Tips for Teaching Workshops (Jacinta Richardson)

Jacinta Richardson (Perl Training Australia) has an excellent presentation on how to simplify the training experience for your learners. This page summarises my favourite tips from her session "Helping Your Audience Learn".

  • Reduce the extraneous cognitive load. Remove the stuff that gets in the way of learning the key lessons.
  • Be realistic about the amount of time you actually have in a class. 9-5PM is actually 6 hours when you factor in breaks and lunch and mental overload.
  • Don’t expect your students to learn too much in a single day. Confine your topics. Have tight tight chapter boundaries and very clear limits. A single “chapter” shouldn’t take more than 90 minutes.
  • Don’t waste time in the morning talking about yourself. Jump to the most important topics right away. Put the easy stuff at the end of the day when they’re overwhelmed and can absorb less information.
  • Full brains are like full stomachs. If you wait long enough, you’ll be able to eat more (or have dessert).
  • The very basic principles must be at the very beginning–even if it seems sequentially out of order. In the first half day, students are the freshest and will have the best chance of understanding concepts.
  • Optional materials go to the end of the course, when students are least able to learn (great visual slide explanation at 17:30).
  • Wouldn’t it be great if they also knew this and that and that and that? …put it in another course, make more money.
  • Group similar ideas in ways that make sense to you. Provide scaffolding showing people why you think the topics are related (e.g. mind maps or other visuals). Put important words in bold.
  • Jacinta uses 10:10. Ten minutes of talking, ten minutes for the students to play with an exercise. If a big practical exercise it can go as long as 10:20. But 10:30 is too much time for the students to be on their own.
  • In your introduction, limit yourself to 1-3 concepts (where possible). Students can get exercise fatigue though, so you might need to group concepts. 23:15 has some math of how many concepts you can cover in a day. e.g. 3 x 10:20 = 90 minutes. if you’re using 10:10 you can cover 4.5 concepts before you need to take a break.
  • Target exercises at each key point. 1 point = 1 exercises. Later exercises can combine multiple points.
  • Provide scaling difficulty options for various levels of capabilities. Make sure you let people know what the minimum level of completion is. Have extra exercises for people who are fast. Challenging exercises should be hard, but not impossible. Don’t bother with answer files. People cheat.
  • Reduce cross-chapter reliance. People don’t like having to flip. If you want to rely on previously learned information, provide sample code so that they don’t need to remember what was previously covered.
  • New topic = clean slate = new chapter.
  • Your course notes should be comprehensive. Write a book, do not simply give a print out of your slide deck. Great documentation is a great advertising for you and your course.
  • Keep your room cold and fresh (21-23C). You may not be able to control this, but if you can: do so. It will keep your students more alert.
  • Leave the slowest behind in class. Offer them extra help during breaks and after the class. If you slow down for them; they will slow down even more.