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The best kind of learning technology

Our training is hands-on, but what that means has changed through the years we’ve run Drupal training. Now you’re just as likely to see learners drawing on paper, collaborating with someone, giving a quick demo, or of course, working hard on their computers. I was reminded of this recently looking at some photos of a client training by our partner, Cegeka with Laurens Vandeput, Senior Drupal developer and team coach. Such simple tools are a key component of our technical training.

Drupal training with Cegeka

The passenger problem

Have you ever arrived somewhere but you were not sure “how” because someone else was driving?

Our first Drupal 6 training courses were filled with exercise after exercise, all based within the Drupal environment itself. We’d run people through a string of tutorials, so certainly, you could say it was hands-on, but people left not quite knowing how all the elements fit together. A common thread in early feedback was: “I got the sample site done, but I don’t know quite how we got there”. I call this the “passenger problem.”

We soon started with review activities using sample mock-ups from imaginary client sites as points of discussion. This allows participants to apply their new techniques and vocabulary to novel situations. The given mock-ups are useful, but allowing people to draw their own is also lots of fun.

A great technology: Paper and pen!

Drupal training using paper and pen

We use drawing exercises for example, in the Site Building course, by asking people to create a data model, or draw an input form. We use drawing in the Panels course to come up with ideas for layouts.

Using paper in technical training allows people’s imaginations to exceed what they know, and start setting small personal goals. If learning is bridging the gap between what you KNOW to what you DON’T know, paper is a helpful tool to allow each individual learner find their personal learning gaps. It's great when a learner can start with a mock-up with no idea of how they could do that in Drupal, and by the end of a session or tutorial they can achieve their own plans. That is a very satisfying and personal experience.

A mock-up or model on paper also allows the instructor to understand a learner’s ideas better. It provides a way to assess a learner’s comprehension. Do they understand how Drupal works? Are they applying the concepts correctly?

These kinds of activities give time for learners to internalize what they are learning, and synthesize disparate concepts into a whole system they can comprehend.

Connecting the dots

Configuring Drupal can be a challenge. Drupal is highly abstracted, making it very flexible and allowing for reuse of generic components. New Drupal developers find this highly-abstracted system a challenge to learn when compared to other all-in-one solutions. This can be more confusing... At first!

My favorite example is event handling. With Drupal 7, we don't have an all-in-one "event" module as other systems might have. Instead, you configure content types and fields to make custom forms to save data. Then, you configure calendar display. This means you may need to use 4 or 5 modules instead of one to create event handling on your site.

However, once you know those fundamental modules well, you can build more functionality with the same tools. Staff profiles and lists, suggested content lists, or complex multi-part forms can be built off of the same flexible 4 modules. The same techniques you learned to model event data and content input can be applied to many different situations.

The permutations and possibilities are seemingly endless with Drupal.

This is why we provide training through our partner program. Partners have the subject matter expertise, providing on-the-spot answers to learner's questions. We find that they can provide the specific advice and experience which helps learners get pointed in the right direction.

Please check out our Drupal training events calendar to find out when our partners are holding events.

All photos in this post copyright Laurens Vandeput at Cegeka

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