Free and amazing Drupal Mentored Trainings

On this page

  1. Enterprise-level training
  2. Free Drupal training for DrupalCamps and other events
  3. Securing a venue
  4. Finding mentors / trainers
  5. Setting up registration
  6. Getting the word out to potential students
  7. Preparing for the training
  8. Starting the training
  9. During the training
  10. After the training
  11. Who does Mentored Trainings?
  12. Photos from Mentored Trainings

Enterprise-level training

Don't be put off by the fact that it's free to use BuildAModule for Mentored Trainings. The quality of the training is determined by a combination of the videos on BuildAModule plus the expertise of the mentors at the training, and can scale to the enterprise level in terms of size and quality.

If the idea of a Mentored Training sounds a bit unconventional, it is, but we've proven time and again that they are more effective than traditional training in several key areas:

  1. They allow multiple skill levels to work together and mentor each other, which is a proven way to increase knowledge retention.
  2. They are easy and inexpensive to organize, making it sustainable to do on a regular basis.
  3. Students tell us repeatedly how much they value the structure of being able to work at their own pace and get one-on-one help whenever they need it
  4. Because you don't need expert trainers, you can draw from your own staff or local Drupal practitioners to form the mentor team.

If you are interested in Mentored Training for your organization, but want to hire us to organize it, please contact us and we'll be in touch as soon as possible.

The BuildAModule Mentored Training - Free Drupal training for large groups of diverse people

A BuildAModule Mentored Training is a free method of effectively training small or large groups of people at various skill levels.

In traditional trainings, students watch a trainer lecture for the bulk of the training, during which some students will get lost, some get bored because they're already familiar with the material, and most will simply not be able to stay focused on a trainer speaking for long periods of time.

There are numerous educational initiatives around the world addressing the problem with this model in various ways. You may have heard of the Flipped Classroom model, for example, which has been popularized by the Khan Academy. The Mentored Training model is rooted in this kind of approach, where we use recorded lectures and let students work through them on their own time. This particular model is unique in that students actually watch the videos in the classroom, where there are multiple trainers available to help answer questions or guide students when they get stuck.

There are numerous ways in which this model beats out the traditional training model:

  1. Students get to work at their own pace. They can to re-watch material they didn't get the first time around, and forge ahead to advanced subjects as soon as they're ready.
  2. Because the trainers aren't stuck at the front of the classroom, they're available 100% of the time to help students with questions.
  3. Trainer preparation is minimal since there's no memorization or presentations required.
  4. Because there is no single overwhelming voice that students have to pay attention to, they are free to interact with one another, asking questions, discussing problems and enhancing their network.

BuildAModule supplies a free, in-depth curriculum to anyone who wants to organize a Mentored Training. We give the training organizer the ability to credit their students and mentors with a free 8-day pass to the full BuildAModule video library, which includes videos to help build both basic and advanced Drupal skills.

If you'd like to conduct a BuildAModule Mentored Training, just send us an email a couple weeks before the training, and we'll send you simple instructions on crediting your students and mentors with access. While the format of the training is up to you, continue reading for more information on what we've learned from conducting this training over a dozen times in numerous locations all over the planet.

One of the principles of this type of training is to keep it logistically as simple as possible. The easier it is to do, the more fun it will be and the easier it will be to plan another one.

Securing a venue

So far, attendance at Mentored Trainings has ranged from 10 to 90 students, and from 2 to 8 mentors. Universities are usually very cooperative with offering rooms for free since the training can be beneficial for students, and they also typically have good internet and a projector. Libraries, churches, hotel meeting rooms, even the back room in coffee shops or restaurants can also be used. If you can't get the venue for free, consider charging a nominal fee to students to cover the cost of the venue.

We've found that if at all possible, using round tables rather than everyone-facing-the-front is the best structure for the room. Round tables gives everyone a small group of people to connect with during the day, and encourages student-to-student help. There's a lot more interaction that happens as a result. Some university rooms will work for this structure, but many will not, so be sure to see if you can get a space with round tables.

