How to do Classroom Training Right

I like learning. I’ve talked about that before.

Recently I helped organize React Rally, and after the conference, they put on a two day training in React. I decided to attend the training because even though React is relatively easy to learn, and I’ve done quite a bit with it, I wanted to see what pieces I may have missed in my self-directed learning.

This training was put on by Ryan Florence and Michael Jackson (no, not THAT Michael Jackson). They run a training company and regularly put on two-day classroom format training in React.

I myself have attended many of these short term classroom-based trainings, I have organized them for conferences I run, and I have put on quite a few of them myself.

I am also an expert in training in general. I am one of Pluralsight’s more prolific authors, I have been employed as a full time technical teacher, and I consider education to be my passion, second only to programming. (and gaming)

After all that experience with training, I can honestly say that the training put on by those two is possibly the best training I have ever been to of this type.

I can break down the things they did better than most, but the whole was also much greater than the sum of the parts, so this won’t do them justice, but I’m going to try anyway.

1. Mix of Lecture and Exercises
Not only did they have exercises to cement the lectures, but the exercises were REALLY effective. This comes from extensive tuning. Finding exercises that are interesting and just difficult enough that you have to stretch a little to do the exercise. I found myself consumed and quickly in the zone when working on the exercises. I was glad I brought my headphones so that I could just zone in and work. The exercises were also long enough that you had time to really get into solving them.

2. Follow Along Code for Lectures
In addition to the exercises, they also had the code for the lectures prepared so that as you listened to the lecture, you didn’t have to just watch the code they were working with, you could also work with that very code, make the same changes, and follow along. This made the lectures a lot more engaging. Especially for someone with ADHD like me.

3. Effective Explanation of the Whys
One of the great things about training from experts, is understanding the rationale behind the things you learn. I recently gave a VERY basic lecture on directives in a meetup. The fact that I knew Angular and JavaScript like the back of my hand made it much easier to talk to the group about why things are a certain way, and where those decisions are benefits and where they are drawbacks. Ryan and Michael have that same ability, well honed through the training sessions they have already given. As they explained the whys, it made the whats much easier to learn and do.

4. Everything Else
The first three items are the things I felt they did significantly better than most training I’ve been to, but all the other elements of classroom training they did well. Personal attention, answering questions respectfully, adapting curriculum to audience need etc.

Now this doesn’t mean that they don’t have room for improvement. Everything gets better the more you do it, but I can honestly say that my relatively high expectation bar was exceeded.

As an industry, we need more classroom training to be this effective and valuable.

I’m a firm believer in on-demand video training, which is why I do that full time, but attending their workshop showed me that there is still a viable place for classroom training when it comes to professional software training.

Well done guys. Way to raise the bar.

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