With a long background as both a student and an educator, I know that there are many different learning styles. Some people learn best by reading on their own, some learn best by trying things out as they’re reading, and some learn best by having someone explain something in person, with a chance to immediately ask questions and get answers. For different topics, people might prefer different learning styles, and it’s a great thing when we have a choice as to when and how to learn. I’m gratified that I’m able to help people learn in several different ways, both by writing about SQL Server and by delivering SQL Server training.
Ever since I first started traveling to deliver classes on SQL Server, my husband has wondered why I can’t take advantage of technology to deliver classes remotely so that I don’t have to be away from home so much. More than 10 years ago, I started offering the occasional "webinar," but the technology wasn’t always reliable and even when the organizer of the event was paying me for my time, the income was never enough to even consider giving up my day job. So my webinars were just an occasional addition to my training schedule.
In the past few years, online training in various forms has started to become very prominent. Short and focused pre-recorded sessions seem to be the most popular, and for some of these sessions you can able to download the content to view on your own, although for other sessions the content is available only for streaming, while the presenter is actually online. I’ll admit that I much prefer the former format because one of the times when I have the time to view recorded presentations is when I am flying, typically with no possibility of an internet connection.
A little over a year ago, I started recording some 3–4 hour workshops for SSWUG.org. I record the workshops in Tucson (so yes, I had a bit of traveling), and the sessions are broadcast multiple times. Each time they’re broadcast, I’m available concurrently in a chat room to answer questions that come up while viewers are watching the session. I was a little skeptical of how this training model would work, but it turned out to be extremely successful. The first few times we broadcast my index internals workshop, the questions came fast and furious, and I hardly stopped typing for the entire presentation. (Registered viewers were then able to re-watch the recorded presentation for up to a week, but, of course, I was no longer available for simultaneous chat.)
Another remote training model merely broadcasts an instructor while they’re presenting. If the software being used is sophisticated enough, the instructor can also use applications on their computer and the viewers can see the instructor’s screen. I’ve used this technique during short sessions, such as user group meetings and 24 Hours of PASS.
But most of the training I offer revolves around my presentation of a five-day, deeply technical class on SQL Server Internals. Can this content be delivered remotely? It turns out that several of my training partners do offer a remote option. Students can sign up for the class and then take the class from their home or office. I think it’s terrific that these people will get the opportunity to be exposed to the class even if they don’t have the option of traveling to the location in which the class is actually taking place, but this option is less than ideal. Although students could see my slides and my demos, and they could view me through a webcam when I am sitting at the desk, I can’t see them. And if I walk away from the desk, the remote students can neither hear nor see me. I love to walk around as I talk, look at my students’ faces, and talk directly to them. And when I am discussing certain topics, I love to draw diagrams on the whiteboard, and, of course, those diagrams aren’t visible to the remote students. So there’s still room for improvement in the technological offerings.
What I would really love is to be able to teach my class like I used to teach Computer Science courses at the University of California, Berkley. We would meet for 2–3 hours twice a week and discuss one focused topic. For my SQL Server Internals class, this could be a topic such as data compression, transaction log management, or isolation levels. I would have demos and be available for questions, and then I could give out a homework assignment. The students would have several days to work on the homework and to think about what we had discussed, and when we met up for the next class, we could go over any questions that had come up since the previous class, then start a new topic. The biggest downside of my five-day intensive course is that we need to move from one topic to another with little downtime between topics. Five days seems too short to cover everything we want to talk about. So would it be possible to teach this class remotely, with college-type scheduling? From my perspective, I think it would the absolute best way to share what I know with SQL Server professionals who want to learn.
What is your ideal way to learn to technical information? What session model works best for you? How often do you take advantage of online training offerings? And, more important, do you think online training should be free (as many of the shorter online seminars are) or are you willing to pay for the session to help support someone who makes a living from providing training on deep technical content?