the students before class to gather information about their background and expectations; implementing regular checks throughout the course to make sure the students are understanding the material; and creating a safe environment where students feel comfortable interacting with other students as well as the instructor.”
Instead of running through a bulleted, 20-slide PowerPoint presentation, for example, a CTT+ certified instructor would have fewer slides, more activity and more “live entertainment” in their training, Ruiz-Valdepeña said. “Making this shift is difficult for instructors, but it’s very rewarding.”
Louis-Jean Faucher agreed. Earning the CTT+ Classroom Trainer certification in 2010 and the Virtual Classroom Trainer credential in 2012 “definitely did make me a better instructor,” said Faucher, who was a technical user of Esri products before becoming an instructor in 2008. It even changed the way he fields and redirects student questions.
“Looking at the actual criteria [for the CTT+ exams], it’s interesting to see what you already do, which you already apply and which others you don’t,” Faucher said. “You pick up on how your colleagues do things differently. It was a very useful experience.”
Before training for the CTT+ exam, Ruiz-Valdepeña said student performance evaluation scores averaged about 4 on a 1-to-5 scale, short of Esri’s 4.5 target.
“Once we went through the process of the CompTIA CTT+ and started applying its concepts and domains to our training classes, our evaluation scores went up to 4.7s and sometimes we got 5s.”
The percentage of U.S. students most willing to recommend Esri courses and instructors has also increased steadily since the CTT+ mandate. For example, the frequency of students most positive about recommending a traditional classroom course increased 5 percentage points from 2010 to 2013. Survey scores increased for instructors in traditional classes as well. Scores for online classes and instructors also increased since CTT+ Virtual Classroom Trainer was mandated.
As the business evolves and expands — and the company’s training channel grows — Esri executives expect continued reliance on CTT+. Esri’s online courses have taken off domestically and Zureick expects to see increased demand internationally. This should prompt more international instructors to earn the CTT+ Virtual Classroom Trainer credential.
Esri also plans to increase boot camps and workshops for the developer community in support of Esri’s GIS software-as-a-service (SaaS) application, ArcGIS Online. That ought to bump up demand for CTT+ methodologies.
“These training offerings are less structured than the instructor-led courses, with less formatted material, and more on-the-fly responsiveness,” Zureick said. “Instructors are going to be relying more and more on these CompTIA CTT+ skills and facilitation principles when they teach these courses.”