Finding mentors / trainers

When it comes to finding mentors, consider anyone who has had any experience at all with Drupal a potential candidate. We've even had mentors who were very new to Drupal be great mentors. In general, we've found that having at least 3 mentors is a good start, and then adding 1 mentor for every 10 students over 30. So for a 50-student training, 5 trainers is a good match. For a 10-student training, still having 3 mentors on board will be helpful. With larger groups, students tend be be more willing to help each other, which reduces the need for mentors somewhat.

When you explain to a potential mentor what their role will be, keep it simple. What I say is "you just need to show up and help answer people's questions". No preparation is needed, though I do encourage looking over the index of videos on the BuildAModule home page so mentors have an idea of what students will be doing. The questions students ask, however, are less about the videos and more about Drupal problems. And if one mentor doesn't have the answer, they can punt to another mentor who might have more experience.

Across the board, mentors end up having a great time. The best trainings are when there are a ton of questions to answer and learn from, but even the quiet trainings are nice because mentors can get some work done, knowing that the students around you are expanding their skills.

Setting up registration

In general, charging a small fee for the training will help you get a better idea of the actual numbers of attendees (since they will be more likely to not bail on something they've paid for), and will give students and added sense of value. We've charged between $20 and $40 for trainings, and usually cut that cost in half for students. That said, many Mentored Trainings have been conducted for free, and attendance has been between 60 and 90% of the people who actually registered. We've used EventBrite for registrations, which is free for free tickets, and takes a small cut if you charge a fee. Many training organizers (like BADCamp) have also used Drupal-based solutions like COD to track signups.

Getting the word out to potential students

A training is no good without students, so here are a few things we've done in the past to get the word out:

  1. Ask your mentors to spread the word about the training
  2. Connecting the training to an event like a DrupalCamp means that it will be easier for students to attend a training since they're already going to the camp. Pre-camp training is also a great way to get students prepped for the rest of the camp. You can use the camp sign-up form and mailing list to promote the training.
  3. If you are able to use a university setting, reach out to whoever has connections in the university to find out if there are any campus publications or mailing lists you can announce the training to. Faculty in areas like Computer Science may be willing to let their students know about the training, and some may even offer some kind of credit to students who attend.
  4. Connect with any local tech meetups. Reach out to your local Drupal User's Group, but also other tech groups. Doing a search on can turn up some groups you didn't know about.
  5. Let any Drupal business in the area know, some of them may have junior staff that could use some training. And free is a good price!
  6. Contact local newspapers and event publications to see if you can get the training listed. Whatever your local version is of the "My City Weekly" is a good source, I've gotten events published there.

Preparing for the training

As mentioned before, keeping the training as logistically simple as possible will help make it easier to succeed. That said, there are a few things you can do beforehand to help things run smoothly on training day:

