http://www.flickr.com/photos/childofwar/3097124543/sizes/m/in/photostream/Have a short (1-4 hour) class/tutorial to give? Want your students to learn tons and rave about the class? Want them to teach you and stay engaged in the topic moving forward?

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up from running mini-classes in academic and professional settings:

  • Listen to the room
  • Build skills through lessons
  • Let them get their hands dirty
  • Do the boring stuff in advance
  • Follow up with homeworks

These are mostly related to programming-type topics (see here and here from some examples), but I’ll bet the ideas are broadly applicable. Hopefully you can share some of your experiences as either a student or teacher in the comments!

Talk to the room

Take a moment to get to know your crowd and ask them for help. Asking questions helps you tailor material so you’re sure to answer specific questions, to calibrate so you don’t insult or go confuse your students, and to get the group actively engaged up-front. You can ask why folks are there, how much experience they have, etc. I often start by asking people to raise hands in response at first and encourage the group to shout at me to re-direct, seek clarification, and help me answer questions!

Build skills through lessons

Mini-lessons within the course let you quickly build from the basic to advanced in bite-size chunks. In my courses, I would have a module on “setting up,” a module on “my first program,” a module on “programs with loops,” etc. so that attendees feel accomplishment after each step. This also provides a curriculum to follow if they return to the material in the future.

Let them get their hands dirty

Have participants get their hands dirty “workshop-style” in each mini-lesson. Encourage folks try out new skills during the lesson. Let them make mistakes, discover interdependencies, and struggle a bit at each step. I give easy code examples and walk the class through converting them to include slightly more advanced functionality or experiment with parameters to help internalize learnings.

Do the boring stuff in advance

During the mini-lessons, don’t waste everyone’s time re-typing headers, variable definitions, data entry, etc. that are not part of the “issue” in each lesson. By preparing in advance you can save lots of time for the students and yourself by minimizing typo-mistakes and ensuring participants can all get to similar answers. This pre-work could take thousands of forms in different classes – setting up in advance always makes things go smoother.

Follow-up with homework

The most successful classes I’ve been to have followed up with challenges and assignments that keep the participants engaged, and push them to continue practicing skills learned in the course. Some simple exercises sent out weekly with sample solutions can be a great way to cement topics covered in class and keep the conversation going to help answer questions and ensure the new skills become part of daily life!

So go teach a class…

Let me know if these ideas resonate and if you have any others! Also, check out this course material for an example of mini-lessons, pre-written headers, etc. Happy skill-building!

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