I am often asked for advice on how to become more proficient with AutoCAD. There are many options including self-paced books, eLearning lessons, peer instruction, blogs, magazines, Webcasts, etc. The options you choose can depend on many factors including (like most things in life) time and money. Aside from those two ever-present factors, you should also consider personal factors that influence how you best learn. For example, a learner whose native language is not English may find it difficult to follow a fast-paced training course that is delivered in English. However, a self-paced eLearning course (even if it is in English) might work well. Some people can learn a computer application by reading a book, while others need their hands on the keyboard.My personal “default” method of learning new software functionality is by trial and error. However, I learned very early in my AutoCAD career that, although trial and error enables me to learn the depth of specific functionality, it is instructor-led training that enables me to quickly learn the breadth of the application. Like many AutoCAD users, I was guilty of using only a small part of the application because that’s what I knew and it seemed to work.
I was first introduced to AutoCAD in 1986 when I was a computer science major at Colorado State University. I was in the computer lab when my friend, an industrial design major, showed me how he could draw an ellipse on the monochrome display using computer program called AutoCAD. That was about the coolest thing I had ever seen! Way more fun than the all-nighters I had been spending in the computer lab trying to write a Pascal program to print my name in a circular pattern! I had never taken a drafting class in my life but I was instantly hooked on AutoCAD. I immediately transferred to the University of Colorado, Boulder and enrolled in the architectural engineering program so that I could *play* with AutoCAD all the time! I used AutoCAD for every assignment possible (even if a word processor might have been more appropriate :-). Although the university computer labs had AutoCAD installed on the systems, the only AutoCAD training consisted of a two-week AutoCAD unit within the hand-drafting course. The instructor himself was new to AutoCAD so I gained virtually all of my AutoCAD knowledge through trial and error.
About two years into my engineering degree, my brother saw me drawing a floor plan in AutoCAD. He had taken many hand-drafting courses but had never touched a computer. His first look at AutoCAD and he was hooked! It must run in the family! My brother enrolled in an architectural drafting program at the local technical school where the emphasis was on AutoCAD. One day I happened to catch him doing some cool thing that enabled him to trim a bunch of existing lines to another object. For 2+ years I had been using AutoCAD (including the minimal 3D functionality) but I didn’t even know the TRIM command existed! That was an eye opening experience! What else didn’t I know??? Since I wasn’t about to let my brother know more about AutoCAD than I did, I bought a book and proceeded to learn about all of the other inefficiencies I had been guilty of!
As a poor, starving college student, learning from a self-paced book was a perfect solution! It was inexpensive and I could do it at my own pace. Back then I had more time than money! What about now? I am always learning new applications and when I want to learn quickly, I take an instructor-led course. If learning the application isn’t urgent, I might take a semester course at an academic institution. However, if I want to learn the breadth of the application as quickly as possible or , I attend a 1-3 day corporate training course. Notice that I said “breadth” of the application. There is no way you can learn everything about a sophisticated software application in a single day. But, if you walk away with a broad understanding of its capabilities, even if you can’t remember the exact procedures, your time and money will be well spent! You’ll know what the application can do and when you go back to the office you can explore the depth of the functionality as you apply it to your own work. How do you learn the depth? Trial and error, books, eLearning, blogs, magazines, coworkers, etc.
I can’t say enough about the value of instructor-led training in a professional work environment. Although the cost (in time and training fees) may seem high, when you consider the cost of inefficient work practices over an extended period of time, the cost of training is relatively insignificant.