Four training trends and the Ideal way to conduct SPSS Modeler training

I’ve been using SPSS Modeler since the late 90s when it was still called Clementine, and ISL had just been purchased by SPSS Inc. I don’t know exactly how many folks I’ve trained in Modeler, but I’m sure it is over a thousand. (The grand total I’ve trained in Modeler, SPSS Statistics, and tool neutral classes, is several times more.) There was a point 10-15 years ago when I was holding a public class about once a month and a private class about once a month. While the private classes tend to be small, some of the public classes were fairly large, and it was like that years. It has changed a lot over that time, but with this much experience, some clear recent trends have emerged. After listing and discussing four of the trends, I will summarize with what I believe to be the very best way to teach Modeler.

1) Public Modeler classroom classes are increasingly rare.

Public classes have their place. I taught Introduction to Data Mining, which was a tool neutral SPSS Inc. class, to hundreds of folks. It was discontinued some years ago. (That material is actually part of the ‘Data Mining’ portion of the Intro Modeler class). I really enjoyed it. It worked because everyone came before their bought Modeler so that they knew enough of what it was about prior to sitting down with their sales rep. In some cases, perhaps because of budget, they decided to work with SPSS Statistics. A tool neutral Data Mining class can still work and is still useful and is still needed. The Modeling Agency, for which I sometimes train, has a good series of tool neutral classes, and they still attract a good public classroom and online audience. If you haven’t committed to a software solution yet, consider a tool neural class first. However … if your organization has invested 10s of thousands of dollars in Modeler software, a public class doesn’t feel like the way to go. You need to protect that investment.

2) Self Paced Virtual Classroom (SPVC) is surprisingly popular.

Folks try to sign up for a live classroom public class, and it is cancelled. Then they sign up for an online class, and it is cancelled. (Seek out ‘Guaranteed to Run’ classes to avoid this problem. The best Global Training Providers (GTPs) have them.) Not sure what else to do, some folks seek out self paced “classes” as a substitute, but there is really no substitute for a trainer. The SPVCs are really just a e-book. You are largely on your own. If you are prepared for that, it may be a good option for you, but this is challenging material and the book is hundreds of pages long. Surprisingly, it is fairly expensive. For more specifics, I have a full SPSS Training page, and there is a lot about this option online.

3) Online instructor led public classes are increasing – great option with both strengths and weaknesses.

Online classes are popular, as they should be. They are less expensive to produce, and much of that savings gets passed on to the consumer. They are less likely to be cancelled as a result. You avoid travel expense. You get nearly as much interaction with your instructor as in a live public class. However … you will never get as much interaction as a private class. That is really the issue. How much did you just spend on the software? Do you really want to share the instructors time with others? A great idea, that few consider, is taking the Modeler Intro class, Introduction to IBM SPSS Modeler and Data Mining, with a group, but BEFORE buying the software. Sound crazy? Perhaps, but you would get an excellent introduction to the software to help you decide if you wanted to buy it. If you already own it, and nearly everyone buys it first, you should worry more about the big investment you have just made. Private instruction will probably be a better option.

4) Private classes are popular, but hiring a trainer for a completely custom class can be overwhelming and confusing.

Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? You have complete control. You made the investment in the software, and you are prepared to pull out all the stops in making your fully bespoke training experience the perfect one for you and your team. But you’ve never used Modeler before, so how do you know what you want. Do you want to use an ‘official’ training guide. Of course, right? But … wait a minute … doesn’t that mean that I am using ‘canned’ examples? Was the book written for my new and current software version? The full curriculum is about 10 days, but no one has that much time. So, should we do a week? Two days? Three days? How do we decide? How do we find a trainer? Do we go through IBM itself? Perhaps, you’ve been offered some small amount of free support – in that case do we even need a class now? Maybe we should just bring in a trainer to do the two day Introduction to IBM SPSS Modeler and Data Mining course. It is the official Intro, so isn’t that enough? Frankly, it probably isn’t. And all of these choices are difficult. The reason they are difficult is that each situation is unique. A typical Modeler project is going to involve between 1-6 employees for between 6 and 20 weeks. Why wouldn’t organizing the training take some effort? Why would you want to have your agenda held hostage by a book that was written for another purpose? And has your trainer used Modeler outside of the classroom – in the field? Are they familiar only with the Intro book? What if you have questions that are in one of the other books. (See the Training Page for a description of the full SPSS Modeler curriculum.)

The Solution

In the last two years, I’ve been innovating a solution which I think works for most organizations and that blends the best of all worlds: private custom instruction, online coaching, and do-it-yourself learning.

Step 1: Have a planning meeting with your instructor. Find out who they are if you have booked them through a third party. Google them. Interact with them. Ask what them what you need to do to get the most value out of your training. 30 minutes may be plenty. Even a short email exchange is better than nothing. Insist on it. Whenever possible, arrange to have the training done with your data!

Step 2: If possible, do some reading or watch some videos before training. It might be just a chapter or two, but some preparation before hand will help you get the best value out of training.

Step 3: Invite the trainer live to your location. It is worth the investment. Begin with a 60-90 minute training kickoff, and invite everyone that has an interest in the project. I’ve done this with as many as 30-40 folks in the room. Discuss possible projects. Discuss what the technology can do. Discuss the business problem. Invite the c-suite to come. Get the IT team to come. This can be a powerful experience. I’ve even had offsite folks join the classroom group remotely.

Step 4: Continue the live onsite training for 2-3 days. The Intro class used to be three days. Now it is two days. It is hard to say how much time is necessary as it depends on the nature of the first project. If it involves Modeler Premium then I suggest at least four days. If Modeler Gold, plan on even longer, and the training becomes more complex. For the majority, three days is sufficient. The first half day (after the kickoff meeting) should be generic using practice data sets while everyone is getting acclimated. As soon as possible, start doing examples with your data. By the third day, it should feel almost like a working session.

Step 5: Continue the training remotely for as few as a couple hours a week. This is really the innovation that makes it all work. The internet is stable. It is reliable. Screen shares are amazing now compared to ten years ago. It is almost like you are there. Once you establish rapport, it really works well. I suggest a ratio of about 8 hours of work to about 1 hour of consultation. For every 8 hours that a trainee has worked alone in Modeler, on their first project, they probably need about 1 hour of Q&A. So, with 20-60 hours of mentoring, a team, on their very first project can take on a serious real world project. Rather than requiring 100-300 hours of consulting, you can get away with about 10% of that cost in mentoring. There are risks. Most trainers can’t pull this off – they need to be veteran field tested consultants. On the very first project, you may want a return onsite visit, or more than just mentoring, but this gives you tremendous flexibility.

I’ve been through this style of training now several times. First, working within a consultancy as an executive consultant and training director, and since as an independent consultant/trainer. I still teach public classes, but I have been extremely impressed with what I have seen produced during a first project combined with the best possible training scenarios. Please contact me for more information about this approach, or for advice on any of the public Modeler classes. I’ve taught from all of the SPSS Modeler training guides many times. Whether we meet in a public training or private training setting (or in my consulting work) I’d be glad to help you navigate your choices.

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