Fixing the talent gap with Drupal training for the masses

What Drupal training could be

Skilled Drupal talent is in demand, and the number of Drupal trainings are growing to help fill the talent gap. But the number of trainers is limited, and the traditional lecture / workshop model is restrictive, requiring significant preparation on the part of the trainers, and absolute, unwavering focus and comprehension from the students for hours on end.

I'm proposing a different model that allows students to work at their own pace, freely moving backwards and forwards through the curriculum, that frees up trainers to directly answer student questions 100% of the time, that requires very little trainer preparation, allows a much higher trainer to student ratio, and eliminates the need for the performance skills required to stand in front of a classroom of eager students and not freak out.

And if this model works, Drupal training can be done more effectively for more people at much less expense.

A little background

I fell asleep in class. A lot. All through high school and college, I'd doze off at least a couple times a day. When I got out of school, I realized I could learn a lot more doing research on the internet than I could in a classroom. Since most classes were lecture-based, my theory is that at some point my brain wanted to stop and process some information, but there wasn't any time for that mid-lecture. So at some point, as a defense mechanism my brain would slip into subconscious mode where it could do that processing and I'd begin drooling on the desk.

When I could pace myself learning online, things changed. I picked up enough programming, design, business skills that in a a year or so I was employed doing exactly what I'd been learning about. Being able to stop and go for a walk, apply a concept to something I was working on, or skip over something I already knew was like slipping into a custom-tailored suit. It fit my brain. And I don't think my brain is unique this way.

If you have been living in a cave like me...

A couple of months ago a friend mentioned the Khan Academy to me, since he saw some parallels between it and what I was doing with Build a Module.com (albeit on a smaller scale). If you haven't heard of the Khan Academy before, it is a set of free lesson-style videos covering most high-school level subjects like math, physics, history and a ton of other subjects. Kahn's vision of the future of the classroom resonated with me (because of my lecture-induced narcolepsy) and made me realize how much potential pre-recorded training material has, combined with live teachers and trainers, to really expanding our capacity to teach and learn pretty much anything.

The idea is that instead of students sitting through lectures where they often miss out on one important concept that keeps them from understanding everything that comes after it, they watch pre-recorded lecture videos at home. This allows the student to rewind when they don't get something, pause to take a break, and keep moving forward when they're getting excited about something. Then in the classroom, where they would normally be sitting through the lecture, they work through examples and get questions answered. In essence, the application part of learning, where you find out what you really do and don't know, is done where there is a skilled teacher available to help, 100% of the time. The teacher is now free to mentor because there is no longer the need for a lecture.

Applying the mentorship model to expand our ability to teach Drupal

If you've ever been in a training, or given a training, hopefully your wheels are turning a bit on how reversing the typical classroom structure can help people learn and teach more effectively. I see a couple implementations of this model working in the Drupal space, and am calling them 'mentorships' since most of a trainer's time will be spent with students one-on-one or in small groups, rather than 'training' the class.

Live group mentorship

Imagine you walk into a training. You sit down and a trainer comes over and says 'what would you like to learn about?' You tell them and they set you up with a set of videos to watch. They say, 'believe me, these get to the point much faster than I could. Go ahead and start watching these, and whenever you have a question or want to see something in action, just raise your hand and I'll come over. I'm here to help you learn as much as you can today. I'm also going to hook you up with some other people at the same experience level and interests so you can work through some of the material together if you'd like."

So, you slip on some comfortable headphones and start watching. They do get to the point. After 20 minutes or so you need a break, so you get up and walk around. You think of some questions and ask one of the trainers. Then when you're ready, you start watching again.

I guarantee that in this scenario, if the videos are well done and include some practical exercises, you will learn more than if you sat through lectures, even with hands-on workshops between them.

Online group mentorship

If you take the live mentorship model and move it online, you optimize trainer time even more, but at the cost of less human-to-human interaction. The idea would be that there would be a syllabus with all of the lecture material available as pre-recorded videos. Online meetings would be arranged at specific times to allow students to ask questions of the trainers that have come up as they've been working through the material.

