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Move over Albert Einstein and P.T. Barnum, here comes Mr. Gates

workshop instruction

Three Keys to Delivering an Effective Process Control Workshop

It’s been said that effective training workshops require the instructor to be one-half Albert Einstein and one-half P.T. Barnum. From personal experience that formula overlooks the need for a little bit of Bill Gates.

I frequently lead workshops related to Process Control. My goals are 1) to demystify the operation of the PID controller, and 2) to equip participants with a simple method for tuning PID control loops. Process Control is a rather technical topic. It requires an understanding of the individual model and controller terms along with a firm grasp of the associated controller algorithms. This is the Albert Einstein part. While participants don’t expect an instructor to singlehandedly rewrite the Laws of Physics – cos ye cannae change them – they do expect someone who is competent and who brings personal experience with the subject at hand. It’s easy for practitioners to spot the fake.

A course instructor will lose his or her audience no matter how good the material is without a little, showmanship. That should resonate with almost anyone who’s attended a technical workshop. Face it: we’ve all had the early afternoon slump, and a steady diet of graphs and formulas is a sure way to put a classroom of industry practitioners to sleep. As a master showman P.T. Barnum understood the need to engage an audience whether they attended his famous three-ringed circus or his wax museum. Like Barnum, effective instructors uncover their audience’s interests and connect with each individual using stories that draw upon personal experience. Putting class material into a relatable context is the key. It keeps workshop participants engaged and enables them to gain the knowledge and skills for which they registered in the first place.

As a caution: Overlook the need for Bill Gates at your own risk. From my perspective Mr. Gates represents the numerous contributions that software tools make. Today’s software tools allow an instructor to deliver an impactful, long-lasting classroom experience. They help communicate and reinforce key concepts. Indeed, software makes it possible for individuals to fulfill the three (3) essential goals of workshop instruction:

Effective simulations enable trainees to develop a sense of intuition for how processes behave in the real-world.

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  • Delivering Context

    Whether the key topic is a particular aspect of an algorithm or a novel application of the PID, it’s essential to limit the amount of new material covered at one time. From a technology standpoint it doesn’t really matter that you use PowerPoint or other presentation software. What does matter is that each core concept is presented intuitively and that the instructor’s remarks wholly complement any visual content. Think of three things: Short bullets, simple language, and large fonts.

    Key Point: Avoid the trap of reading the slide by instead sharing relevant stories that reflect its core message. As an example, anecdotes from real-world experiences help to put new concepts into context. They allow participants to hear how the subject applies to them and their process.

  • Reinforcing Concepts

    Textbooks leave too much to the imagination. That can be especially problematic with technical topics like Process Control. Since the 1980s a growing array of simulation tools such as MATLAB and LOOP-PRO have allowed instructors to demonstrate the dynamics of complex processes and to illustrate the pros/cons of different PID control schemes. Because simulations mirror real-world applications they bring core concepts to life and impart a sense of intuition for how controllers should operate in the real-world.

    Key Point: Choose a simulation tool that reinforces the curriculum. Trainees can struggle with simulations that are either too simplistic or too complex. Whereas the first lacks sufficient fidelity the second can result in participants getting lost in the details.
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  • Cementing Understanding

    Participants need to apply their understanding. Doing work on their own is the most reliable way for a group of trainees to cement their knowledge of critical workshop ideas and insights. To that end, Bill Gates gave us Word. Using Word or another word processing application an instructor can provide instructions – limited or detailed – that guide exercises and force individuals to show what they’ve learned. Those breaks from lecture and demonstration shine a light on the students, providing a clear measure of each participant’s understanding of the subject matter. And when someone “gets it” it’s cemented forever.

    Key Point: Incorporate exercises throughout a workshop. Doing so accomplishes two goals: 1) it puts everyone on notice that work is involved, and 2) it allows the instructor to identify struggling students before they become overwhelmed and stop engaging.

    When trainees apply what they've learned the lessons leave a far more long lasting impression which can eventually lead to mastery.

    As a long-time practitioner I’ve found the following to hold true when learning new topics: Tell me and I’ll grasp the concept. Show me and I’ll know what you mean. Allow me to do it and I’ll understand the topic forever.

Damien Munroe


Damien lends a view of process control and automation that’s born of his experiences in military aviation, offshore oil and gas, precision pharma, and semiconductor manufacture. His education at the

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