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Lessons from the Trenches at Acts As Conference

Charles Brian Quinn

For those who missed my talk at the most excellent Acts As Conference put on by the good folks at Rails For All in Orlando, Florida, here’s the cheat sheet.

My talk was on the lessons learned from teaching the Ruby on Rails Bootcamp and various on-site Trainings over the past year and a half. Here are the 4 key things you need to do to be a successful trainer:

Define Your Purpose – Come up with a clear, specific, desired outcome. Are you attempting to teach the basics, or promote mastery? A quick how-to, or a detailed guide to a particular way of development? A clear purpose helps your audience hit the ground running. An unorganized braindump can leave your students frustrated when they go at it alone.

Know Your Audience – You’ve got to understand everything you can about your audience. This means not only their current level of knowledge, but their past experiences, and even their goals. Ask questions before and during your training to understand everything you can about them. This will help immensely with the next tip.

Give Relevant Examples – Cater your examples to the domain that your audience knows. If you are teaching a bunch of journalists, use concepts from the publishing world. Never use foo, bar, or any other made up word in any example. If you don’t know, guess, and if your audience corrects you on the concept, you now have attentive listeners, contributing to your solution!

Teach How to Learn – Show, don’t tell. Stress how to find out why something works the way it does. Give plenty of examples, and help your audience figure out concepts. Give them the resources to continue learning and to find out more. Show them how you figured it out, or where you went to learn.

I’m sure there are plenty more tips, but I’ve found these 4 to be extremely valuable to me in coming up with valuable lessons and ways of teaching. Thanks to everyone who came up to me afterward to ask questions and share feedback about teaching!

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