Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Processing Feedback, Or It's amazing what people want

When writing technical documents or courses I've developed a real split personality...but, fortunately, it's the people I work with who are actually driven crazy.

When I finish a document or a course I'm convinced that this is the greatest document ever written/the best course in the world. This is especially true of writing courses where I'm convinced that the course is not only good but will revolutionize instructional design. So any people I'm working with get this impression of supreme confidence in my work.

But then I keep telling them: "This is a great start but we still have so much to do...." Of course, the immediate response is "What work! You said it was great! Why don't we do that work now!?!" The problem is that I don't know what needs to be done: We have to release the document or the course and start getting feedback from our audience. And I am always (!!always!!) surprised at that response.

For instance, I published a "Practical ASP.NET" column recently for Visual Studio Magazine that discussed several different ways for updating a Web page with new content on the fly. Practically the first comment to the article was one pointing out several additional topics that were essential to implementing the techniques but I hadn't addressed. I quickly put together a second column and Visual Studio Magazine posted it the following week. How did I miss those topics? Don't know--in retrospect it seems obvious. Presumably, a better audience analysis would have revealed that need but, if you had asked me, I would have said that I had done a pretty good audience analysis and I knew what my audience wanted. Yet, I was wrong.

The same is true of the latest course I've written for Learning Tree. When I was done with it (and incorporated the terrific feedback that I got from the course's technical editor, Mike Way begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting, about whom I can not say enough good things)--I thought it was the best course ever. I mean that.

But I also knew that, once I got it out in front of an audience, I'd learn a lot about it....and it wouldn't be good.

So Learning Tree sent me on a two week road trip to teach the course in New York and Chicago ("eating your own dog food") and I also ended up teaching the course a week after the trip ended in Ottawa. In the first teach (New York) I quickly discovered that there were a number of issues that the audience for this course was interested in that I was covering at all. I also discovered that some of the material that was included in the course had little or no value to the audience. Finally, some of the material required more...explication, let's say...than I had initially provided. Over the next two teaches, I layered in the additional material, made the case for the value of some of the material, reduced the emphasis on other material, and did a better job of explaining the rest. This has resulted in a new version of the course that I'll teach for the first time near the end of November.

And, once again, I think that this is the best course ever. And I'm equally sure that I'll learn a lot about it once I get into the classroom with it. I'm sure this second version of the course will be much (!!much!!) closer to what our audience wants/needs. But I bet that I'll have at least one more rewrite in it.

You know, I don't think that I actually "write" courses. I think I just "rewrite" courses. That initial version of the course is just there to give me something to work with.

Reading or read
Roots and Wings: Poetry From Spain 1900-1975 by Hardie St. Martin
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Hiroshige
La Regenta by Leopoldo Alas
Goya by Robert Hughes
In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists by Todd Hignite

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