Instead of the trainers preparing webinar-style presentations, they would instead be spending the entire time helping students troubleshoot, answer questions, and demonstrating examples on-the-fly.

Why this is a good idea

Trainer benefits

What employing this model means is that trainers no longer need to be performers. They also need only a fraction of typical preparation time, which if you're like me, is significant. They just need to know the technology. If they will be mentoring students on how to theme in Drupal 7, they should know how to theme in Drupal 7. And that's it, they're qualified. Of course, knowing how to teach a concept is important, but the need for astoundingly good teaching skills is offset somewhat by the teaching that's happening through the video, which just means that the talent pool available for this kind of training is a lot bigger than traditional training.

Student benefits

Students can work at their own pace, meaning they have the opportunity to absorb everything. If they start zoning, they can take a break to get focused. They can rewind to review, they can fast-forward to skip stuff they know and they can pause to reflect. They get constant access to highly-skilled Drupal talent to get over conceptual and technical hurdles quickly so they can keep sprinting forward.

Something that Khan's research showed was that when students get stuck on a concept in a traditional classroom, they can have trouble with everything that builds on that concept. Since there's not enough teacher time to help each student individually, and since everyone has to move at the same pace, those students end up doing poorly and were often labeled as slow. But, they were able to demonstrate that once the students were able to get past that sticky concept, they were often able to speed through the rest of the material without a hitch.

What the mentorship model provides is a way to let each student have their own sticky spots and get the help they need to get past them quickly.

The cons

While the mentorship model has a lot of potential, there are couple of aspects that might make it less appealing to some than the traditional model.

There's no performer

A lecture is a performance, and we all get some satisfaction from watching someone perform. The trainer makes mistakes, you get to watch them interact with people, and watching people in action without being on the spot yourself is just kind of nice. One potential downside of this model is that you remove the performance and replace it with more one-on-one interaction. But aside from the performance, there's very little that can be offered through a lecture that can't be done better when it's recorded, edited and produced. If the goal is to help more people learn faster, with less frustration and less manpower, a mentorship model has more bang for the buck.

There's less performing

From a trainer perspective, the missing performance aspect can also be a downside. When you're standing in front of a room full of people, sharing your knowledge, you're building a relationship with each one for the entire training. These relationships can mean potential business leads, employees or friends. Instead, you get shorter one-on-one interactions with the people who need your help the most, which might or might not be your cup of tea. This could be offset a bit by doing short lectures throughout the mentorship, like an orientation lecture at the beginning, a debriefing lecture at the end and demonstrations of common questions as they come up, interspersed throughout the day.

Where's the demand?

Traditional training is generally an accepted way for institutions to train their people, so effectively selling a new model like this as a training company might be a bit down the road. Once there's some hard evidence that it works, it will be easier to convince institutions to give it a shot. In the meantime, there's plenty of other venues that are perfect for this kind of training. If the video lectures are available publicly, they can form the basis of a live mentorship anywhere, and as long as there's some technicians at hand (developers, themers, site builders), they can put on a mentorship-based training.

Sounds awesome, what can I do?

First of all, I've proposed a free workshop for BADCamp to prototype these ideas. Feel free to let the planners know you're interested. If it gets accepted and you've got a free day, sign up to see how it works.

If you're ready to try an informal group mentorship, there are several online Drupal video libraries out there to base off of. If you know of one that would work well and you or someone you know has the technical skills to mentor (i.e. you are a developer mentoring on development, a themer mentoring on theming), set up a half-day gathering to work through the material and spread the word to your local Drupal or techie community. If the video library requires a fee, talk to the producers to see if they can give you a deal for a day of access for your group. Because a lecture space isn't required, you can be somewhat distributed in a coffee shop or restaurant. Make sure to bring power splitters and some extra headphones for those that forgot them at home, and keep it as simple as you can.

If you have any questions or want to add some ideas, feel free to post them here, or send me a message.

