The reason why I’m a front-end developer is simple: I like to learn and solve problems while doing it. Digging into new tools, techniques or strategies is key to staying creative and keeping your skills up to date. I’m not just talking about reading an article every other day or scanning Twitter for news. I’m talking about challenging your views and gaining a deeper understanding of your tools.
So when I got the opportunity to attend an experimental online workshop with Vitaly Friedman from smashingmagazine.com I jumped at the chance.
This post is about my experience as a participant of an online workshop and how your team in general can benefit from distance learning.
To be honest I was really expecting the worst – 2.5 hours in video/audio streaming hell (how often is a video conversation free from fallouts and a choppy stream?) and questions being asked by faceless “classmates” and ultimately me falling asleep in my chair. Is this gonna be me watching a video of a guy talking for 2.5 hours?
Can you really attend a class/workshop without human interaction?
My first online workshop went surprisingly well. The internet connection was steady, the video/audio stream was flawless and there was coffee! Vitaly Friedman delivered a lot of great content in the two and a half hours his first online workshop lasted and I had the experience of being “in touch” with a human being, instead of just watching a really long video. I enjoyed controlling my environment which resulted in me having a lot of focus the whole way through. Being able to go from client work to an intense learning experience in one day, is a great advantage when it comes to online workshops and distance learning, but what made this workshop standout was the wonderful insights from Vitaly Friedman. As always: Content is king.
I think Vitaly Friedman had a surreal experience at first, resulting in him stopping mid-sentence to ask if anyone was there, but along the way the interaction between him and the audience began to feel natural. We could write questions and comments in a chat, and he would incorporate them into his talk. Very smooth. The networking part of the schedule never materialised and I don’t really see how it could. The coffee breaks (can they ever fail?) worked nicely. The price of the workshop was €49, which I think was a reasonable amount.
This was the schedule for the day:
Although I had a great time learning online, I am aware that it’s not for everyone. You have to be self-motivated, have a passion for learning and an interest in what you do. There is no-one looking over you shoulder. No-one to follow up on you or to keep you from checking your phone every other minute. It’s all up to you. But if you are not motivated and excited about what you spend half your life doing, are you really in the right place?
Distance learning has evolved a lot in recent years. Sites like codecademy.com basically did better than the school I attended when it comes to teaching code. They have signed up an impressive 24 million users to date. You can even attend Harvard while wearing your most comfortable pants and sipping coffee. Today anybody can learn anything though the internet, and in the web industry where things move fast, this is a huge opportunity.
The need for human interaction is still present and that’s why I think the online workshop from Vitaly Friedman worked so well. It contained the best from both worlds.
Distance learning is great if you don’t have the money and time to send your team to expensive workshops every other day. (Seriously! Web conferences are getting expensive.) I also find that learning works best in smaller portions – 8 hours of talks or workshops is a long time and it’s hard to keep track of all the information.
So why not let people learn every week in small sprints? Plan learning sessions and give your team the freedom to learn in a way they find most suitable.
I know! You’re busy. It’s hard to find the time. But the truth is: everyone can find two hours a week or at least every couple of months, to learn and grow as a professional and human being.
Your employees and clients will thank you, because when it all comes down to it: The learnings of your team is all you got. Finding new inspiration and learning new skills is key to keeping developers, designers, project managers and yourself inspired and keeping your standards high.
Distance learning and online workshops can’t replace a great web conference or a “live” workshop but they allow you to learn more frequently and to fit learning sessions into a busy work schedule.
In the web industry: Learning is growing and that’s why every company should think about how they incorporate continuous learning into their culture – and distance learning can help them achieve that.