June 12, 2015

All Aboard! 8 BIM Training Tips to Design a Program for Everyone in Your Office

BIM training for everyone

A lot of the time, when architecture and engineering firms talk about BIM training, they’re thinking about training their experts—people who use BIM programs like Revit day in and day out, who need to keep their skills sharp and stay on the cutting edge of technological developments. But what about the rest of the office?

Engineers, architects, and project managers need BIM skills, too, to be able to communicate effectively with the rest of the design team and to step up to help meet deadlines in a crunch. However, you can’t expect the same training you use for your BIM specialists to work for the casual user. Here are eight BIM training tips for designing a program to get everybody in your office up to speed.

1. Put on Your Thinking Cap: Set Well-Defined Goals. Any successful program has to have well-defined goals. Think about what you want, BIM-wise, from your designers. (I’m going to use that term collectively here for engineers, architects, and project managers, as opposed to dedicated drafters and modelers.) Do you want total expertise, possibly with the end effect of eliminating the need for pure drafters? Are you looking for only a basic understanding, so the designers can hold their own in client meetings? Maybe you want moderate proficiency, so your designers can comfortably navigate a model and do basic modeling and annotation.

Desirée Mackey, project engineer and BIM manager for Martin/Martin, Inc., explains her firm’s philosophy: “Our junior-level staff are expected to be proficient Revit users. The goal for our more senior staff members is that they are able to complete basic tasks if needed. We also expect them to be comfortable speaking about Revit, and to understand how BIM fits into our workflow.” Once you have your goals, use them to shape your curriculum.


2. Decisions, Decisions: Choose Your Topics Wisely. One of the hardest challenges to deal with is that you’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Even the most basic “Introduction to Revit” class is often two full days of instruction. You may not have that much time to spend, and you might want to cover more than just the basics—topics especially relevant for project managers such as contracts, deliverables, and BIM-execution plans. You’ll need to decide which are the critical topics and which can be covered in passing, with an invitation to learn more in follow-up sessions.

And it should go without saying, but get your management to buy in. You may need some help convincing your team to choose training over billable work—and to support your own efforts in developing the program—and a directive from higher up can assist with that.

3. Be Prepared! Plan Your Schedule. You’ll also need to decide when to hold your training sessions, and for how long. When we recently implemented “BIM for Engineers” in my office, we decided to make it an eight-week program, with one group meeting per week and some homework or reading assignments in between. Whatever you decide, get it on everyone’s calendar and make sure they confirm their attendance. If your designers know you’re taking the training seriously, they’re more likely to do the same.


4. Variety Is the Spice of Life (and Meetings): Mix Up Your Delivery Method. An entire series of straight-up lectures probably won’t have the effect you want—people need more involvement to do their best learning. In my firm, a mix of lectures, discussions, and hands-on sessions works best. I use lectures for the overview, big-picture items; discussions for the office-specific challenges and concerns; and hands-on labs to give my designers practical experience with BIM programs.

David Butts, BIM specialist at Gannett Fleming, finds he also needs to adjust his teaching style depending on the age of the participants. “Younger users prefer short, directed lessons—straight to the point. For more experienced designers, I find it helps to add perspective to the explanation, not just the what but also the why.” For more tips on working with adult learners, check out this article from the Johns Hopkins School of Education.

5. Get Everyone Involved: Invite Class Participation. Inviting your class to provide input on curriculum content, engaging individuals during group discussions, and encouraging everyone to ask questions will give them a sense of ownership of the training and increase its effectiveness. It also helps to remind people why they’re here. Aaron Maller, BIM manager at The Beck Group, suggests explaining that “it’s not just Revit training; it’s why do we do it this way at this company, when your last company did it this other way.” He adds that explaining the logic behind your company’s standards goes a long way toward promoting compliance with them. “They need to have all the reasons, so they understand the rules.”

6. Know-It-All: Plan for Some Participants to Have Prior Knowledge. It’s likely that you’ll have people in your training sessions coming from a variety of starting points. You may have self-taught near-experts and complete novices side by side. If you can, it’s best to divide them up so your experts aren’t bored and your novices aren’t overwhelmed.

If you have to train everybody together, you can try to tailor your agenda to accommodate that, but you’ll probably need to acknowledge to your power users that some topics may be review for them. However, I’ve found that there’s almost always something new for me to learn, even on a subject I think I know well—the same should be true in your office, too. You can also use your power users as your assistants, to help other people with less experience.


7. Training Keeps on Rollin’: Make the Program On-Demand. Putting together a BIM training program involves a lot of up-front work, but fortunately that effort quickly pays off. Once you have a curriculum set up, repeating it is easy. You’ll have the PowerPoint presentations and data sets already, and if you have the technology, you could even record your sessions for on-demand viewing later. For larger offices, it will likely make sense to split up into groups to keep the size of the classes manageable—and even if you need only one group, you know at least one person will have a standing meeting that conflicts with your training sessions. By making BIM training a continuing effort, you can maximize the opportunity for all your designers to attend.

8. Sharp as a Tack: Promote Continuing Education. There’s a reason that professional organizations and licensing boards require continuing education. They know that without constant exposure, skills can atrophy. The same goes for BIM. I like to compare it to learning a foreign language—if you don’t speak it for a while, you start to lose your vocabulary and fluency.

After the formal BIM training is over, keep even casual users engaged by encouraging them to attend your in-house user-group meetings. Keep the agenda well-balanced between basic and advanced topics, and you’ll make it worth their while to be there. If there’s a local user group in your area, encourage them to attend those events as well.

Providing BIM training for designers and project managers isn’t a trivial undertaking, but with planning and effort, you can help your entire office understand what BIM has to offer and how it can benefit the whole team.

Want to learn more about how to get the most of out of technical Revit training? Check out this class from Autodesk University 2014.

Read more from Kate Morrical

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