Online Training vs Support12 Mar 2014
Once word started spreading about me joining The Iron Yard to be the iOS Instructor for the Atlanta campus, the first question was :
Will you be offering an online course?
My normal response was a simple no with an explanation that you get something special from a classroom.
But as a person who loves to play devil’s advocate, I chose to do some research (I was also encouraged by a very smart team member, Eric Dodds, to pursue this). So I signed up for a couple online mentoring sites, including Codementor.
The Long Wait
Whenever I signup for a program, normally I don’t get engagement for at least a few weeks to a month. I was more than surprised to see a help request the next day. I looked into the request and was intrigued by the question :
I need help understanding what this plugin is doing and build something similar from scratch.
I love building things from scratch instead of using plugins or frameworks. This should be a fun and interesting first experience of online mentoring. Also, the guy was located in London +1.
Communication & Experience
Codementor has not even launched publicly (as of March 12, 2014), yet they have a really great web app experience. Getting connected with a requester is very easy, and starting a session works great. They even have a simple code editor, and video chat built into their session window. All of that is awesome, but I needed to see his Xcode window to help walk through what he is building. To make this work we had to download screen sharing software. I have tested two different apps, and both have been laggy (could have been the other users connection) :
I probably spent an extra 5 minutes or so just trying to scroll and navigate, as the mouse and trackpad were almost unusable through screen sharing. Luckily the guy was patient as I walked him through what was needed to recreate the functionality of the plugin he was using. 90 minutes later we had rebuilt the plugin from scratch allowing him to really have control over everything in his app. We ended on a great note, and had successfully solved his problem.
Not Everything Works
I would say the service above would be called support, which is way different than teaching. A few days later, I got a request to teach a guy iOS development. Pumped from the last couple good experiences, I figured this would be a piece of cake. The session started as the others did, but it started to go down hill once I started trying to teach him Xcode through screen sharing. You need the ability to fluidly teach how to use tools, and the lag just destroyed anything I was trying to communicate with the other guy. We had to stop the session early, because it was literally a waste of both of our time.
After enduring my experiences, I would state that support through online venues is totally viable. But when it comes to a new technical tool or coding language, online just is too restricted and disconnected to allow for true helpful teaching.
If you are serious about learning something new, do it in person.
Once you are knowledgable on a subject, online support will be there waiting.