Nimble Training

Nimble Monkey

Since we have ramped up our training business over the past months, I've been teaching a lot of Drupal to a lot of different types of people with various backgrounds, goals and motivations. As diverse as they may be, from private client training engagements for some of the largest Drupal shops to our own 12-week Drupal Career Online to now providing the technical curriculum for Acquia U, one training element that spans audiences and is continually driven home is the importance of being nimble.

With every training that I do, I always start by learning as much about the students as possible, with a special focus on their current level of knowledge as well as their expectations of the training. I've found that most people new to Drupal have one thing in common: they usually vastly underestimate how deep and wide Drupal really is. Especially for shorter-term beginner training events where students hope to learn all there is to know, this is sobering when they realize that Drupal is a much bigger universe than they originally thought.

Managing expectations for training events of this type is tricky. Often students go into technical trainings thinking that in a week they'll know everything there is to know about the subject, while in reality the situation is almost always much different. Readjusting these expectations as early and as gently as possible is often the key to a successful training.

Also critical is being able to adjust the curriculum based on differing expectations. Training a group of people coming from another content management system or framework is very different than training a class that is completely new to content management systems. Training a group comprised of both is even trickier. Adjusting curriculum on the fly is key, which is why our curriculum has depth and breadth, so it can accommodate the element of adjustability.

The current Acquia U program is a perfect example. With 10 students of varying degrees of experience, how do you present classroom lessons on topics that some students already have practical experience with? Of the 10 students, about half of the students have experience using Drupal regularly in a content administrator role, and several have experience building Drupal sites. We also have students for whom Drupal is brand-new. The difficulty is clearly presenting lessons that challenge some students while also providing the basics to those that require it.

I often use two different strategies to mitigate the issue: challenge exercises and student teaching. Challenging students who are ahead of the curve is a great way to keep them engaged in the class while at the same time satisfying their thirst for knowledge. Having curriculum that can support these types of challenge exercises without overwhelming the rest of the class is difficult, at best, to achieve.

Tasking ahead-of-the-curve students with teaching and/or demoing a portion of the lesson is also another effective technique. Many people believe that the best way to gauge your understanding of a topic is to explain it to someone else. By moving students from the "learner" to the "teacher" role, it keeps everyone engaged, and can often spot gaps in knowledge for some students.

Our DrupalEasy curriculum was written from the ground up with exactly this type of nimbleness in mind. We know that providing textbook, robotic training is usually not what any of our clients are looking for. The ability to read the situation and adjust on the fly to give our clients the biggest bang for their buck is something that we're betting will continue to help us grow our training business in the future.