Best Practices for Civil 3D Training: A Guide on How I Approach Training
To harness the full potential of Autodesk software, such as Civil 3D, effective and ongoing training is essential. This article outlines my approach when being engaged on a Civil 3D consulting opportunity. However, regardless of the software, a similar approach has been proven to be very effective and a higher return on the user’s investment is typically achieved.
Engage Qualified Instructors
Hiring qualified instructors with extensive experience in the software is essential. You may have experts in your office who are capable of performing training, but sometimes the message is better coming from outside sources! I can tell my 15-year-old daughter what is needed to achieve a higher vertical leap, but it’s not until I pay an “expert” 200 buck an hour to tell her the exact same thing that she finally listens! These experts not only possess in-depth knowledge but also have the skills to effectively communicate complex concepts to trainees. You want instructors with not only software knowledge, but industry knowledge is what can really take your ROI on a training engagement to the next level.
Assess Training Needs
Before diving into training, it's crucial to assess the specific needs of the trainees and the company. An alignment meeting crucial. Determine their current skill levels and identify any knowledge gaps. This assessment will guide the training process, ensuring that participants receive instruction tailored to their skillset and goals.
Identify Target Audience
Understand the background, experience level, and needs of your target audience. Are they beginners, intermediate users, or advanced users of Civil 3D? Do they need an AutoCAD or Civil 3D refresher course before the specific engagement?
You must first understand the basics of AutoCAD and Map 3D! Before diving into Civil 3D, make sure you have a solid understanding of basic AutoCAD functionality. Civil 3D builds upon AutoCAD, so knowing how to navigate, draw, and edit in AutoCAD will be very helpful. I’ve gone into way too many Civil 3D training engagements and the attendees aren’t just new to Civil 3D, but new to AutoCAD in general! Not having the AutoCAD basics down can really derail a training. In this case, I’d highly recommend that the first day of training, or a prerequisite to training, would be to do a full day of AutoCAD basics overview, or require the attendees to complete an AutoCAD class online using one of many online training platforms. Ideally, enroll your staff in an effective, yet inexpensive, online training solution such as Global-E-Training, and require them to pass some AutoCAD modules prior to entering a Civil 3D class.
Set Clear Objectives
Establish clear learning objectives for the training program. What skills or competencies should trainees acquire by the end of the training? Objectives provide direction and help participants track their progress. The four items I like to track for each engagement are the following:
- The Challenge
- Why do you need training?
- What workflow seems to be an issue?
- What limitations in skillsets are you currently facing?
- Are projects being done on time and on budget?
- The Solution
- What solutions (software type and workflow) need to be addressed?
- What type of training are you looking for? Hands-on, project mentoring/coaching, project support, etc.
- What type of deliverables? Videos, documentation, etc
- The Result
- Document the results during and after the training.
- The Value Wins
- Identifying the successes is important to not only the users, but upper management as well.
- i.e., At the end of this training we were able to increase efficiency in piping design by xxx%
- i.e., We met a 60% design stage during the training engagement by using a live project.
Now, all that should happen before your training. It may seem like a lot of effort, but the initial effort will save you time and money in the long run. So, take the assessment and alignment meetings seriously and try to identify as much as you can prior to the first day of training.
Utilize a Structured Curriculum
Develop a structured curriculum that covers essential concepts and progressively builds on them. Ensure that the training materials are well-organized and easy to follow. Break down complex topics into manageable modules to facilitate comprehension.
Structure this curriculum in a typical project workflow. For example, you may want to put the survey section and data sharing/shortcut section towards the beginning of the training. Most projects begin with some sort of existing data consumption, so start the training off just like you would a typical project.
Give each module a clear and descriptive title that reflects its content. For example:
Module xx: Introduction to the Autodesk Civil 3D Interface
Module xx: Creating and Editing Alignments
Module xx: Grading and Corridor Design
Module xx: Pipe Networks and Pressure Networks
For each module, break it down into individual lessons or topics. Include subtopics and key learning points within each lesson.
Module xx: Grading and Corridor Design
- Sites and Feature Lines
- Grading Criteria and Objects
- Corridor Subassemblies & Assemblies
Then set learning objectives for each module by clearly defining what participants should learn from each lesson. Use specific and measurable learning objectives.