Tiny disclaimer and motivation

As many of you know, I produce Drupal training videos at Build a Module.com. I want to make it clear that this writeup isn't a product pitch. It's an idea pitch. While I think the videos on Build a Module.com have the potential to get a lot of people trained in Drupal really fast leveraging the mentorship model, it's way more interesting to me on a community level than a business one. And there are several other Drupal video libraries that can be leveraged for this model as well.

The really exciting part to me is the idea that with the same number of trainers, we could potentially be training maybe 3-4 times the number of people we are now, and with less time commitment from trainers (who are usually also contributors to Drupal in other ways). Plus, if it works well, then it's just one more push to make learning in general more flexible for students like me who don't hold up well in a more traditional classroom.



Comments

We adapted a lot ideas from khanacademy.org also. And it work well for our home school kids.

I, myself have some experienced in this model of learning for our home school kids. We find a home and let's them learn togathers, they also learn on the required and essentials topics like public schools. We have 2 full-time teachers, and guest lecturers on the topics they're weak or very interesting every week. And luckily, their parents are diverse and specialized from sciences, math to arts. And these parents are become mentors for specific topics or interests of kids. And sessions are recorded, and we share them online.

So, they can learn at different pace while learning the same course. Parents can understand their kids strength and weakness, so we can plan and evaluate teaching efficientcy anytime, which always lead to better teaching and learnign experiece thought out the course. And for 3 years, the outcome is impressive! They love learning, and that's the main driving force for them to de well in topics they like.

And it is such a relieve for all teachers and parents. They can teach a lot with less teaching preparation.

I was thinking the same for a while, that Khan's learning model have a lot potential for Drupal. Also, did comment Docs team to take a look, which may come up with something and help on their burn out.

Regards,
Richard C

We organized an open space during Drupalcon to discuss many of the same things you mention. It started with a call for participation: groups.drupal.org/node/152964

Khan Academy was one of the thing discussed, but basically we noticed more open spaces are needed and so your suggestion for BadCamp fits this perfectly. To get some coordination between all the interesting project, I would suggest using #DrupalEdu on twitter. This is a simple thing that makes communication a lot easier.

To actually try stuff out we have created a focus group: groups.drupal.org/padawan-initiative

The group is to first work out an apprentice queue for mentoring and open a discussion on peer learning support (e.g. Kan Academy). I hope you are interested in joining the group so we can work together on this. Your not alone, more people have a similar story. (I'm just trying to coordinate this)

Awesome! Thank you for pointing me to these resources. It does seem like there's a few great initiatives for open learning, and solid coordination between the different initiatives could result in some better overall solutions. But, I'm also kind of a fan of small, simple initiatives that don't have the overhead of trying to understand what everyone else is trying to do. The ask forgiveness, not permission, style. If you can get some people behind the effort, you'll figure out what works and what doesn't, and it will become a little more clear how it fits into the overall scheme of things.

Getting people talking is important, imho, but doing something and trying out the ideas is even more important. And if what you're doing is lightweight enough, that can be pretty easy.

Thanks again for your post!
Chris

I'm also a fan of small, simple initiatives and ask forgiveness later.

We where planning to work on the mentoring queue during the code sprint. Beter contributors directed us to the infrastructure queue as to as for a d.o. clone. In my excitement I created the Padwan group ... not sure it that was a smart move considering that it got stuck in a whole permission discussion :S

Hey, you never know what's going to happen until you make the move, right? Don't take it to heart that your move got stuck in discussion. For me, whenever I've been a part of those kinds of discussions, I usually get to know a few people in the community better and learn more about the purpose of whatever it was I was proposing to change / expand. It's good stuff. :)

Indeed, I had some resistance with the open space first too, they only belief it when they see it (the open space turned out to be a success).

I'm just going to keep working on it, there are enough people interested and enough stories like yours that keep me motivated ;-) maybe I should have made the demo before the group. (still need to make demos)

p.s. I've contacted Kan Academy a while ago too. Even if it the Padwan Initiative was to get a few people organized around studying Kan Academy for Drupal I would already be worth the effort. We should team up !

p.p.s Been learning to know people in Drupal for the past 5 years, but mostly in EU Drupalcons.