  1. Will you serve lunch? Serving lunch helps simplify logistics for your students, since they don't have to forge for themselves. It also allows them to work while they eat, and if there are leftovers, they can be a nice snack later. Anyone who's organized a training where they've served lunch has said they will definitely do it next time as well. Many restaurants will cater, though you will likely have to order the food at least a day before, and also pick up the food around lunchtime. The restaurants will usually supply utensils, plates and napkins. You may, however, also want to pick up drinks (soda and water is what we usually do). We've also heard thank you's from students for doing something other than pizza (Baja Fresh and Italian food have gotten good reviews). Keep in mind that there should be vegetarian and ideally vegan options.
  2. Will you have coffee in the morning? Students are usually super grateful for coffee, but it does mean placing a coffee order the day before and getting up a bit earlier to go pick it up. Coffee and bagel shops usually offer bulk coffee containers and will include cups, creamer, sugar and stir sticks. We've also tried serving bagels, but these usually don't get eaten.
  3. Print out a copy of this handout document for each student. We've tried skipping this step and putting this information online, and you'll probably also do an orientation that includes this information, but we've found that having the printed document really reduces the number of initial questions and helps people get oriented. There are a couple parts of the document you should modify that are highlighted in green. Note that you can make these copies at a copy center, but printing with a 'draft, black and white' setting on your printer is fast and doesn't use too much ink.
  4. Get two pads of 100 post-it notes in contrasting colors, like Yellow and Blue.
  5. Buy some extra headphones. 10-15% of the students will come without headphones no matter how emphatic you are about it in your emails to them. You can pick up a few for $5 at Wallgreens or Best Buy.
  6. Buy some name tags and sharpies. These would be the 'Hello, my name is __' stickers.
  7. Send out a pre-training email to trainees. Here's a template for the email. Note that you should change the email address on this, which is highlighted in green.
  8. Send out a pre-training email to mentors. Here's a template for the mentor email. There are a couple green areas in this template you should change as well.
  9. Set up an email address where students can send requests for access. During the training day, you'll monitor this address for requests for access.
  10. Decide on a schedule. Most trainings have been from 9am to 5pm, with a break at 12pm for lunch. You're free to use whatever structure you'd like. In the last several trainings I've done, I break at 4pm to have a group question and answer session, which I get the sense is a welcome break for most students who have been working solid for 7 hours. Some training organizers have done break-out sessions throughout the day where they'll talk about a particular subject briefly or have a Q&A session.
  11. Set up the orientation slides. Feel free to use the online slides here for the presentation, or download the slides (in Keynote format) and modify them as you see fit.

Starting the training

Here's a quick checklist for setting up the training the morning of:

  1. If you don't have round tables, see if you can situate the tables and chairs to encourage small group activity. Put chairs on either side of rectangular tables if you need to. As mentioned above, having round tables really encourages student-to-student discussion.
  2. If there is a password for the internet, write it up on a whiteboard or drawing pad. Also make sure to test it out before the training begins so you can get help.
  3. Set up a table with the name tags and sharpies and ask students to get a name tag as they come in.
  4. Stick one of each of the two colors of post-it note to the top of each of the handouts and give one to each student (you can usually do this after most of the students have rolled in)
  5. At maybe 10 minutes past the time specified for starting (to give students and mentors time to get settled), do a quick training orientation to get everyone on the same page and kick off the training. This might take 20 minutes or so. If you don't have access to a projector, you can use to freely share your screen with students.

If you take a look at the orientation slides, here are the main points that are highlighted (the slides are numbered so you can follow along):

  1. Explain how a mentored training works. Instead of lectures, we're using videos to allow students to work at their own pace and to free up trainers to help students 100% of the time.
  2. For those just starting with Drupal, the first task is to get an environment set up (with Dev Desktop or Pantheon). Next, they'll be tackling the "Build Your First Drupal 7 Web Site" collection. For advanced users, there's a number of other collections on Drupal development, theming and workflow.
  3. Mention ways to get help. First, try to connect with a mentor (raising a hand, making eye contact, getting up and tracking one down), then try connecting with the people around. Finally, put the Blue (non-emergency) post-it note on the top of your computer like a flag and a mentor will come around as soon as they are available.
  4. Because people discuss things, there will be noise, but don't take offense if someone asks you to be quieter. Use headphones and ask a mentor if you don't have a set.
  5. If there are internet problem, don't worry about it, use the time to meet the people around you or practice what you've been learning.
  6. Introduce yourself, and have each mentor introduce themselves (their name, what they do, and what kinds of Drupal questions they would be best at answering)
  7. Demonstrate the main features of the site. The main points are 1) click a link on the home page to watch a video, 2) video updates show in the side transcript in a purple button (explain that these highlight any mistakes in the videos, so if something seems weird, check out the updates first), 3) the transcript is clickable, so you can even pause a video and use the transcript to get screenshots if you get tired of listening, and 4) that if they don't see the "You're in" graphic in the header, it means they need to get access. Feel free to demonstrate any other features you think might be important.
  8. Explain the schedule
  9. Explain that people should send an email to get access if they don't have it already (this should be your address)
  10. If you set up a Google doc for people to share and collaborate on, mention the URL here (we haven't had a lot of luck with people actually using this, though)
  11. Mention that people should stand up and walk around whenever they need a break. That's one of the benefits to this type of training.
  12. Open it up to questions before you get started.

