Are there shortcuts when it comes to learning CAD software?

August 26, 2020 Paul Burden

A shortcut implies a faster route to a destination or a quicker way to achieve a goal. Many people wonder if there a faster way to learn how to use CAD software. It’s a valid question when we are often tasked with multiple projects and tight deadlines…Is there a way to learn CAD software that is faster than attending instructor-led training?

I came across a Tweet recently that implied traditional learning, whatever that is, is “dead”! Not surprisingly maybe, this claim was made by someone deeply involved in the production of self-paced eLearning. I can see the benefits of self-paced eLearning, where someone develops CAD software skills without ever leaving the office or speaking with an expert. But… is there really no place for traditional learning? What about a combination?

For a variety of reasons, more and more companies and individuals are looking to self-paced learning methods as alternative options to instructor-led training. As everyone seeks the quickest route to develop skills and reach proficiency, demand has increased, and so too has the variety of options and providers.

This demand is driven by many factors. No one can deny it is costly to take someone away from the office and out of production for multiple days. The use of multimedia and interactive content is attractive and can be engaging. I also believe that software companies encourage the movement toward self-paced learning because it fuels the perception that they are modern and current and that their software is easy to use.

My own feeling is that self-paced learning with tutorial manuals and online resources can absolutely be a faster way to learn how to use CAD software for some individuals, in some circumstances. I also feel that there is still a place for classroom-based instructor-led training. This all comes down to the simple fact that we don’t all learn the same way. Call me a dinosaur, but I am, in fact, still a proponent of using instructor-led training for learning the basics.

Despite what CAD software manufacturers may want you to think, their software is complex, and for good reason. Whether I am designing a bridge or a pump, I want the design tool that I am using to be complex enough to create my designs, deal properly with any design changes I am bound to experience, and be able to incorporate the design alternatives I inevitably will want to consider without having to start over each time. To take advantage of the powerful capabilities the software is designed for, I need to have a solid foundation in the basic skills needed to use the software and a clear understanding of fundamental modeling strategies. I believe one of the best ways to build those fundamental skills is through interaction with experts and other learners where there can be dialog and an exchange of ideas. It is this real-time session that teaches modeling strategies, provides the ability to challenge ideas, gives the opportunity to ask questions, and invokes conversation. Interactions with the expert instructor, as well as with peers, in an instructor-led session makes traditional learning still incredibly effective and relevant.

I coach a youth baseball team despite not having played a lot of organized ball when I was younger, I had a lot to learn when I started out. Trust me, I used YouTube and other online resources a lot (and still do!), but what helped me to make sense of all the excellent information I found online was interacting with new and experienced coaches at clinics that I had the good fortune of attending.  I was overwhelmed when I started out. There are as many opinions on the proper way to hit a baseball as there are on the correct sequence of features in your CAD model. It was only after I began to discuss hitting techniques with experienced coaches and hitting instructors that I could digest the information and come up with approaches that worked for the players I coach.  For me, gaining a foundational understanding of the basic techniques and strategies in an immersive situation enabled me to make better use of the advanced and varying information I could access on my own.


While there is nothing wrong with exploring shortcuts, I do feel the fastest way to build the skills for using CAD software is using a combination of instructor-led training and self-paced learning with instructional resources (e.g., books, videos, eLearning, etc.). Go and interact with an expert to lay the foundation and then build on it with “non-traditional” methods. Working with an instructor doesn’t mean you need to be in a classroom for five days or that you need to be in a classroom at all. Many training providers have come up with creative ways to deliver live classes over the web, provide on-demand instructor support, and blend various methods into a learning offering.


About the Author

Paul Burden

Director of Product Development<br><br>Paul has been in the business of technical training and support for CAD systems since 1995. During that time, he has led courseware projects for CAD and PDM software from most of the major developers of this type of software. Paul holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Memorial University in Newfoundland Canada and is a licensed Professional Engineer in Ontario Canada.

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