Tip 3: Provide relevant and practical activities to learn through doing

Following on from Tip 2: Act on the needs of your learners, as a new teacher one of the most recurring needs that I've found is the need for relevant, practical and progressive activities that enable learners to learn through doing.


Not in the sense that your activity meets the criteria of a training package (although that's important too), but in the sense that your activity is immediately useful to the learner who is genuinely interested in the topic ("Hey, I could use this on the next site that I create!"). In an ideal world, official training packages would reflect the real-world skills that are relevant right now, but unfortunately that's not always the case*. I can't remember who said it, but if you have to explain to your participants why some activity is relevant, then your activity is probably not relevant enough!


M learning how to use a
wheelbarrowThis doesn't need much explanation - just make sure the learner gets to learn the process by doing the process. The biggest danger is learner frustration so be ready to intervene if necessary (and only if necessary!) You might scaffold the activity through a variety of demonstrations, quizzes, games or other group-activities, etc., but remember that these other activities are only the scaffold to help learners do the process themselves.


In the sense that learners can progress through activities, always building on the skills of the previous activity as they spiral outwards at a pace that suits their needs.

Some of the most successful activities that we've created to meet these needs are the CSS Challenges, Javascript Challenges, PHP Challenges and XML Chalenges. Each has around 10 challenges that aim to be immediately useful (creating a CSS layout, input validation with Javascript, responding to an HTML form with PHP), hands-on (they are based on participants doingthe real activity), and progressive (learners can gauge their progress as they move through the activities, building on their skills). They're not perfect, but the option is always there for students and facilitators alike to improve and contribute (with a full version history.)

* The most obvious example a national unit in need of update for our course is the "Create a simple markup language document" which insists that students format their text and colours using HTML (a technique that should have stopped around 6 years ago now). And this unit was updated late last year...

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