August 2011

Aug 31, 2011
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 (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 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 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.

Aug 23, 2011

10 new videos on putting the pieces together

Over the last several weeks, we've been releasing a set of videos demonstrating how to take a mockup and build a fully functioning, information-rich web site using nothing but the front end of Drupal. In this chapter, we apply several of the concepts and tools we've covered in previous chapters to hone look and feel, to add a new user and give them the permissions they need and to dig a little deeper into text formats. Enjoy!

Upcoming Build a Drupal Camp Tour

After being sequestered in a small enclosed space for many months recording videos and managing a small startup, I will be emerging to attend several Drupal camps over the next few months, starting with the Pacific Northwest Drupal Summit October 14-16, followed a week later by the Bay Area Drupal Camp (BADCamp) October 21-23. I'll be posting a full schedule of camps where Build a will have a presence soon.

We're also going to be submitting a FREE FULL-DAY WORKSHOP proposal for BADCamp, in which students will be able to get one-on-one time with skillful mentors as they work through Build a material at their own pace.

If you're interested in participating, please let us know!

Watch the recorded 1h webinar on customizing Drupal Distributions free!

For those of you that didn't make it to the webinar last week because you had better things to do (really?!), or for those of you that attended and had trouble with the audio, there's a recording with pristine audio available for your viewing pleasure. I hope to record some focused videos on distributions in the future, but this is a good place to begin if you need some quick tips.

Watch the free 1 hour webinar on customizing Drupal distributions

Aug 16, 2011

Video updates graphic

Tomorrow on August 17th, 1pm EDT, I will be presenting a webinar on customizing Commons, an Acquia-branded Drupal distribution that brings the best of Drupal's contributed modules together for a community-based collaboration platform. It's totally free, and you can register here.

Not using a distribution? Don't know what a distribution is? Well, this could be a good opportunity to wrap your mind around some of the implications of using distributions to speed up the site building process. And even though this presentation is specific to Commons, the tools will be the same across most distributions, so the information is very portable.

The presentation will be about 40 minutes long with time for questions.

Also, if you've been curious how I present when I don't have post-production video editing software at hand to clean things up, now's your chance. ;-)

Register here for the webinar at 1pm EDT, tomorrow, August 17th (it's FREE!)

More new videos on updating modules and manipulating CSS

This week we release one more chapter in our Build Your First Drupal 7 Web Site series, where we cover how to update modules in a couple different ways, and then dig into some more CSS manipulation as we start to really craft our site to look like the mockups we were given in the beginning of the series.

Aug 9, 2011

Video updates graphic

Drupal is notorious for being on the move. Core Drupal errors get fixes, modules get updated, or the interface changes. So we've added a new feature called video updates that will quietly alert you if there have been any updates to a video you should be aware about.

When there's an update, you'll see a green box above the video player with the number of updates that have been made. You can click this to open up an overlay (so you don't lose your place) to view the updates.

If you want to view all the updates across all the videos, there's a link at the very bottom of the site called Video Updates.

We'll also be posting any errors or inconsistencies in the videos that you should be aware of this way.

Click here to check out the updates page.

50+ Transcripts Have Been Added

This last week we added 50 or so more transcripts, making more of our library searchable, and enabling the transcript view for more of the videos. If you haven't see the transcript feature in action, check out the video.

The transcript view really changes the way you can watch or review a video since you can quickly scan through the content, clicking on different areas of a transcript to jump to that point in the video. It also works great when the video is paused, allowing you to see virtual screenshots at different points in the text. You can also use your browser to search the transcript for particular keywords and quickly find what you're looking for.

Get 30 Days Free!

You can still get 30 days free by sending us a video review of Build a Just tell us what you think, how Build a has helped you or your organization, and we'll hook you up with a free month's subscription.

12 New Videos on Troubleshooting Module Installation and Configuration

This week we're releasing chapter 15 of Build Your First Drupal 7 Web Site. In this chapter, we explore what do do when you run into problems installing or configuring a module. We explore how to dig up information about deep module dependencies and how to find out more about errors.

Aug 2, 2011
Example of a Certficiate of Completion

Have you been up all night, alone, plugging away at one of Build a's extensive video courses and find yourself a little giddy to be watching that last video, wishing that somehow you could share the awesomeness of this moment with the world, this moment where you graduate from Viewer to Doer? Maybe no one will see you do the little happy dance, maybe no one will see you wag your finger at the screen and say "Ha! I own you!" But, with our new Certificates of Completion (slash Awesomeness) you can at least share the achievement.

When you finish a course, or if you've already completed some courses, just head over to the certificate page and select the courses you've completed. We'll in turn e-mail you a high-resolution, printable PDF stamped with your name, the course you completed, and the date. And the certificate looks official enough to hang next to your doctorate on your wall of impressiveness.

One of the reasons we put together this feature is because some companies will reimburse their employees for training material only if there is some kind of certificate of completion involved. If you haven't already and are currently employed, consider checking with your company to see if they have the same kind of offer.

Check out the Certificates of Completion (slash Awesomeness) page

Send us a photo with you and your certificate and get $10 off your next purchase!

For the next 2 weeks only, if you send us a photo with you and your Certificate of Completion, we'll send you a coupon for $10 off your next purchase at Build a, good on Memberships, DVDs and Downloads.

12 New videos on working with CSS

A new chapter in the "Build Your First Drupal 7 Web Site" collection focuses on creating blocks with custom content and displaying them only in certain places. We also look at Image Styles, a Drupal feature that allows you to automatically crop, resize, or perform other modifications to images on the fly. If you've never seen Image Styles in action before, this will be a lot of fun.