-disclaimer-
I work in training for Acquia, but this is not an Acquia motivated or influenced comment. My own opinions here.
-disclaimer-

Awesome, awesome post. I feel like I'm listening to myself rant reading this. I've thought the same things several times over the past few months. I actually contacted Kahn about using their software (with no response as of yet).

But the caveats also worry me. We are all biased to how we learned. I learned through struggling, webmonkey, devshed, a list apart, phpdesignpattterns, etc... I never really had mentors, although in hindsight, I would have really liked some. Forums and IRC was that for me.

This model reflects that style of learning so it resonates, but I don't know if it is for everyone. I guess my point is that there is still a lot of value in a class room setting. If a teacher is funny and energetic the jokes they make can have as much of an impact in retention as the curriculum.

Does that mean we overdo it and use the format too much because we're too lazy to do something different? Absolutely.

I propose a "subscription" model to learning. Where you have a mix of in-person class, virtual class, interactive game based exercises (a la Kahn), asynchronous mentoring (forums, etc) and group projects. But the process of learning something technical is usually not a "one week intensive and you're certified" affair. As much as we would like this to be true, a more integrative approach over a longer span of time is probably more effective.

Great thoughts, Jacob, thank you!

I wrote to Khan a while back too, but I think they must be handling a pretty powerful wave of public exposure at the moment. ;)

I hear what you're saying about this not being the only way, and I totally agree. What you propose, with the mixed formats, is awesome. I think to some degree we all would appreciate the diversity of learning approaches you listed. And, as you mention, there's no quick way to learn stuff like this. It's a longer process that includes sprints like in-person trainings or taking a week off to read Pro Drupal Development. I'd love to see different initiatives around all of these things. Personally, I think game-based learning / testing has a lot of potential and if I had more time I'd build an engine.

The model of using video to replace lectures, and using trainings to help students get access to experts in a predictable way, is doable right now with very little infrastructure, and can instantly begin optimizing trainer time and potentially impact a whole slew of people learning Drupal. That's what makes spearheading this approach timely. We have the video material and we have a pool of skillful people who love helping others, but don't necessarily want to stand in front of a class.

I also proposed these thoughts, not as a "here's what we should be doing" message, but rather a "here is what I'm going to do, let me know what you think, and if you want to join in, it should be pretty easy to get started".

One hurdle (a bit unrelated to your thoughts) for now is mentors getting familiar enough with a video-based curriculum that they are confident it will work for a learning sprint / group mentorship. I mean, it's hard to imaging someone sitting through a 12-hour video series on something they already know just to see if the structure and style seem right.

My hope is that if video curricula are put together the right way, and get enough endorsement from those that have found it works, then trainers don't need to sit down and watch the videos at all, eliminating the need for material preparation.

Anyway, a bit of a ramble there. Thanks again for your thoughts, and I'm happy to hear things like this have been on your mind. Maybe we'll get a chance to chat at an upcoming event? :)

Cheers,
Chris

I also agree with what you're saying: you need a proper balance between different types of mediators online (videos, forums, etc) and offline (class, seminars, etc)

I've been handing the opportunity to teach Master-level Drupal course at my university to learn business students basic programming. This was right after co-organizing Drupalcon Brussels. Here is a presentation about it the outcome after 5 years: http://www.archive.org/details/FromMaster-levelDrupalCourseToMicro-spinoffs

Considering what my business students are capable of programming in the end I woud love to have a course for software students too, but I'm guessing then the challenge will simply get different.

Now I've got another experiment with a course of 300 business students, it will be the last experiment for my PhD. This course will not be about Drupal, but it focuses on mentoring and peer learning, I'm hoping to feed info back to the Padawan Initiative when things are running (it starts in October).

Would love to have a chat with you people, how about setting up some skype meeting?

