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Capsule Training – How to Learn in Small Doses

Do you remember back in ancient times when you went to a training course or bought a new piece of software you received a big fat manual to put on your shelf that you could refer to whenever you had a question or a problem? You pulled it down, flipped to the index and searched for your topic and often it had what you needed. But where are those manuals now? They don’t exist. The world moves too fast, products and topics change too quickly, and (to be quite frank) those tomes cost too much to produce and use too much paper. So what are we left with? Those same manuals in electronic versions.
So, in theory, you can use them much the same way. But is that how it works in practice? If you are anything like me I usually forget all about them. And when I do remember then, even though they have all the same stuff in them, the format just isn’t conducive to finding what I need. You don’t flip through the same way, you don’t read the same.
Given that, consider this: how does a technical organization such as Avanceon successfully prepare, maintain, and deliver training to its people? Conventional wisdom is to pick a topic, prepare a massive slide deck on that topic, delivery an all-encompassing training session, then turn it into a user manual. Here are the challenges to that approach:

  • The preparation is a massive effort that is often pretty intimidating
  • The training session is usually pretty dry
  • The trainees don’t retain the information
  • There is always at least one intended trainee absent
  • The user manual is, well…, see above
    So instead of doing that, Avanceon has flipped the traditional model on its head and we are going smaller, using what I’ve dubbed Capsule Training or others have called One Point Lessons. A Capsule Training is intended to be a short, tightly focused, topical training document. Here are some guidelines:
  • It should be a single topic or question (e.g. How to go online with a Contrologix PLC, How to configure a Data Acquisition Server)
  • It should be short (1-2 traditional pages)
  • It should be heavy on steps/lists and light on paragraphs
  • It should stand on its own
    So what are the advantages of this approach? I’ve got a few:
  • They are pretty easy to prepare. Instead of being intimidated by the massive manual, you can prepare one of these in a few minutes
  • Anyone can write one
  • Anyone can read and absorb a topic quickly
  • You can gain momentum in developing your training library because you can start with the simple low-hanging fruit topics and add complex ones later
  • Maintenance is easier, if a topic is out-dated, you can replace just that one
  • The content evolves as the company’s needs evolve as gaps are identified and filled in
  • If you want to train on a topic, you can do so in minutes in other contexts
    Have I convinced you? If so, one other consideration before you dive in: just as important as the topics you pick and the words you write is the platform you use to organize everything. Here you are looking to replicate the indices from those manuals. Everything needs to be in one place, presented in a list, searchable and filterable. Because, let’s face it, you can write the best Capsule Training pages in the word but if your intended trainees don’t know it’s there or can’t find their topic quickly, your training library might as well be an MS/DOS manual sitting on your bookshelf for all the good it is going to do.


    In the bustle of the holiday season, Thanksgiving means different things to different people.  For some, the remembrance of a historic harvest feast, but for others a time to sit back and ponder the things they are most thankful for.  At Avanceon, it is a time to remember the good people, both co-workers and customers alike, that make up our family.  And, to honor the dedication to engineer innovation for manufacturing solutions.
    This week, families across America will sit down at the Thanksgiving table and give thanks for the blessings of the year.  A time for joy and tradition, we reflect on the joys and traditions Avanceon felt rewarded with in 2016.  Our delight in projects we have worked thoroughly on and the blissful feelings of completion and proper execution are only scratching the surface of the array of thanks we have.
    It is so easy to use Thanksgiving as an excuse to just devote one day to thankfulness, but when looking back at the year, every day, operating with a team of devoted associates, is one full of gratitude and recognition.  We have a group who make up many different facets of knowledge in engineering.  Much like the assorted fruits and vegetables making up a traditional cornucopia centerpiece.
    This is the time we should spend thinking about our team.  We at Avanceon hope you think about the people you work with, your friends, your family, and the relationships you have made this year.  And then try, over the course of the next full year, to take time to be thankful every day.
    What are you thankful for?  Think it over and spend your Thanksgiving and every day giving thanks.
    Image Source: Freepik

