Instruction

Why Don’t You See More “Advanced” IT Classes?

As a Curriculum Director at Pluralsight, I get more than a few comments form our learners that they’d like “more advanced” courses. We try to accommodate that as much as possible… but, if you’ve ever thought that same thing to yourself, there’s something you need to understand.

Entry-level classes are easy. They’re obviously a need, the things they need to cover are usually pretty well understood, they’re relatively straightforward to create, and so on. Almost anyone who is experienced in their field, and who’s good at breaking down what they do, can point to the fundamentals. From there, it’s easy to build intermediate-level content, too – meaning, content which assumes you already know the basics. In fact. training is usually pretty easy to design so long as you’re sticking to the 80% rule. That is, when you’re covering the material that 80% of the people use 80% of the time.

But move into “advanced” training, and things get squishy.

First, you deal with the problem of imposter syndrome. This is where most people, much of the time, feel that everyone around them must know a lot more than they do. They realize how much they do know, so they know they’re not beginner or intermediate; ergo, they must need “advanced” training. They don’t necessarily know what that is, just that they don’t know everything, and so “advanced” stuff must be next.

Second, teaching only works in a generic sense. That is, I can teach you something, but only insofar as what I’m teaching is broadly applicable to the everyone in the field. I can teach you advanced IP network design, but only to the point where you start saying, “yeah, but in my company…” at which point a class starts to turn into consulting. Fact is, if you’re at the point where you need a lot of specificity for your situation, you probably are already advanced, and what you really need is a consultant, not a class.

Third – and perhaps most importantly – is the bigger picture. It’s a picture a lot of people don’t like. Let’s be honest: the human brain learns best through experimentation and failure. Teaching is literally nothing more than a shortcut, where someone else tries to share their experiences, experiments, and failures, with you. Some people can’t even learn that way – they have to experiment and fail on their own. But so many adults are conditioned against failure that, for them, a class becomes the only way they’ll accept learning. These folks are, sadly, destined to remain at an intermediate level.

There comes a point where you’ve learned everything that can be taught to you. You’ve eaten everything that can be brought on a platter. Now, you have to go out and catch your own food. Or, in the training sense, you have to build your own knowledge. At a certain level of advancement, knowledge becomes so tied to application that the two are inseparable, which means you have to research, experiment, fail, and adapt, until you’ve figured out whatever it is you need for your specific situation. Sure, you could make a class on what you figured out, but it would very likely be useless to anyone who wasn’t in your precise situation.

This is why I’ve long been an advocate for an instructional design style called constructionism. It doesn’t work well with traditionally-taught adults, who’re conditioned to more on-a-platter styles of delivery, but it works great with kids. In this style, you don’t give kids a single fact. You give them the broad strokes of concepts, point them toward resources like documentation, and make them figure it out on their own. Kids are still willing to experiment, haven’t yet learned to fear transitional failures, and usually thrive at this kind of thing.

And people who’ve learned that way – who are, essentially, self-taught and assisted by a facilitator – are invariably better prepared to be lifelong learners. They’re not afraid to watch a quick course to pick up some concepts and shortcut the basics, and then strike out on their own to form their own learning constructs. These folks can switch careers more easily, pick up new skills, switch projects, and so on, because they have a skill set built on adaptability, not rote memorization. They don’t just learn, they understand. 

For everyone else, it becomes a matter of forcing yourself to take this approach. If you’re not a good researcher – well, that’s Job 1 in the IT biz. If you’re not a willing experimenter – well, that’s pretty much Job 2 in the IT biz. Sure, foundational concepts and core tasks can be picked up through education, but once you hit the “advanced” level – once all your learning needs are targeted to a specific, of-the-moment application – you need to construct your own learning models more and more.

Registration Open: DevOps Camp 2016

In 2015, I premiered a very small, very exclusive event called DSC Camp. It was a huge hit for the ~20 people who were able to get in, and for 2016 we’re expanding the scope a tiny bit. After all, DSC is just a tool – DevOps is the real goal, and so it’s now DevOps Camp. Here’s the brochure:

DevOps-Camp-Brochure

If you’re just getting started with DSC and DevOps, this is probably not the event for you. This is designed as a 400-level event, and we’ll be hacking the crap out of the DSC technology stack to help achieve business goals that it isn’t currently designed to meet. We’ll be talking planning and infrastructure. Coding. Practices. And we’ll be sharing experiences, challenging assumptions, and inventing new best practices.

This isn’t a traditional class, either. Friday afternoon will have us retire to my house, just off Las Vegas Blvd, for a day of BBQ food, pool, and drinks. Last year, some of the most amazing DSC conversations happened right there, given the high level of expertise in both our guest presenters and the attendees. Saturday, we’ll have a full day of classroom time, but we’ll relieve that with an all-new restaurant/bar crawl of the locals-only Fremont East District, concluding at the fabulous LINQ district on the Strip.

It’s pretty amazing. Feel free to drop questions in the comments!