A note about our experience with internet

So far we've had very few problems with internet connectivity during a training. Even though the students are watching videos, the BuildAModule site is optimized so that videos are small and the site does note require page refreshes often. We have some problems at DrupalCon Denver streaming the orientation with when we didn't have a projector. It ended up taking out the internet for all of the area where we were. This was only a problem because the conference center did not know we were taking the streaming approach, and didn't have us set up properly for it. The same technique has been used in other trainings without a problem, however.

During the training

During the training, you'll initially be doing a few things:

  1. Getting students access to BuildAModule: You will have some students that are pretty sure they don't have access. Set up one of the mentors with a laptop open to the credit page on BuildAModule, and another window open to the mailbox of the email address you told students to send an email to when they needed access (gmail makes this pretty easy). Copy the email addresses the requests got sent from into the credit box as they come in. If the students don't get an email, they're probably already in the system, and they can use the 'forgot password' tool on BuildAModule to log in.
  2. Helping students get their environment set up: In the videos on BuildAModule we use a tool called Bitnami to set up a Drupal environment. Since the videos were made, updates to Bitnami have made it more buggy than Acquia's Dev Desktop tool. So, we encourage students to get set up with Dev Desktop or to use Pantheon, which is a hosted Drupal install. If a student has a lot of trouble, send them to Pantheon, it's the quickest, least error-prone way to get set up, though keep in mind that it doesn't work well for a beginner's development environment.

Tips on getting the most out of the day:

  1. Walk around as much as possible. Students often won't ask a question unless you're within arm's reach.
  2. Students will often come with their own projects to work on. Having a practical project to work on is a great way to learn, but sometimes the questions can be deeper and require more time to answer than video-related questions. If a question takes longer than 5 minutes to answer, feel free to let the student know that you need to check on the other students, but you'll be back as soon as the other students are squared away.

After the training

As the organizer, consider taking the mentors out to dinner afterwards. They've dedicated a day of their valuable time, and it's a nice thank-you.

I will usually send a follow-up email both to trainees and to mentors thanking them for coming and giving the trainees information about what they can do now to continue learning Drupal.

Who does Mentored Trainings?

Mentored Trainings have been organized around the world over a dozen times. Classroom sizes have ranged from 10 to 90 students. Below is a list of some of the locations and events where these trainings have occurred:

  • The Bay Area Drupal Camp (BADCamp) 2011 (this was our pilot mentored training)
  • DrupalCon Denver (60 students and 10 mentors)
  • DrupalCon Portland
  • DrupalCamp Twin Cities, 2012
  • DrupalCamp Scotland, 2012
  • Denver, Colorado Community Training
  • Phoenix, Arizona Community Training
  • Melbourne, Australia Community Training
  • DrupalCamp LA 2012
  • DrupalCorn Camp, Iowa 2012
  • DrupalCamp Sacramento, 2012
  • Virtual Mentored Training on Drupal Global Training Days using Google Hangouts
  • The Bay Area Drupal Camp (BADCamp 2012 (2 days of training, with the largest classrooms ever of over 80 students each day!)
  • Julliard School of Music, 2013
  • Philippines Campus Tour, 2013
  • DrupalCamp Colorado, 2013
  • DrupalCamp Twin Cities, 2013
  • DrupalCorn Camp Iowa, 2013
  • The Bay Area Drupal Camp (BADCamp) 2013

Photos from Mentored Trainings

These are photos on that have been tagged with "buildamodule". These represent a few of the trainings that have happened, and there may be a couple photos that seem out of place. :)

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