Course Expectations

Today I taught my "Data Cleanup Analysis & Display" course again, and it went very well. I always enjoy teaching Excel courses as the attendees are usually quite enthusiastic.

Last night, as I was working away on organizing my handout packages, I posted a Twitter status to that effect. This led to a conversation between Jon Peltier and I about how we distribute material to the attendees.

In each of my courses I include a folder that contains the following:

  • A business card
  • A "Profile" sheet (about me and my experience)
  • A "Sales" sheet advising the attendees that I will teach custom courses
  • A "RibbonX" insert
  • The notes pages for the Powerpoint presentation (3 slides per page)
  • A CD with
    • An e-Book of the entire course, step by step
    • All of the example files

By contrast, Jon distributes his Powerpoint and workbooks electronically, as paper is a hassle to work with.

I don't disagree with Jon in that it is a hassle. It also costs me money to do, (I'd hazard a guess to say that it's around $2.00 per attendee by the time is all said & done,) and time to assemble, (last night Dee & I spent about an hour between printing all the docs, burning all the CD's and stuffing them all in folders.) And let's not forget that I then have to haul them all to the course location as well. When you add it to the laptop, projector and extra peripherals, it does add up to a bunch of stuff to haul around. So yes, packages are a burden for the presenter… but to me they are an integral part of the presentation.

Now, neither of us is saying don't distribute, far from it. I recognize that I could distribute everything I do electronically to people if I wanted to. I choose not to.

The value of presentation notes pages is not even a question. Whatever medium I'd chosen to use to distribute them, the fact that my students had the powerpoint slides to write notes on was huge. I saw a TON of notes being taken today, despite the fact that the class was made aware that everything I covered was also in the e-Book in a step by step manner.

The e-Book is a new thing I started recently after a huge amount of demand. I receive a TON of positive feedback on my presentations, but the biggest "wish" feedback is for a good take-away package. The challenge is that, with a technical course, you forget how things were done. Despite the huge commitment to write up the course in this fashion, I've embraced it as I see the value. And with it goes the example files so that people can follow along. People have responded REALLY well to this.

Again, the fact that the handouts and materials are appreciated is not in doubt. We come back again to the why do it physically vs electronically.

The reasons are all about "touch and feel" and perceived value, to be honest.

In addition to teaching, I've also attended quite a few presentations. To me, especially for a technical course, there is something about being handed something tangible when you get there. It makes me feel that the person has invested some time and money in their product, and that shows a level of caring. I get something that I can actually touch, pick up, and take away. My friend Dennis Wallentin (XL-Dennis) loves real books over e-Books because you get that satisfying feel of holding it… the same with these packages to me. You can't just throw down the slide pages either, in my feeling. Just being handed out a stapled collection of slides holds less weight than adding that special touch of putting them in a folder. The folder finishes things and just feels a bit more professional, but maybe that's me.

I also take pride in making sure that all participants have the notes pages in front of them so that they don't have to spend all their time writing instead of watching. By providing them the note pages when they arrive, then I can ensure that no student forgets their notes pages and is left behind.

In addition to being able to include the notes pages, it also gives me the ability to slip in my own propaganda in an attractive format… something that is important if you're trying to get future business. We all know that some superior technologies have died due to poor marketing. This is the marketing angle, as I always want to put my best foot forward.

I'm actually going to a conference next week where there will be no handouts in an effort to "go green". (I'm both attending and presenting at this conference.) The handouts have all been distributed electronically, and attendees are expected to review them before the session and print them "if they wish". I have three issues with this:

  1. As far as I'm concerned, this is a "green-washing" technique that is really about saving money. I plan to print the handouts for the sessions I'll be attending and take them with me, as I want to take notes while I'm there. While it's not much, it will be costing me additional money to print the notes.
  2. It assumes that I'm going to spend my personal time reviewing the entire presentation before I go to the conference. I'm taking time from work to go to this, so why am I expected to take either more time from work or personal time to review what they're going to show me?
    Isn't that the point of attending the presentation in the first place?
  3. In this case it isn't the presenters that have requested this, but it does reflect on them.

Overall, I guess, I believe that presenting a course is providing a learning experience to someone. The handout package, to me, is an essential part of that, and I just prefer the good, old-fashioned physical handout. The presentation of my work is as important to me as the presentation of my material.

Ironically, I just got feedback yesterday from the previous time I taught the course, and here's an excerpt:

"A printed workbook should be a requirement for all future courses- people learn differently and something to follow along is really important to some"

That I wouldn't print. A handout is a small cost per person. Most presentations I've attended wouldn't even provide such a thing in any format, and my 70 page e-Book would be way too much of a cost to bear for me, so there is a line.

So I'm curious… what are your thoughts? Presenters, what do you provide, and why? Attendees, what do you prefer and/or expect from your presenter? Obviously cost impacts expectations, but assume you were paying $100 to attend an all day Excel course… what then?

6 thoughts on “Course Expectations

  1. I do training on Adv Excel.
    I document most of the things I teach. The course content is placed on their network folder and later given to everyone in the form of a CD.

    One of the requests that I make is "Dont take notes" - However many people still do...

    I guess burning the CD is a hassel. But It gives a sense of Taking something Physical at the end of the training which for some reason is more satisfying that getting a attachment in the Inbox.

    A printed book would be even better ....I guess the next generation will find the move away from paper much easier.

  2. A USB drive is not terribly costly. You can get a 1GB with two color printed logo for around USD13, less if you order quantities over 500.

    The best way to do a workbook for a given problem solving approach is to have two sheets for the approach: one completely worked out, with step by step provided on one sheet, and a "blank" sheet with just the data that's to be used. In class, the attendees are led through the blank sheet, building it on their laptop while the instructor does it via projector.

    An attendee should have a laptop and should try the example. Any printed handout is not going to be as effective.

  3. USB sticks... that's kind of a cool idea. At least those can be re-used too, unlike the CD.

    With regards to the laptop, I fully agree. I prefer to do a hands on course, as I think people learn better from doing it. From what I've seen, people enjoy that.

    I actually used to do that exclusively and not include the e-Book. Every class I taught I got the same feedback though. People loved the hands on, but when they walked away they forgot how we managed to do certain things.

    I suppose that documenting step by step inside an Excel worksheet would work, but personally I prefer to write it up in Word. I'd prefer to print the relevant page (with pictures) from a book and work through the on-screen example with less screen flipping. 🙂

  4. The how-to sheets in the workbook are of similar detail to the web pages and blog entries I post. The user can always insert a sheet with only their data and follow the protocol.

    It is easier for me to follow on the fly when the details are all contained in a single place. Using multiple Excel files is confusing enough, but using multiple applications is worse.

  5. I'm not ashamed to say that all materials I receive at trainings head straight for the recycling bin. I used to keep it all, but I realized I never go back and look at it again if it's on paper. I prefer hands on classes where I can get into something and learn. The USB idea is great. I can save directly to it instead of doing a saveas from a disc. If I'm going to take notes, I take them on a scratch sheet of paper for review right after the course for best effect. I find I take better notes if I'm not writing on the PPT slides. That way when I return to them later I'm not trying to read between the lines on what I wrote.

    at least those are my USD.02

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