Why I ran a 5-day course

making stuff
It had been something like ten years since I’d run a course that lasted a whole week. After all, nobody has time to spend so long away from work any more, do they? And anyway, five days is far too long to be spent in formal learning mode, which is why we have blends. So, what went wrong?
I’ve become more and settled in my learning beliefs recently. For example, I’m pretty convinced that:

  • Novices have a very limited capacity for new information.
  • On the other hand, we can all sustain our attention over very long periods when we’re engaged in critical problem-solving challenges.
  • The biggest shortcoming in most skills training is a lack of practice.

So, when the opportunity arose, I decided to go ahead and design a 5-day workshop that would adhere to these principles (in fact it’s a blend, but the workshop is the biggest element). The only subject that I felt comfortable with addressing over this period was the design of digital learning content. Why? Because content design is a craft skill that requires lots of practice working in teams with plentiful opportunities for feedback. And it’s a skill that can be developed very much through a process of guided discovery – having a go and then reflecting on the results. While theory comes into it, its value is very much secondary to practice.
Over the course of the five days we explored many forms of digital content from simple slide shows to articles, podcasts, videos, screencasts, tutorials and scenarios. Working in small groups, each participant was able to create a portfolio of eight different pieces of content. Along the way we stored the insights in a 50-tips wiki.
What amazed me was just how different the atmosphere was from a typical workshop focused on ideas. Because people were involved in practical activities they came in early, worked all the hours available and put in their hearts and souls. We did take breathers to explore topics from a more abstract perspective and we enjoyed meeting up with expert practitioners (a graphic designer, an audio engineer, a video cameraman and an instructional designer) who came in to talk about what they did. But mostly people were involved in making stuff and, when that’s the focus, five days is hardly enough.
The CIPD Digital Learning Design Programme runs again in 2015 on 2 February (London), 22 June (Manchester), 7 September (London) and 23 November (London) and can also be run on an in-company basis.