I would love to hear more about how the new project goes around mentoring and peer learning. I've heard about integrated schools where all grade levels are often in the same classroom, with the older students teaching younger students, and I love that idea (though I hear it's tricky in practice). Keep me posted on how this goes and any posts you make on planning it.

It sounds like you have had some interesting experiences around learning, I'm excited to see how this translates to your initiatives in the Drupal space. Very cool.

Are you by any chance going to be at the Pacific NW Drupal Summit or BADCamp? If so, that would be a great time to chat.

Cheers!
Chris

It is tricky for sure ;-)

I'm located in Brussels, so BADCamp is a bit far (and too expensive), hopefully I can get to Denver. We could meet using skype (mixelKiemen is my skype-id).

I love this idea. I think it would fit in nicely with some of the ideas Heather and I were discussing at the latest Drupalcon http://london2011.drupal.org/conference/sessions/how-do-you-know-gal-kno....

Our idea was for a heterogeneous system of assistance structured around an open curriculum (sort of like the video lecture ideas). Therefore some students would take traditional courses, others would opt for a more informal, learner driven approach. But it can also be combined with a community-based certification - ie a way of passing on trust.

The one con you don't mention is that of space. I run fully online courses (not on Drupal) and even though I believe the students are learning more than they do on an attendance course, many are finding it difficult to allocate the time and space that you normally get just by travelling somewhere.

Perhaps we need to introduce notion of a Learning Sprint to go with Coding and Documentation sprints. They would be different from classes in that learners would bring their own projects and get mentoring assistance as they need. And of course all students could also be teachers - because they all know something others don't - and a great way of learning something is teaching it to someone.

We had a small learning sprint in London. Hope to have bigger one next Drupalcons.

Hi Dominik, I really like the phrase 'Learning Sprint', it makes a lot of sense though I find it's a little hard to phrase this the right way, isn't the goal of a camp or a con to learn? Maybe it's the difference between structured and unstructured learning. Sessions expose you to a random assortment of ideas, and bring in the whole 'performance' aspect, whereas a 'Learning Sprint' is more about assisted, structured learning. Does this sound about right?

I can understand the issue of space. Of course, one way to deal with this is using the structure in a way that does force allocation of time, like by holding it at a specific location, just like a traditional training. But the lower requirements for conducting a mentorship-style training means that you don't have to do it that way.

Thank you for your thoughts!

Great ideas Chris - Many of which have been tried out (with varying degrees of success) over the years in the Drupal Dojo (http://groups.drupal.org/drupal-dojo).

Even during periods of stagnation the group has consistently grown to a point where there are close to 3000 members.

While there's been a fairly recent effort to organize the Dojo and related efforts in way they can be complimentary/active/sustainable (http://drupalopenlearning.org/), I think the best things happen when people just create their own local Dojos (http://groups.drupal.org/node/64153) or just jump in and share some knowledge or kick the tires on their training idea or initiative.

Those who've been around awhile know the Dojo has produced some of the top contributors in Drupal. The potential talent pool is larger than ever.

Hi Gus,

Thank you for your input. I would be curious to hear more specifically about the experiments you've tried over the years, and what were the pitfalls / challenges you ran up against.

Great point about there being both an effort to centralize learning efforts (drupalopenlearning.org) and decentralize them (local Dojos). It seems like both are really important. In the first, we get more brains thinking about hard problems, in the second we get fast, unencumbered action.

I remember attending a few Dojo sessions when I was first starting out, and it was great on a number of levels.

Thanks again, Gus!
Chris

I too do believe in the methodology you have mentioned out here in your post. As I am from the Indian sub-continent and I have a bit different experience about learning because of few socio-economic reasons.

1. Here in India qualified grads are leaned towards the success and always inclined towards the open source projects those have industry recognitions like J2EE .NET Oracle Apps, SAP etc.

2. The Colleges and their courses are also inclined towards the industry demands, thus very choosy about the other platforms but things are changing though.

I have visited many Asia Pac countries and found almost same conditions in the area of education.

