When I read Tom LaRock’s post about training I had a Carly Simon moment – I was pretty sure his blog was about me:
I see the phrase “SQL Server training” tossed around a lot these days and often times it makes me want to stick a fork in my eye because I know what is being offered is not training, but something different…. If you aren’t putting your hands on the product, you aren’t being trained.
I do a lot of – see, here I go using this word – training – or at least, what I think is training. I teach people how to use SQL Server, virtualization, storage, blogging, Twitter, you name it, but I rarely put peoples’ hands on a product. While I do have some demos like my Blitz session, I try to avoid tedious walkthroughs that people won’t remember anyway. My reasons are simple:
Labs don’t scale well. It’s absurdly hard and expensive to set up classroom environments where dozens – let alone hundreds – of people can try things out. The cloud should make that easier, but we’re not there yet, especially not in limited bandwidth environments.
Labs don’t hold the audience attention. The instant you let people start playing around with a product, they do almost everything except what they’re actually supposed to do. They try to break your demos, surf the web, Tweet, anything but actually do their homework. I know this because I even experience this in very small scales with groups of just 2-3 people in corporate environments. The moment I say, “Now let’s try it out on your server,” one person goes for it – but the rest sneak a peek at Outlook.
Labs don’t hold a monopoly on learning experiences. There’s lots of ways to learn, and lots of people have different preferences. Personally, I hate structured lab exercises where I have to put tab A in slot B. I learn best when I watch someone throw away the conventional way to do something and do it completely differently, harder/faster/better/stronger, explaining the mechanics of the underlying principles.
I hated science until I watched Mythbusters.
I hated cooking until I watched Good Eats.
I didn’t have to put my hands on anything in order to figure out that my shopping list needed to include Diet Coke, Mentos, meat, box fans, and air filters. I didn’t need supervision the first time I crafted my bargain Bellagio or my fanned flank steak.
What I passionately love about Mythbusters and Good Eats is that they’re both educational and entertaining. I rarely find labs entertaining in any way whatsoever, and therefore I lose interest quickly when the presenter pops open a program and starts stepping through scripts. Don’t teach me the syntax – teach me the underlying principles so that I can understand whatever small details I’m faced with, and make learning exciting.
I know Tom will say Mythbusters and Good Eats aren’t training programs, but I disagree. Based on the number of Mentos and Diet Coke videos on YouTube, there’s simply no disputing that these programs do train people. If everyone had to wait until someone physically put their hands on a Mentos and Diet Coke combination, the trick never would have caught on. If everyone had to wait until another DBA/developer/sysadmin walked them through a task in order to accomplish it, then they’d never make progress either. Labs aren’t the only source of training.