Skill in presenting a technical subject requires a mastery of that subject,
not only at the level to be taught but on a deeper level. This allows the
instructor to hold a vision of how all the pieces fit together, and to
“see” how the student’s learning can be guided in careful steps towards
A lecture is like a great play – the classroom stage with its projector
and computer station props, its whiteboard and posters – should be carefully
set. The presentation should be rehearsed repeatedly well in advance, and
the student audience needs to be seen always. It is their responses and
questions which will direct exactly how the instructor should best deliver
The program for the play is a concise, understandable written outline
of what is to be covered, as well as an approximate schedule. Formally
“opening” and “closing” each new area of this outline will help the audience
to open and close the corresponding areas of learning in their minds.
An audience will tend to drift off quickly, usually within 5 minutes
if the delivery is not dynamic, clear, and hopefully enjoyable (if not
downright hilarious) at times. Dramatic visuals, an excellent text and
student materials, color and whiteboard work, will all add to a highly
effective learning experience.
95% of all IT students respond that they learn best through “hands-on”
or computer lab work, which closely mimics the actual tasks which the training
is to prepare them for. Just as you would not teach a pilot to fly a plane
merely by talking about it, developers expect and need quality lab time
to really “get it”.
However, simply assigning a lab at random and allowing a class to crunch
through it for awhile is rarely the best approach. Class time is unfortunately
limited and expensive, so an important constraint is making lab work deliver
within the allotted time.
This necessitates the proper scope and focus of exercises, which will
illustrate, clarify, and “walk-through” the needed steps. This process
allows the learner to grasp, and become empowered to use, a new concept
or tool. Anything outside of the focus which is not directly relevant,
elegant or interesting though it may seem to an instructor, must be omitted!
Simply assigning an appropriate lab exercise is only the beginning.
A crystal-clear explanation of what is to be done, usually accompanied
by a road map of “how-to’s”, should be given both verbally and in a written
form, to which the students can refer continuously as they work.
A crucial point for the instructor during any lab is to provide individual,
over-the-shoulder assistance as well as group guidance throughout the lab
time. This is not a coffee break by any means. Many learners will have
some difficulties around not knowing the right answer or the right steps
to take immediately, especially on their familiar home turf of a computer.
It is necessary to be sensitive in offering support and praise,
as well as suggestions for improvement and guidance towards the solution,
during a lab. And this all must be done in a proactive way since many students
will not ask for help even when they very much need it.
The possibility of assigning lab exercises to be done as a group instead
of solo can offer a real advantage in getting students to think and process
more, rather than allowing them to become immersed in a linear problem-solving
session. However this needs to be done carefully, in a way which recognizes
that group dynamics will quickly come into play. The positive functioning
of a lab group, in a way which allows all participants to share in the
learning, must be understood and monitored by the instructor, and skillfully
directed if need be.
Even expertise in the first 2 sides of the Training
Triangle does not guarantee that the intent of any training – transmission
of understanding from one mind to another – will be met. It is vitally
important for an instructor to understand and recognize the vastly differing
ways in which different people learn and retain information.
There are many physical and emotional factors which greatly influence
a classroom experience, to the point that a lack in any one of them could
prevent effective learning.These include:
Room temperature, noise, and distractions. Are the students given
a pleasant, comfortable room, with good lighting, a constant, reasonable
temperature, low external noise and free from other kinds of interruptions?
If not there may be little which the instructor personally can change,
but even acknowledging such difficulties can tend to keep students “on
your side” since they feel their needs are important to the instructor.
Break times, varied activity, physical activity. All students
(so far) live in human bodies which have many ongoing needs. Failure to
recognize these needs by an instructor (whose own body is having a different
and usually much more pleasant experience) can be fatal. Are the students
given adequate break times in which they can clear and calm their minds,
take care of any physical needs for food, drink, or bathrooms, and give
their bodies some time to move? Is the pace and format of a classs varied
enough to satisfy minds that need a lot of stimulation to stay present?
Pace of delivery. Again, our minds crave variety. Even the best
content will lose the attention of most students if it is not “mixed up”
with inflection, changes in speed or volume, as well as the physical gestures,
movement, facial expressions, and body language which are also a big part
of what an instructor communicates. Awareness and skill in these areas
is not natural for everyone, but can and must be learned.
Feelings of safety, tolerance, permission, comfort
In the IT world it’s easy to forget that all of us are still to a large
degree ruled by emotion. Most learning will be greatly enhanced when the
learner feels at ease with a situation, free to make mistakes, and basically
competent overall. The lack of these same feelings can easily and completely
disable any learning from occurring, regardless of how great everything
in a class might be! A real awareness and acceptance of the students as
valid human beings who are highly skilled, intelligent, and talented, and
who just happen to know a little less about something, can help an instructor
to express in a way that fosters these vital, positive feelings.
We often project what we ourselves feel, so an excellent place to start
is for an instructor to find ways to themselves feel at ease, confident,
happy, and enthused.
There is much beyond simple knowledge of subject to be understood and done
by a truly great instructor. Fortunately these points are well documented,
learnable, and very easy to develop and improve over time. I wish all of
my fellows great success and happiness in their teachings!
Some Useful Links for those looking for Instructors:
How to Choose an Instructorhttp://www.quicktrainingtips.com/MCTgrasshopper.htm
Bad Instructor Tales (humorous) http://www.quicktrainingtips.com/AprilFool-2000.htm