Thus I found only way of attracting and inducing new people towards open technology is open learning and probably free of cost.

The area I live is Kolkata, one of the Metro city of India and got offices of various software giants like TCS, CTS,Capgemini, Wipro, IBM, PWC, etc.

Though I tried to grow interest about Drupal via tutorials/training , camps but failed to collect more than 5 people and it's really very hard to get sponsors from this area bout drupal and I finally created drupalcamp24x7.org to get more peoples may be in this area interested in drupal learning.

But yes, I do believe in your idea of open learning without mentoring except the price points which may vary in respect to the global regions.

I really appreciate all the responses here and would be very happy if I could help in any initiatives in any way.

Great points, Goutam, and also thank you for putting that site together, like I said before, it looks great!

In regards price points, I think this is an interesting aspect of this discussion that didn't really fit into the blog post itself. As you know, I create training materials on http://buildamodule.com for a fee. My thinking is that in order to create really good material, you have to spend a lot of time and develop a certain set of skills to do it. To do that, most people need funding, especially over the long-term. So, I built a business model around providing training material so that I could be free to build these skills and create really good material.

But this means that the resulting material isn't free, and that the price point, while pretty reasonable in many countries, is still out of reach for countries whose currency has a lower purchasing power, or whose economies are keeping citizens from wanting to make purchases like these.

I've been piloting some ideas on what's the best way to still provide access for people who aren't able to make a purchase. One of which is providing scholarships, where students get free access in return for committing to putting their skills to use improving Drupal in a specific way, like updating modules and helping in the forums (something that has been working well). Another is giving students get free access for a period of time when they participate in initiatives like a camp or group mentorship.

I also know that it's hard to get things going. I live in Idaho, USA, and we have a small community that gets together on and off. But, getting people aligned on meeting times and focuses is tricky, even though we all have similar interests. And it sounds like you're trying to bring people in who aren't already using the platform, which I imagine would be even more difficult.

Again, thank you for your thoughts and putting together http://drupalcamp24x7.org, it's good to hear more about your motivation behind it, too.

Cheers!
Chris

Chris,

You've hit on a good formula. For the last few years, I've been studying the learning science literature, to learn how to better use tech in my own teaching (I'm a prof). Turns out, the model I came up with is the almost same as yours. (Though I bet you didn't spend years reading! Doh!)

I've been developing CoreDogs (http://coredogs.com) to put these ideas to work. It's a Drupal site for learning intro Web tech. Students work independently through lessons. They do many online exercises, and get rapid feedback from trainers (who work asynchronously). In addition, there are synchronous problem-solving sessions. Trainers give student teams a task, then help them in real time.

This post...

http://coredogs.com/article/textbook-writer-tools-writing-active-textbooks

... talks about a possible future direction for the project. It's pitched at a different audience, but you'll see the same basic ideas you wrote about.

I'd be up for chatting more about your idea, if you're interested.

Kieran
kieran@coredogs.com

Hi Kieran!

It's great to hear that you've come to a lot of the same conclusions in your research, especially considering the amount of time that you've put into it. I took a brief look through your material, and it made me think of an associate of mine, Varun, who is working on a project called Open Curriculum (site here: http://www.theopencurriculum.org/and a great intro video: http://vimeo.com/22684400). The Open Curriculum approach is also based on non-video alternatives because a lot of the world still doesn't have access to internet and computers. I'd highly suggest chatting with Varun since the platform you're outlining sounds an awful lot like what they want to build.

I'm definitely up for chatting more about the ideas. Maybe discussion here on this blog post is a good way to start since some other interested people are listening in. I'd love to hear more about what your research has shown you, and what materials you would suggest for others wanting to learn more about learning science.

Thank you!
Chris

Here are some pseudorandom thoughts. Important: I'm not a learning science expert. I'm a educator and geek who's done some reading and thinking. That said...

