This is the second in a series of posts based on interviews with experienced Dynamics 365 Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs). The premier technical and instructional experts in Microsoft technologies, MCTs offer live virtual instructor-led training (VILT) that provides in-depth, hands-on experience tailored to learners’ needs. We talked with three MCTs about their approach to teaching Dynamics 365 skills and preparing partners and customers for Microsoft Certification: Julian Sharp on Microsoft Power Platform, Beth Burrell on customer engagement, and Brandon Ahmad on finance and operations. Whether you’re a business owner in search of training for your company or someone who wants to build your skills and get certified in Dynamics 365—or if your goal is to become an MCT yourself—you’ll find their take on Dynamics 365 training as inspiring as it is valuable.
Microsoft Dynamics 365, a set of integrated business applications, long ago surpassed previous Microsoft CRM and ERP solutions, explains Beth Burrell, MCT and CRM Senior Client Engagement Manager at Microsoft Learning Partner DXC Technology. In fact, the functionality of Dynamics 365 has expanded and deepened so much over the past few years—now covering sales, marketing, commerce, customer service, finance, operations, supply chain management, human resources, and AI—that it’s hard to keep up with all the new capabilities without expert training. There’s no longer one set of skills to know, but many, so you can’t be proficient after just one course. You need to traverse all the functionality of Dynamics 365 to see what it does, what it can do. And since the IT or tech world isn’t always the real world of business, you also need a different approach to training than familiarizing yourself with the documentation. Now training isn’t geared to just IT techs but also to low-code or no-code businesspeople who need to know how to create and use Dynamics 365 apps.
The good news, Burrell says, is that the opportunities for and ways to train in Dynamics 365 have also improved over the past years. Dynamics 365 training, which once had its own separate portal, is now part of Microsoft Learn. All Dynamics 365 documentation is linked to Microsoft Learn, too, which makes it much more accessible. The free, online Dynamics 365 learning paths and modules available on Microsoft Learn can help you build your skills and work toward certification—on your own schedule. And virtual instructor-led training (VILT) offered by Microsoft Learning Partners and taught by MCTs helps you dig deep into Dynamics 365 capabilities, keep up to date with new releases, and prepare for certification. As a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for Dynamics 365 who continues to advocate for the latest releases and works closely with the Dynamics 365 team, Burrell enjoys this ever-expanding and advancing functionality and the challenge of training people in it.
Although the hands-on labs and walk-throughs available on Microsoft Learn are invaluable, the kind of intensive, tailored training you get in a course led by an MCT takes learning to another level. MCTs are highly trained and experienced, and they have access to the best tools and labs as well as techniques. And, she’s quick to add, they form a genuine community. They share teaching tips, how to’s and fixes, and new ways to access tasks, so when you take an MCT-led course, you’re benefiting from the wisdom of not just one instructor but many.
Burrell tailors this course to a business that learners are likely to be familiar with, like a bike shop or retail store, so the tools and tasks she focuses on resonate with them and correlate with real-life situations. Real-world learning, she explains, is a hallmark of MCT training. And, if an organization or team wants to focus the training in a specific area, like sales, Burrell focuses her teaching that way. She uses Microsoft Official Courseware (MOC) as the “backbone” of her teaching, to make sure everything is covered to prepare students for the certification exam. But she’s also always looking for ways to help them connect the technology, tasks, and terminology with their experience in the world so they learn how to use the business apps skillfully, regardless of whether they plan to take the exam and get certified.
She starts with a focused review of what participants have already learned on their own using the modules and learning paths on Microsoft Learn, tailoring the language she uses to class members or to the industry broadly. She uses this material as a baseline. Instead of reading from a screen, she uses a product or task to create views, flows, and more, so participants see the technology in action before she asks them to create a task and work it through end to end, from bot to chat to case number, and so on. Next she jumps into MOC, to “show them on the map where they’re going to drive,” and then moves into the labs to walk through the functionality. In the labs, she explains each task rather than using step-by-step instruction, because in her experience as a teacher she’s found that simply following instructions does not equal learning. Burrell’s commitment to helping students learn to use the technology in real-life situations is evident in the way she supplements the course materials. For example, she might ask students in pairs to role-play a customer interaction, to help them see where things can break down and how to respond. She even gives homework that challenges them to use their skills to solve a specific business problem they’ve experienced.
“Cookie-cutter training doesn’t work,” she notes. Not everyone learns the same way, so the combination of visuals, walk-throughs, reading, hands-on exercises, and interaction with the instructor is key. “And it’s fun to use a different approach,” she adds. Throughout, she focuses on proficiency not abstract terms. She tells learners the official name of a functionality but doesn’t insist that they use those terms. Instead, she encourages class members to focus on performing the task and calling it whatever works best for them. Communication is one of Burrell’s strong suits. When she started out as an IT person working with servers, she discovered she had a knack for talking in laypeople’s terms and gradually found her way from doing informal one-on-one training to more formal group training.
Burrell also tailors her teaching to the experience of each learner, making sure to keep a good pace for the class. She does this by building in 5 to 10 minutes at the end of each section to review, let the learners play with the technology on their own, or catch up, which gives her time to shadow participants and find out whether they have questions or need help. Classes range from 10 to 15 participants, so she’s able to give people this individual attention.
What she enjoys most is the moments when learners experience an Aha! moment. “That’s the fun of teaching for me,” she says, “when I can see students getting it.” Fun is a word Burrell uses often when talking about the training she leads. Getting students engaged is what makes it fun for her. “Some people may think they’re too old to learn, or they may be in the class because their employer requested they take it. I love seeing all students, even these, get engaged and enjoy the learning. They gain a sense of accomplishment and leave eager to show peers or an employer their new skills.” After a training, some students write her to let her know about something they achieved using Dynamics 365, and she finds their excitement as well as their proficiency rewarding.
It’s clear listening to Burrell that she’s an excellent instructor, creative and passionate about both Dynamics 365 and teaching. Train with Burrell or another MCT and enjoy building real-world customer engagement skills that can help make valuable contributions to your business and your career.
Explore MCT-led training for more Dynamics 365 certifications: