Land Surveying 911: Should I Pay For AutoCAD Civil 3D Training Or Try To Learn It On My Own?

Land Surveying 911

Land Surveying 911

In this Land Surveying 911 series article, some names have been changed to protect the inquisitive. Submit your Land Surveying 911 request using the form at the end of this article.

Steven, who owns a professional land surveying company struggling with switching over to AutoCAD Civil 3D from AutoCAD Land Desktop, submitted the following Land Surveying 911 question.

Land Surveying 911: Should I Pay For AutoCAD Civil 3D Training Or Try To Learn It On My Own?

Steven says: I own a land surveying company and we are switching from Land Desktop to AutoCAD Civil 3D. We purchased a couple of AutoCAD Civil 3D licenses early last year, and I figured we could migrate to and learn Civil 3D while still using Land Desktop for ongoing work production.

Buying Civil 3D was a hit for my company at the time, but I figured we'd see at least some productivity improvements and by this year, we'd be using Civil 3D fully. I'm embarrassed to say that we are not at all near to meeting our goals. We've spent countless hours trying to set up Civil 3D and understand how to work with it on our projects. We're clearly doing something wrong because we've yet to efficiently finish a job from beginning to end.

At every turn, it's one roadblock or another and we are all very frustrated. Trying to learn how to set up and use Civil 3D on our own has us seriously questioning whether we are doing everything wrong or whether there's a serious issue with Civil 3D when used by land surveyors?

But then I read about other land surveyors, like yourself, using Civil 3D successfully which makes me question everything we are doing. Eric, what do you recommend; should I pay for AutoCAD Civil 3D training or should I continue to try to learn it on my own?

Land Surveying 911 Response

Eric's reply: Steven, thanks for your question. You'll notice that I removed the words "continue to" from your actual question when used in the title and headings for this article. My reasoning for removing those words is twofold:

  1. To broaden your question to appeal to a larger audience: Those starting to use AutoCAD Civil 3D and those, like you, that after some time are still struggling with Civil 3D.
  2. To bring attention to how important it is to answer this critical question as early as possible in the Civil 3D migration, implementation, and planning process.

Cost of Self-Learning vs. Formal Training

I suspect at the heart of the matter that we are very much alike, in that we both like to figure out how things work on our own. And, maybe, you and I are too frugal? Your Civil 3D story is very similar to my own, to a point.

I, too, bought Civil 3D and "learned" it myself and struggled at first. Luckily for me, I tackled Civil 3D in a better economy with the time and resources to devote entirely to learning AutoCAD Civil 3D on my own. I can appreciate that your situation is more difficult with today's cutbacks in staff and project budgets. Let's face it, there's no "fat" in any of our fees to afford any loss of time in productivity due to the Civil 3D self-learning learning curve.

Put simply, there's an extremely high cost to self-learning. Unfortunately, most business owners do not factor this cost into their Civil 3D migration and setup plans (if they have a plan at all). I, like you (I'm guessing), often learn best with this kind of hands-on learning, but at what cost?

I suspect you either didn't track your self-learning cost - in lost time and production - or stopped doing so when you realized that you were losing the battle. But, I also suspect that you do know how much time and money you've lost, so far. If not, you should add up all the estimated hours spent unsuccessfully setting up and learning to use AutoCAD Civil 3D. Multiply that total estimation by either your base overhead cost or your billing rates, and you'll learn the real cost of self-learning. Factor in how much longer it will take you to use Civil 3D efficiently, including missed opportunities along the way (like investing that money spent in you or your company), and I think you'll agree that self-learning is very, very expensive.

Now, let's look at formal (paid) training. With formal AutoCAD Civil 3D training you know the cost. Like self-learning, however, it's difficult to say how "sticky" any training is until long after the training. The biggest complaint I hear from land surveyors who paid for training by others is about how little of it "stuck" with them after they returned to the office and the real world.

But, with successful Civil 3D training you'll understand your cost upfront. There are formal training options ranging from taking targeted online AutoCAD Civil 3D courses for up to a few hundred dollars, to getting onsite AutoCAD Civil 3D training for up to a few thousand dollars per day. However, any training is only successful if you put in work on your part before, during, and after - it's not brainwashing, after all.

AutoCAD Civil 3D Learning Solutions

OK, so what should you do? In your situation, where you've already explored setting up AutoCAD Civil 3D extensively, if not successfully, I suggest taking a hybrid approach. I think you first need a dose of focused intervention and planning.

