Putting together a pre-conference training workshop is no easy task. I speak from experience, having conducted a training workshop at last year’s DrupalCon in Nashville as well as providing training at BADCamp 3 years in a row, and prepping for another training event at this year’s DrupalCon Seattle conference.
I’ve learned that the formula for an effective training workshop goes beyond how well the trainers know the topic, or whether you are a good speaker. Attending to the small details of preparation, many of which take place before you step foot in the training room, is key. This post will outline the details to consider for a training workshop that leaves a lasting impression.
Choosing a topic that is in demand and relevant is a great start to a successful training. Sometimes however, this is not as easy as it sounds and a little more research may be needed. How do you know what people are interested in learning? There are many ways to determine what attendees’ interests are when it comes to learning a new skill. Attending different tech events and closely watching what people are tweeting and writing about are ways to see what’s trending.
One very effective way to get topic ideas is to conduct short polls using social media and wait for your followers responses about what would be of interest to them to learn.
Know your audience
Having a good understanding of who will be attending your training can help you prepare better. When you know the roles and responsibilities of your audience can tailor your content in a way that it is more effective. On training day, it is a good idea to do a quick show of hands before starting training to determine level of expertise in your audience.
Even more effective, if possible, is to conduct an online survey ahead of time so you can ensure your content will be delivered in a way that will make sense to those in attendance. In past workshops we have sent a 3-4 questions survey to registrants.
Here are some sample survey questions from a training event on component based theming with Drupal 8:
- Have you worked with Drupal 8 before?
- What role best describes you?
- Are you familiar with Component Based theming?
These 3 simple questions can make all the difference when creating content or preparing for explaining the topics.
Having clear, easy-to-follow documentation for your training is key for a successful workshop. Writing great documentation is time consuming. Everyone’s approach to writing documentation is different, which is okay as everyone learns differently. We have found that having detailed documentation with step-by-step instructions has worked well for us, and we spend significant time ensuring our exercises are well-documented and easy to follow.
Ensure your documentation is widely available, preferably in electronic format. If your material includes code snippets, ensure people are able to easily copy and paste from a system that offers the right code format and indentation. Many systems such as github, gitbook and others are great options for documentation. If a bug or typo is found in our docs during training, we are able to quickly fix it on the spot.
Always account for faulty or unreliable wifi during training. Make sure your docs are also available offline by having them ready to share. More on this later.
Have you ever attended a training workshop in which you spent a significant amount of time fixing environment related issues? When you run commands you get errors, things don’t compile properly, the site crashes, etc. Often times issues related to a local environment are inevitable however, just as often, these issues can be prevented if you dedicate enough time testing the environment.
At Mediacurrent, we take this task very seriously and make it a point to include several of our team members as testers. These team members are not all developers because we want to make sure our environment is tested by people who may not have a technical background or are not writing code on a daily basis. In the past we have included Project Managers, Designers, Front and Back end developers. When you have a good mix of roles as testers, you are more likely to catch issues you as a developer may not experience.
A good training environment should include the following:
- Fully tested setup for most operating systems.
- Extensive documentation that walks students step-by-step to building their environment.
- Automated build process that does most of the heavy lifting for building most if not all of the environment.
- A repository which includes everything needed during class in the event of a wifi issue (code base, database, assets, finished project, exercises instructions, etc.).
- A completed proof of concept of what students will be building during class.
It is always a good idea to reserve 30-45 minutes of time at the beginning of your training to help anyone workout last minute issues with their local environment. However, this is still risky because there is no way you can account or be able to fix every possible bug a user may have with their environment.
For us what has worked extremely well is making ourselves available for about 1 to 2 hours prior to the training. Perhaps a week before training takes place. We invite everyone who has registered for training to join us in a Google Hangout or some other type of online meeting, so we can assist them with their local setup. This not only shows your attendees you care that they are ready for training, but it also allows you to ensure you will not be addressing local environmental issues during training, which can be distracting and could potentially slow others down.
Making yourself available to help your audience is also considered another level of testing with real candidates. If your instructions work for your audience you confidence will go up and you will be able to better focus in the topic at hand during training.
In the past we have received praise for how well our local environment has worked and people are extremely appreciative of the fact that we made ourselves available to help them with their setup. Here are some quotes from students from previous training when we asked them what they found the most useful:
Appreciated the advanced notice and direction for setting up the environment. Liked that there was enough information in the exercises to not fall behind if I got confused.
This might be the best documentation materials and test instance I've had for any Drupal training, ever. Very well done and using Lando is a smart move too. I had zero pain setting up my local, and that might be a first.
Emphasis on setup ahead of time and site was partially built so repetitive tasks were minimized. Also experienced trainers.
About the trainers
Whatever you do, don’t do this alone. I have tried it and it is not a productive nor efficient way to do training. It is extremely stressful for the trainer but most importantly, students don’t get the personal attention they deserve. It is best to have a good trainer-to-student ratio to ensure students get the help they need if they get stuck, and trainers can focus on ensuring the class is progressing and not being held back by people getting stuck. In previous DrupalCon trainings they have recommended a maximum of 12 students per instructor ratio.
A good trainer-to-student ratio also helps to get different training styles for students to relate to. While a trainer is conducting the class, the other trainers are able to walk around and assist those in need.
Final step, post training survey
Do you want to know how you did? The best way to learn that is by sending your students a short survey a few days after training. Keep in mind that not everyone will fill it out, but there is a good chance most people will if you and your team made a good impression.
We usually send a post training survey the week after the training took place to give people a chance to catch up on their work, email, etc. after being away from their office. Sometimes people have the best intentions to provide feedback, but they are busy or forget about your email after it has been read. For this reason, we make a second attend to reach them. One or two more responses would originate from the last email which is always nice.
The questions we ask may be different from yours but to give you an idea, we ask them to rate the level of expertise of the trainers, the quality of the content, what was the most valuable part of the training and finally what they would change about the training.
If you do a training workshop chances are you will do it again, this is why is so important to document your process; what worked well, what didn’t work well and pay close attention to the feedback, but not just the positive feedback, the constructive criticism is just as important if not more because it describes the things you should watch out for and perhaps not do again.