What I learned creating on an online training

When I visited my own website a few days ago, I was shocked at how long it has been since I posted here. The reason for this is that I have been working on two large projects, next to my regular work, for several months now. A few weeks ago the first one came to completion and I am really proud to say that my training Introduction to Azure DevOps for A Cloud Guru has been launched.

I think this has been the most ambitious side project I have started and completed for a while. And while I really enjoyed the work on this project, I also found it challenging. A great deal of things I had to learn on the fly and often I found I had to spend a tremendous amount of time on something that was seemingly easy. For this reason, I thought it wise to recap what I have learned. And by sharing it, I hope others might benefit from my experiences as well.

1. Yes, it is work!

I think I have spent roughly one day per week for five months or so on this online course. My estimation is that this will equate to roughly between 100 and 150 hours of work for 3 hours of video material. I have no idea how this compares to other authors of online training material and maybe this is were I find out I completely suck. Also, my guesstimate may be completely wrong. Maybe due to the time spent thinking about a video while going for a run or by taking a break and loosing track of time. The point however is, that this is a lot of time that you have to invest. This ratio of work hours to video hours shows that after a day of hard work, you have completed maybe twenty minutes of video or even less.

For me it is clear that you cannot do this type of work with a twenty minutes here and a half an hour there attitude. You will have to make serious room in your calendar and embrace the fact that you will spend at least one day a week on the project. If you cannot do that, progress will be too slow and your project might slowly fade into oblivion.

2. Find something small to start with

When I first came into contact with A Cloud Guru, I was strongly advised not to start working on a large project right away but start with a smaller project first. For me this meant the opportunity to create a more use-case focused, ACG Project style video. This is a 25-minute video that takes the viewer along in creating a cool project or showing a specific capability in a single video. This allowed me to practice and improve a lot of the skills that I would need when creating a complete course.

The advantage of creating and completing something smaller first, compared to splitting a larger project into parts, is that you are getting the full experience. You will have to write a project proposal, align your style of working with that of your editor, write a script, record, get feedback, start over, create a final recording, get more feedback and finally go through the steps of completing a project: adding a description, link to related resources, putting the sources online, etc.

Having this complete experience for a smaller project before moving on to a larger project really helped me.

3. Quality, quality, quality and … some more quality

Creating courses or videos for a commercial platform is paid work. This means that there is a clear expectation that the work you perform will be of a certain quality. For example, I got a RØDE Podcaster delivered to my home to help with sound quality. However, just using a high-quality microphone was not enough. Every audio sample I have edited in both Audacity and Camtasia to ensure that the audio did not contain any background sound or hum that would distract students. Also, all the videos were recorded on a large screen, configured to use a resolution of only 1080p. Every single time, all excess windows need to be closed or a re-record was necessary. Every time, excess browser tabs needed to be closed or a re-record was necessary. Browser windows and terminals needed the correct level of zoom, or a re-record was necessary. Favorites removed, browser cache cleared to ensure there are no pop-ups of previous entries, etc etc.

Conclusion? Producing high quality content entails a tremendous amount of details that you have to keep in mind every single time. Be prepared for that!

4. Be ready for (constructive) criticism

I feel really lucky in how my interactions with my editors at ACG went. Being on opposite sides of the world, most of the communication was offline through documents or spreadsheets and yet somehow, they managed to make all feedback feel friendly and constructive. In the occasional video call there was always time for a few minutes of pleasantries, before we got down to business. But yes, there were things to talk about. Feedback and criticism were frequent and very strict. I have re-edited some videos five or six times to meet the standards that I was supposed to meet. Especially on the quality of audio and video, there was a clear expectation of quality and that was rigorously verified by people who definitely had more experience than me.

All in all, I can say I have learned a lot recording these videos. But if you want to do this, be prepared and open to feedback.

5. Slides are cheap, demos are hard!

This is really a topic on its own and I think I will write more about it later. But if there is one thing I have learned, it is that demos are hard. Doing a demo on stage is hard, but much more forgiving than doing one in a video. When presenting, no-one minds if your mouse cursor is floating a bit around, searching for that button. When doing a live demo, it is cool to see someone debug a typo in a command on the fly. When presenting, you can make a minor mistake, correct it and then explain what went wrong and how to handle that. The required level of perfection is not as high as for a recorded demo. And then there is the sound! I found it impossible to record the video and audio for my demos in one go and have developed my own approach to it, which I will write about some other time.

In my experience, if you must record five minutes of demo, it might take four to five times as long as recording a five-minute slide presentation.

6. A race against time

While recording your project, your subject might be changing. For example, in the time I was creating my training on Azure DevOps multi-stage YAML builds were introduced, the user interface for Test Plans was changed and several smaller features that I showed in my demos were removed, renamed or moved to another location. Honestly, there are parts that I have recorded multiple times, due to the changes in Azure DevOps. Want more honesty? By the time the course went public, it was still outdated at some points. And yes, I know that I will have to update my course to include multi-stage YAML when it goes out of preview.

The point is, you will have to invest enough time every week in your project to ensure that your work in creating the course is not being overtaken by changes from the vendor. Software development and cloud in particular, is changing at such a rate that you will have to plan for incoming changes and know how to adapt. Also, circling back, taking a ‘yes this is work’ attitude will help spending enough time on your project, shortening its duration and help decrease the chance of being overtaken by changes.

Concluding

If you ever go down the path of creating an online training, I would recommend to keep the above in mind. Along with one final tip: Make sure you enjoy doing it. One thing that I do know for sure now is that if I was not enjoying my work on this training and I had to do it next to my other work, I would never have finished it.

Oh by the way, more details on that second large project? That will have to wait a few more months I’m afraid.

 

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