    A Palatable Team Building Event

    Avanceon is, generally speaking, split into three business units, or “pods” (and not a day goes by that I don’t make a reference to my “pod people”). As one of the few associates who overlaps pods (I claim possession of Pods 2 and 3), I get to compare and contrast the inner workings of both, and often reap the rewards of a dual involvement. Specifically: pod events.
    Having been an intimate part of the decision making process, I can say first hand that team building events are a challenge to plan. It’s difficult to find an interactive experience sans cheese, and even harder to please everyone with one activity. I personally just wanted to go pet dogs with my coworkers for a day, but that was pretty quickly turned down. (I’ll just have to focus my energy on encouraging Bring Your Dog to Work Day for the whole office!)
    What we did land on, for Pod 3 at least, was a collaborative competitive cooking class. Split into random teams, we were each responsible for one dish and then ate EVERYTHING. The venue (Cooking Spotlight in Phoenixville) prepared a multi-course menu, prepped stations for each team, assisted as needed, and judged our creations. We were awarded Best Tasting, Best Presentation (props to the hand-cut lemon wheels from our former bar-back!), Best Teamwork and Most Creative (kind of a terrifying one for food!). No one was hospitalized or went home wearing their meal, and everything was edible. The blend of work and play led to a fun, successful event.
    Next I’m hoping that Pod 2 will plan a Room Escape or Seinfeld Trivia!
    What team events have you seen go well, or horribly wrong?!

    Automating Automation

    “Hey, I bet we could automate that!”  Have controls people ever gathered ‘round the kegerator on a Friday afternoon without these words being spoken? Whether it be Christmas lights, banking, or lawn irrigation, there’s nothing we love more than automating things. Heck, we even automate automation.
    Back in the ‘90s and early 2000’s, Avanceon’s AutoGen™ ruled the roost: from a single I/O list we generated PLC code, HMI tags, AutoCAD schematics, design documentation and test scripts. What a time to be alive! But eventually, companies like Rockwell and Schneider realized that there were ways to reduce the amount of manual grunt work involved in programming, and we saw the advent of Add-On Instructions and Object Templates.
    Over a few short years, the ROI equation changed such that the benefits of a tool like AutoGen™ no longer supported the continual upkeep required stay current with all the possible versions and permutations of the target software platforms.
    But there are still significant opportunities for making the tasks of automation more efficient. They just need to be low-overhead and targeted to a specific need. Here are a few examples of Avanceon’s in-house tools:

  • The SLC500 to ControlLogix conversion assist utility helps Rockwell’s conversion utility to convert SLC500 annotation to a format that can be imported by Logix Designer.

  • The automatic I/O list tool creates an Excel I/O list from a SLC500 or Logix5000 program.

  • The message manager generates XML files used to drive a plant floor message board.
    All these tools have several features in common.  They’re based on Microsoft Office, they use VBA programming, and they have a single purpose. This makes them portable, quick to create, and easy to maintain.
    Now, let me get back to plotting my fully-automated home brewery . . . .
    Designed: Freepik

  • Part-time and Professional: Absolutely Perfect!

    If you are looking for part-time professional work with flexible hours, then you’ve come to the right place.  Like you, I didn’t think that it existed, but it does – really!
    Before life as a stay-at-home mom, I had an amazing professional career.  Like many of us, I decided to step away from that career to raise my children.  Fast forward 12 years later, and I got the itch to re-enter the workforce.  Should be a piece of cake, right?  Wrong!  During my quest for part-time employment, I was shocked to find such limited offerings for part-time work in a corporate setting.  Lucky for me, that all changed one day when a job posting from Avanceon flashed across my computer screen.
    Avanceon offers its part-time employees a family-friendly, flexible work schedule.  Frankly, if I didn’t tell my kids that I was working, they would not know.  I am there in the morning to get them on the bus, and I am there when they arrive home from school.  I am able to work from home when my children get sick or when there is a day off from school.  I can adjust my work hours when needed to attend school events.  Does this sound too good to be true, part-timer wannabes?  It’s not!  It’s life at Avanceon.
    So moms (and dads!) keep an eye on Avanceon if part-time employment is in your future.  Not only are the hours great, but you will be able to make a meaningful contribution as a valued employee.  It just doesn’t get any better than that!