Think about three sets of issues:

  • Course architecture
  • Content creation
  • Course operation

Course architecture

The natural tendency is to start by thinking about content. "We need to talk about nodes, blocks, and stuff. Oh, and Views, Panels, ..."

This is called the "coverage" approach to course design. It's a Bad Idea.

Instead, work backwards, as we (should) do in software design. Start by defining an audience by their (1) goals, (2) existing knowledge, (3) available resources (esp. time), and (4) other things that are relevant.

Work out the skills you want these humans to have by the end of the course. Think fewer rather than more. There could be more than one course, so start with limited goals.

Decide how you would know whether someone possessed these skills. How would they prove it?

For each skill, identify prerequisite topics and skills. E. g., people show know what a content type is before they start learning views.

At the end of this process, you should have a knowledge map, like a mind map or a spreadsheet. It will list (1) significant topics and skills, and (2) prerequisite relationships between them.

This step is very hard and takes time. To do this right, you need to make explicit lots of implicit knowledge about Drupal and design processes.

Once the map exists, you can make a course schedule.

Content creation

This is where you make the lessons. A few things:

  • Outcome focus. E. g., start a lesson with "this is what we are going to build." Then show how to build it.
  • Deep learning. Keep design processes in mind. E. g., not just what a content type is and how to make one, but also: how do you decide on what content types to make?
  • Lots of examples.
  • Exercises - more is better. More on that later.
  • Simple writing. Small words. Short sentences. Like these ones.
  • Lots of figures. Say something in text, then in a diagram (or vice versa).
  • Keep the experts' blind spot in mind. Think: "What would someone have to know to understand what I just wrote?"
  • Humor is good.
  • Other stuff...

This is just a short list. Not systematic.

Course operation

Make it social. Let humans work together, and ask questions of each other.

If possible, lots of exercises and feedback. CoreDogs has about 200 exercises. Students put their answers into the book. There's a streamlined interface for offering feedback. Clickable rubrics and such.

That might not work in the same way with a Drupal course. Might be fewer, larger exercises, and more emphasis on group exercises.

Anyway, that's a few thoughts off the top of my head. They show the sort of thinking that goes into designing courses. There's a discipline to it, as there is in software design.

Kieran

Kieran, you're definitely thinking about the right lines but Heather and I were trying to think about the curriculum prior to the course. One that many different courses could be devolved from.

Some time ago, I outlined a basic structure of what this might look like: https://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AZOerWNG_AmHZG1qYm5oYl80cG5oMjdrYzk&h....

We have been supporting a "Community of practice" model for Drupal since 2007. A key component is our Lab Hours, which are most parallel to the "Live group mentorship" concept described here.

It's different from "Training" because it's much more hands-on and goal-oriented. Before coming to a lab session, people identify something specific that they want to accomplish on an etherpad. Then they arrive at the same physical place and begin to work - either individually, with our support, or by supporting each other.

This is different from "Mentorship", because we always stress the notion that everyone is bringing something to the table. When you escalate one individual to "Performer" status, a lot of problem-solving opportunities are lost. Advantage Labs staff members attend each lab session and use our experience to provide - and vet - recommendations. But we don't assert that we're the only ones with the answers.

This helps us scale because we can help more people when we're not the only bottleneck, and it helps subject matter experts add value beyond what we can provide. More importantly, since each participant is committed to accomplishing a certain task, applied learning is both rewarding and productive. Lab Hours are offered as part of a broader system of support and goal-setting, which definitely adds focus.

We've been working this way for almost 5 years, fighting folks off with, "no, we don't want to build you a website", "no, we're not just a 'training shop'", etc. The old model of expert-developer-does-a-lot-of-work-and-hands-off-the product is long gone, and now it's expert-developer-does-a-small-amount-of-work-and-now-you-have-power-you-don't-know-how-to-weild. Helping people of every skill level work with Drupal is a business model in itself.

I'm happy to report that people are finally realizing that what we're doing is a full-time job, and we're beginning to be able to do this 100% without subsidizing it with dev work. I would love to see this model emerge in other markets so that we can all learn from each other.