In fact, this is where the train comes of the tracks for many first time users of AutoCAD Civil 3D. Mostly, because you don't know what you don't know, until you figure out you didn't know what you didn't know (was that too Yogi Berra-ish?). Seriously though, the planning process is one time where involving an experienced and skilled Civil 3D trainer will improve the learning process and your surveying/business/design systems.

If you consulted with me to implement AutoCAD Civil 3D in your land surveying business, the first thing I would do is to look at your existing systems, show you where AutoCAD Civil 3D fits into your preferred work flow and then develop new systems and procedures that improve your business. The "but we've always done it this way" attitude is a recipe for failure, particularly when there are proven better solutions.

Then second, I would make standards that efficiently and successfully execute your new systems and procedures. These company standards would address more than Civil 3D, because one tool does not a successful land surveying or civil engineering company make, or break. However - keeping Civil 3D in mind - this work includes setting up CAD specific standards and AutoCAD Civil 3D template files.

Third, after balancing your level of Civil 3D skills and available budget for training, I would create your training plan. Self-learning through purchasing a resource, like the "Mastering" series of books for your version of AutoCAD Civil 3D is all some need. Regardless, these printed resources are a must have. As mentioned above, on the less expensive end of the spectrum, I'd recommend an existing online training course of mine, or create a company specific online training course specifically for you. With either option, you and your employees could use my distance learning courses right in your office or home. Onsite AutoCAD Civil 3D training, if in the budget, is very effective, too. With onsite Civil 3D training we can work through real world examples and not off the shelf general "book" problems.

Fourth and finally, I would then follow-up with you to iron out any wrinkles in the plan and implementation. If for no other reasons, an after-implementation review and plan adjustment will put the finishing touches on your systems and procedures. I've yet to find where after some time you don't discovered new and better Civil 3D functions you can use.

So to summarize, for your specific AutoCAD Civil 3D needs and issues with self-learning Civil 3D, you will benefit greatly from paying for AutoCAD Civil 3D training, rather than continuing unsuccessfully to try and learn it on your own. Do, however, select a learning platform and/or Civil 3D trainer that is easy to work with, understands your specific business needs, and focused on your success.

Whether self-learning or paying for formal training, let's review the above four steps which can benefit anyone implementing AutoCAD Civil 3D:

  1. Make a Plan - Review and overhaul your existing systems and procedures. Strive to simplify, improve, and plan for better business.
  2. Design Standards - Make standards to support your new systems and procedures. These standards should address your physical operations, projects, and CAD standards; specifically creating AutoCAD Civil 3D styles and templates.
  3. Get Training - This can range from buying an AutoCAD Civil 3D book, taking a few online Civil 3D courses, or getting onsite Civil 3D training. Definitely buy a book, it's the perfect starting point and reference. After that, spend on training what you can afford that matches your skill levels/needs. Just factor in what it's really costing for unsuccessful self-learning.
  4. Follow-Up and Review - Plans do and should change. Make continuous improvements by reviewing your AutoCAD Civil 3D learning and implementation progress.  If using training, either online or onsite, you should expect interaction and follow-up to your training (avoid static 'canned" courses without teacher interaction or trainers that disappear after their training completion).

Thank you for your Land Surveying 911 submission and AutoCAD Civil 3D question. I hope my answer is some help to you, Steven. Your question directly speaks to the difficulties many land surveyors, engineers, and designers are experiencing when migrating to Civil 3D. And, with AutoCAD Land Desktop not supported after the soon to be released AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013, I unfortunately expect to get even more of these questions.

Submit Your Land Surveying 911 Question

Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

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2 comments on “Land Surveying 911: Should I Pay For AutoCAD Civil 3D Training Or Try To Learn It On My Own?
  1. John Rodriguez says:

    Hi Eric,
    I run into this resistance to invest in learning every day from all walks of the trade. Of course cost is always one reason for not investing as well as a host of other challenges. Our current generation of software is very powerful and quite expensive yet if the same consumer was purchasing lets say a Helicoptor and had no experience using the device I would think getting them to pay for training on proper use would be a no brainer! Civil 3D is like a very powerful helicopter…..get trained and the software will take you anywhere including success!

  2. EricColburn says:

    Hello John,
    Thank you for your comment and I love your helicopter analogy!