USE YOUR TEMPLATE! This is an often-overlooked key to success in Civil 3D training. Too many times I’ve gone in for a training engagement and have found that past training used out of the box templates and exercises. Going through training and using other templates can lead to confusion once the users get back into their environments. Using their template will allow the users to get comfortable with their settings and styles, their naming conventions, and a great way to help update/modify their template as you go! This is value added to any training if the company can get a deeper understanding of their template, and updated as they see fit during the training sessions.
USE YOUR PROJECTS! This is key, by far the number one thing in my opinion is to use a project that you are familiar with during your training. This could be an existing project that is completed or a new project you’re just getting started on. Why not pay for your training while billing some to your clients? The use of new projects helps critical thinking and solving of real-world problems they would typically face.
Most software is best learned through hands-on experience. Times have sure changed over the last few years and more and more training requests are being done via screen share, but there is no replacement for in-person hands on training. More questions are asked when the instructor is there live and more in-depth project discussions typically take place. In the trainings I’ve done via Zoom or Teams, I see many users checking out or focusing on emails or other work during the training. And less and less questions are being asked during these trainings. This approach typically takes longer for users to retain the information presented, where being in person tends to capture the user attention more effectively. There is a time and place for training over the web though. An update training, lunch and learn or “what’s new” is a good use of a web training. Something less than 90 minutes and involving a lot of users could and should be done online.
Provide Access to Resources
Offer trainees access to a wide array of resources, including tutorials, documentation, and online forums. Autodesk's official website, as well as numerous online communities, can be invaluable sources of information and support. Did you record the training? With simple software such as Camtasia, recording your training session is easier than ever. This is a great resource for those that attended the training and those that may have missed out.
Regular Assessments and Feedback
Incorporate regular assessments and feedback sessions to gauge trainee progress. Constructive feedback helps identify areas that need improvement and allows for course corrections as necessary. Not 1 training should ever be the same! I’ve done hundreds of Civil 3D training sessions all over the world, and every single one has been different. The next should always be better than the last, we should always be willing to adjust the curriculum, the datasets and the deliverables at all times. Otherwise, things get boring and stale. And every group of attendees has different questions and needs, so being able to roll with it and switch gears as needed is a very important quality in selecting an instructor.
Encourage Problem Solving
Autodesk software often presents challenges that require creative problem-solving. Encourage trainees to explore solutions independently and promote a culture of innovation. Allow users during a training to struggle through things without holding their hand. Allow them to think for themselves on finding a solution before jumping right in to assist them. I try to let other attendees jump in and answer questions or help their peers as well. This type of open environment has been good for both the instructor and the attendees. And a good instructor learns something after every training session! I see things done all the time that I’ve never thought of, and it only helps me in future trainings.
Customize Training to Industry Needs
Tailor training content to the specific industry of the attendees. For example, if the firm doesn’t do in house survey, maybe minimize the focus on survey to just include consuming the survey data as delivered by their consultant. You don’t want to be training on best practices for subdivision design, if all the company does is highway infrastructure or wastewater management. This is where the initial alignment meeting is so important, identify these things up front so there are no questions asked.
Stay Current with Updates
Autodesk software is regularly updated with new features and enhancements. Ensure that training materials and instructors stay current with the latest software versions to maximize training effectiveness. At minimum, do a “What’s New” lunch and learn or “tips and tricks” session at least once a month.
Foster collaboration among trainees to mimic real-world working environments. Encourage them to work on group projects, share insights, and learn from each other's experiences.
Support and Troubleshooting
Provide ongoing support for trainees as they encounter challenges in their work. Address issues promptly and offer solutions to keep productivity high. A support or troubleshooting “ticket system” should be discussed and a solution put in place.
Consider offering certification or incentive programs for trainees. Autodesk certifications are globally recognized and can enhance career prospects by demonstrating expertise in the software. Company incentives can go a long way in boosting the morale of your users. Maybe tie a raise or bonus program to completion training and certification. I worked with one company who incentivized their users by sending them to Autodesk university in Vegas if they completed certain courses and certifications. Be creative in ways to reward your users, after all, them getting training is a huge benefit to the company and well as the individual!
By following these best practices, trainers and organizations can ensure that trainees acquire the necessary skills to excel in their roles. Whether you are a beginner looking to master the basics or an experienced user seeking to expand your proficiency, these guidelines will help you navigate the world of training, or being trained on, ANY software with confidence and success.