Interview with Al Whatmough, CEO and Founder of InspirTech

A few major trends are shaping the balance between classroom training and online/DVD self-training. The first trend is the gradual decrease of CAD system prices. It used to be normal to pay a few thousand dollars for a training class. It is now perceived as unfair to have to pay as much or even more for training as for a full CAD license. CAD systems are gradually getting easier to use and require less training. Another important trend affecting the way people use training is that CAD users love to almost instantly access training as they find a problem or an unknown feature. Online training as well DVDs are now available 24/7 to provide answers to problems as quickly as possible. One of the major players in the CAD training field is a company called InspirTech, which offers a good selection of training DVDs for SolidWorks and MasterCAM. I asked InspirTech’s CEO Al Whatmough a few questions to find out more about this new and promising evolution in CAD training. Here is the interview.

Al can you tell us a bit about yourself and your company?

while teaching I found how much I enjoyed to motivate and reach each individual learner

By all means, I started my career as a machinist in a university machine shop where we made models of buildings and bridges for wind tunnel tests, as well as various lab setups for the university. While at the university, I became proficient designing models in SolidWorks and making them on CNC and rapid prototyping machines. Next, I moved on to teaching Design and Machine shop at the high school level, were I had the chance to inspire kids to use and embrace technology. While teaching I found how much I enjoyed finding ways to motivate and reach each individual learner. At that time I realized that structured training was lacking. So, I started InspirTech and began to author self-paced SolidWorks training that would guide users through the learning process.

CAD training is quickly moving from the classroom to the computer screen. What are the reasons for this shift and what is the impact on CAD end-users?

we all live very busy lives and learn at different rates- making self-paced learning more attractive

The shift is taking place for a lot of reasons, but I think the biggest reason is flexibility for the student. In a classroom environment a student is expected to be available at a certain time and learn at the same pace as the other students. The reality is, we all live very busy lives and learn at different rates- making self-paced learning more attractive. Additionally, with recorded training you can bring the experts to every student. That being said, nothing will ever completely replace the value of having a person there for motivation and coaching. So, I can see a solution where classrooms make more use of structured video based training like ours.

Do you think technical books and DVDs will disappear as the current generation of CAD users is replaced by a younger generation more comfortable with online training?

DVD’s will move to videos hosted in the clouds

Books will definitely evolve into a more digital form; DVD’s will move to videos hosted in the clouds. Although, in both cases there will always be a need for training in both video and written form. But yes, in time I do definitely think that all training content will be hosted online where it can be instantly updated behind the scenes and accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.

The separation between training and help files is getting more blurry every day. Is interactive training replacing the traditional help files or the other way around?

training and help files serve to entirely different purposes

When interactive training gets blurred with a help file, I would argue that it is not interactive training at all, but rather a “video based help file”. Training and help files serve to entirely different purposes. Help files are in place for a user to have a searchable index to find specific answers to how to use a specific tool. Interactive training, on the other hand, is in place to help users learn skills that they may not even know that they need to know. That being said, searchable training could potentially remove the need for help files all together.

Training DVDs are a static resource and like a book cannot be updated, only replaced. Do you see a future where online training becomes a sort of shared resource that hosts not only lessons prepared and updated by trainers but also end-user contributions?

when it comes to training, I think that making them shared resources will only make the learning process more confusing

Yes, by all means. Technology is taking us in the direction of a far more collaborative world where files are hosted in the clouds. So, I do see help files becoming a “shared resource” in models similar to Wikipedia. However, when it comes to training, I think that making them shared resources will only make the learning process more confusing. The purpose and necessity for training is to take the flood and wealth of knowledge and boil it down to something that a new user can understand. Now that same flood of knowledge is a limitless resource to a veteran user, but could be poison to a new user who doesn’t know where to start and in what direction to continue on.

Let’s envision a sort of ideal CAD world, where there are easy-to-use CAD systems and perfect product documentation. In such a world do we still need training products like yours?

the need for quality training will never go away

The theme for all these questions has been to clarify the difference between documentation (help files) and structured training. In a world where software is easier to use, the need for help files may be reduced. However, the need for quality training will never go away. To say there wasn’t a need for training in CAD Systems would be like saying, “Everybody knows how to pick up a pencil, so we don’t need to teach writing anymore”.

I would like to thank Al for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have any questions for Al or for Novedge, please leave a comment below and we will be glad to answer.

Franco Folini