Taking Responsibility as an Instructor

I’ve worked with a number of instructors over the years, and I’ve run into a lot of instructors who make some key mistakes, whether they’re designing a course, or delivering one. I think there’s a key to understanding why certain instructional techniques are useful. I think it’s important to understand the concept of scope, when it comes to instruction. And unfortunately, I think a lot of instructors – often through nothing more than genuine enthusiasm for the topic – miss those important bits. (more…)

Why Learning is so Difficult (for Adults)

It’s sort of a maxim that it’s easy to learn as a child, but that as you get older your brain ossifies and no longer absorbs new material easily. Funnily, we equate this to, “it’s harder to learn as you get older,” when in fact the “absorb,” “sponge,” and “ossify” words are actually more descriptive of the actual situation.

In short: Why’s it so tough to learn as you get older?

(more…)

Stand By: “DSC Camp” Registration Opens February 1st 2015

Watch this space, because on February 1st I’ll be opening registration for “DSC Camp,” a special and extremely exclusive event that’ll take place at and near my home in Las Vegas, NV. Limited to just 16 participants, you’ll interact deeply with three of the industry’s top independent experts in PowerShell’s DSC technology. You’ll learn how to build out YOUR DSC infrastructure (yours, not some generic model – we’ll get specific), build custom resources, troubleshoot, and a ton more. It’ll a jam-packed weekend (Fri-Sat-Sun) that includes classroom learning, information brainstorming and design workshops, and a ton more.

Pricing will start at $1200 until March 1st, and $1500 thereafter. It’ll run August 21-23. Your pricing includes pretty much all your meals, two nights’ hotel, and ground transportation between the hotel and our learning venues. It’s going to be fun, yes, but it’s going to be work, and a ton of brain activity.

A full brochure and the reg link will appear on Feb 1 on DonJones.com. Payment will be via PayPal only, unless you contact me directly to make special arrangements otherwise. First-come, first-served. And we did have an early bird list, so fewer than 16 spaces remain already.

To attend, “DSC” shouldn’t be a brand-new thing to you. You should be pretty solid in PowerShell and able to build advanced functions, and you should have at least played with DSC and be well-read on the subject. If you’re just crazy-clever, you can probably do well if you read “The DSC Book” as homework prior to attending.

Keep your eyes open. This is happening.

Want to Bring Me in for a PowerShell Class?

I’ve had a few folks, over the years, bemoan the fact that I’m not holding a class in their area. Fact is, public classes involve a lot of financial risk, and I’m simply not a skilled marketer. That makes it really hard for me to run public classes anywhere – let alone in some of the more far-flung locations I’ve been asked to visit.

But I’d still love to do classes – and I think I might have an idea for making everyone happy.

First, figure out a venue near you, or near a large population enter near you. “Venue” can simply be a hotel meeting space that holds 15-20 people. We can do a “bring your own laptop” class, and don’t need to rent a classroom that has computers.

Second, get in touch with me. We’ll work out dates, estimate travel expenses, and come up with a rate for you. Know that I tend to book 6-8 months out, so you do need to be planning ahead. I am not available “in a couple of weeks.” I never am. Plan for a 5-day class – I can provide you with a detailed outline.

Third, now that you have a place in mind and a total class cost, start an IndieGoGo campaign. I’ll run classes of up to 20 students (we can do more, if we discuss it in advance). I’ll help you figure out a minimum contribution, and we can set up tiers with some nice spiffs (pay a bit extra, get a full set of signed books in addition to class, that kind of thing). BTW, for US domestic classes, I find that 7 students at $2500/ea is about break-even; internationally, it’s closer to 12 people at that rate depending on the country. We can work out a reasonable rate, too – in some countries, training centers charge the equivalent of $5,000/student for my week-long class, because that works out to a customary fee in that country. Point being, it’s a “do-able” number of people in most cases.

Then you and I market the class together. The nice thing is, if the class fills to a minimum level, we run it. If it doesn’t, everyone gets their money back, and we don’t run it. No financial risk for anyone. You’ll have to work hard on getting folks to sign up for the class (I can provide some ideas), and together we’ll try to make it happen.

So if you’d like to have me out for the best damn PowerShell class of your life, get in touch. Let’s try and make it happen.

 

Nine Principles of Immediately Effective Instruction

FREE: The Nine Principles of IMMEDIATELY EFFECTIVE Instruction

This is a book I wrote several months ago, and self-published over at Lulu.com. It’s essentially my instructional design methodology; we needed to codify it in some fashion to help support several course and class design projects, and the book seemed like a natural way to do so.

Enough kind folks picked up the print or ebook edition that I was able to get some return off of the time needed to write the book. Now that that’s happened, I’d like to offer you a copy of the book at no charge.

Nine Principles of Immediately Effective Instruction – PDF

Nine Principles of Immediately Effective Instruction – EPUB

Note that these are revised somewhat, to correct errors found by early readers. The entire design approach was the result of more than three years of trial, study, surveys, and feedback from thousands of students in dozens of classes. It’s pretty solid stuff; we’ve been successful with it in a number of projects. I’m not saying it’s easy – designing anything around these principles requires a ton of work. But it has helped ConTech make some incredibly well-received courses. This is also the methodology that my In a Month of Lunches series is built around.

I’d love to hear what you think – drop a comment here, reach me on Twitter, or find me on Facebook. If you don’t already, I’d certainly appreciate a follow/like as well.