January 2, 2014

The Mechanics of Rebuilding a Training Corporation

The other day I wrote about my first year as Noir. Academy's CEO. I touched on the broad strokes of what I did when I took over, but now I'd like to dig into the bones of why these changes were made. I hope it will be informative for any of you who hold leadership roles in training corporations of your own, or maybe you've just got a few inexperienced players in your corporation who could use a little extra help. There are thousands of ways to approach teaching others, of course, and there isn't any right method; often the best way differs for every single person. For smaller corporations or if you've only got a handful of people who need extra help taking the specific pilot approach would probably be better, but for larger organizations, here's one approach.

When I took over Noir. Academy, there were a lot of things that were clearly not working. Over the course of the first four months or so, I made quite a few changes - some small, others quite large - but they were all reactionary. That doesn't necessarily mean these changes were bad - in fact, I feel they were all quite good. But, some of them turned out to need refinements, some of them even needed to be completely replaced. This is because we were making changes based on what we saw as current problems, but we weren't spending enough time in planning. Luckily, one of my instructors has education in the training of others, and he gave me quite a bit of good advice which we used to construct the outlines of our current program. It still took time to get to a "finished" product. I'm sure we'll still need to make refinements over time, especially where game mechanics are concerned, but by using proper planning and methodology, we're better prepared to make changes in the future.

Challenges

To start with, we had to determine what challenges we were facing and may face in the future. Some of these things are glaringly obvious when you think about them, but it's important that you do think about them and realize they are truths. Here are three universal truths that will apply to every organization out there.
  1. All of our training is done online. This means any program we develop may lack advantages that training a group of people face-to-face boasts. There is a separation of humanity when you train people online. This could mean anything from coming across as distant to your students or it could mean that there is a greater chance for people to misunderstand meaning without small body language cues. 
  2. Neither the Instructor or the Trainee is being compensated in real life for their efforts which can decrease retention and interest levels. 
  3. EVE is an evolving ecosystem of ships and techniques, therefore we're going to have training lag based on developing trends.
There are other, smaller challenges that depend on your organization, your corporation's members, your corporation's culture, and countless other variations. It's important to identify the large, static challenges that apply to your situation as well. Don't focus on small, temporary obstacles too much, but it may be worth your while to pinpoint any hurdles that need to be smoothed out sooner rather than later during this stage too.

Solutions

To find our solutions, we used what is called a Training Process Model. There are probably many approaches and variations to this model, but ours is pictured below.


Essentially, we tried to assess any Triggering Events first, and then develop a Needs Analysis. For Noir. Academy, a basic example of this were that we were having issues with pilots not feeling comfortable with their ship knowledge. Our Needs Analysis tells us that we need pilots who are very familiar with the roles and bonuses of EVE Online's ships so that they can effectively fight and FC.

The Design Phase follows in which we compile whatever materials we may need to train our pilots in ship familiarization. This may be some flashcards or a website or a spontaneous, oral test. After the materials are ready, they are pushed into the Development Phase where we refine what is taught. Perhaps, for you, refining means removing ultra-rare ships from your lists, or maybe it's getting rid of the flashcards because they're not working well.

 Finally, the refined methods are pushed into the Implementation Phase and Process Evaluation Phase simultaneously where the methods are used and evaluated to ensure that they're effective in teaching what we needed.

In simpler terms, what we're talking about is basically
  1. Identify what we need to teach.
  2. Identify how we need to teach it.
  3. Refine the lesson 
  4. Implement it. 
  5. Evaluate how it's working and make adjustments.

KSAs

Another aspect of our restructuring was realizing our limits. There are some things that can be taught and others that can't. We refer to these as KSAs, meaning Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes. Knowledge and Skills can be taught but Attitudes can not be. Some examples of each are listed below.
  • What Can Be Taught?
    • Knowledge - "Keeping within our doctrine and fitting rules, what best named module can be fit here instead?"
    • Skills - The ability to spiral in on a target while piloting an interceptor.
  • What Can Not Be Taught?
    • Attitudes - An example of this would be FCing. While some aspects of a successful FC can, in fact, be taught (such as ship recognition and prioritization), others can not (such as appropriate aggressiveness, confidence, leadership).
Recognizing what we can and can not teach to others helps us maximize our time to be most effective and minimize frustrations, both for the instructor and the student, as we're not trying to teach someone how to do something they must find within themselves.

Be aware though, that there are ways to support your students as they try to find their Attitudes on their own. We have our own support structure for budding FCs, for example, but there will always be those who "get it" and those that don't.

Customization

It's often times a very scary proposition, the training of others. EVE is a game that benefits greatly from people willing to help others learn, and having a formal method has really helped me do just that. The great thing about this approach is that it can be used in so many applications. No matter what your training needs are, whether you're trying to teach someone how to be a more efficient hauler or even how to teach people how to teach people! It's a really flexible method and can be used as an entire process or, like I've done with Noir. Academy, simply a part of the entire picture. 

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