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You Learn by Teaching
This is somewhat an old saying but I really felt it while teaching and researching materials for my courses.
Data Science is probably one of widest and fastest evolving industries in the world as it contains a lot of different learning paths. If you are involved in a lot of projects, professionally, there is limited time to learn new things or consolidate known concepts. One of the things I’ve learned is that teaching is one of the most effective ways to close the “loose gap” in several concepts — either programming concepts or mathematical assumptions for different algorithms — teaching and helping students solve their questions is one of the best ways to accumulate knowledge.
Believe me, no one wants (specially a teacher) to be caught off guard when answering students questions. Off course, there isn’t any harm stating that you are not aware of some concept you haven’t dipped your toes into — that’s totally ok. But these questions will fuel your curiosity and make you learn more.
There are two main ways I’ve learned a lot during my courses’ development: doing research for the materials and helping students.
Students have a beginner POV and they normally make really creative and important questions. These questions are specially relevant to get to know the fundamentals of each concept and play with “what-if” scenarios.
You Build Consistency
To build new courses or improve existing ones, you have to be consistent. You have to improve the materials often and based on your audience’s feedback. Also, competition is always out there and other teachers are always building different courses to reach their audiences.
For people that want to make teaching online a serious hobby, you have to aim to produce high quality content. For this to happen, you have to build consistency and incorporate researching, composing materials, editing and helping students a part of your daily routine. This is not easy as most of us will have a day-to-day job and other personal affairs that will, naturally, take up a lot of the day.
The consistency you build to be a successful online teacher will be of use both for your personal and professional life. For me, it definitely helped building habits that made be a better professional.
Explain every Concept, at least once
When explaining advanced concepts or code that compounds on other instructions it’s always a good idea to explain the base idea on the first time it shows up in your course — if you are not doing that, at least point students to a resource where they can learn more about that instruction.
A simple example would be doing a for loop using Python to exemplify some concept — such as looping through several model results. Don’t assume that everyone in your course knows how a for loop works in that language. Take 30 seconds to explain the main idea behind the concept or route your students to some resource that will do so.
Define a Target Audience, from the beginning
When building new materials or starting your first course from scratch, the most important thing is your audience’s goal. Have you already defined your target audience? Are you looking to help beginners start a journey on your industry or helping seasoned professionals perform new tricks?
Your audience goal will, ultimately, define your success as a teacher. If you find a niche that will enjoy your content and get value from it, you’ve hit your sweet spot as a teacher!
But.. this sweet spot is not easy to find — it takes a lot of tests and trial/error experiments. The market is huge, there are a ton of angles you can choose for your course so you might get a bit lost. First, define several target personas. Don’t be afraid to fail. Some examples:
- Computer Coding Beginners;
- Business Analysts;
- Machine Learning Engineers;
- Data Engineers
For example, for my R Programming for Absolute Beginners course I’ve defined the following three audiences:
- Professionals that worked with data but have never coded;
- Business Analysts who might have coded but mostly worked with drag and drop tools;
- Data Science students;
These are three completely different audiences but they have something in common: they want to learn how to code in the context of data science and analytics.
Having a “single” target audience will probably make your course too specific, making it less likely to have enrollments. A target audience that is too broad will make your course too generalist, making it harder to nail the audience needs.
The best thing? Your target audience is mutable. You will probably find new target audiences while you teach, ones that you’ve never imagined. And that’s ok! Don’t get stuck on some portion of your initial target audience just because you think they are the “right one”.
The most important thing is to have students onboard as soon as possible so that you can get feedback on your materials.
Aim for a Baseline, Fast
This is probably my best advice for someone that wants to start building their own content. Get your content out.. now!
Aiming for perfection will only get you frustrated as soon as you receive feedback that is less positive. It is highly unlikely you will hit the target on your first few courses. Students’ feedback is more valuable than perfection, on the long term.
Start building the curriculum and prepare your materials from scratch, sooner rather than later. While aiming for better and more consistent materials is always a good idea, try to aim for a baseline version of your course fast.
As soon as you think that your course covers most essentials, publish it! Again, using my R Programming Course as an example, I’ve had a couple of sections on working with external files and statistics already on the cards when I’ve designed the course. But these two sections weren’t essential for someone that wanted to learn how to code in R and that’s why I’ve released them a couple of months after publishing the first materials.
And the feedback I had from initial students was key to improve my course — it was really a make or break it that enabled me to become a best-selling teacher.
Treat your course as if you are building a product and it was an MVP. Iterate down the line. What’s really important is what your target audience thinks of your content.
You Will Help Someone
One of the most gratifying things you will also find while developing courses is finding that your courses will help someone advance their career or reconvert their current career path. It was overwhelming to know that my content was helping someone who was 18000 km apart from me.
During my teaching journey I was overwhelmed by the messages I’ve received from students all around the world. It definitely gave me an energy boost to keep improving and keep building interesting content that could improve people’s lives. The messages I’ve received ranged from university students that were trying to pass an exam in Data Science to people that were able to be more productive on their job due to the fact that they were able to start coding.
Practice, Practice, Practice
To build better materials most online teachers tend to focus on the video and sound assets, giving less importance to exercises and other practical content that students might benefit from.
What I’ve learned is that a good and concise workbook that contains practical exercises that mix “theoretical” examples with real life ones are one of the best ways to boost the quality of your courses.
Don’t leave the exercises and the practical component that you are envisioning for your course to second plan.
Think through the exercises and position yourself in your students shoes. Believe me, it is hard to do good exercises that can avoid frustration by the students but as soon as you are able to build them, you will have a much valuable course that will benefit a wider audience.
Don’t Give Up after your First Course
Some courses end up having more students than other. That’s just how the business works — don’t be on Cloud Nine if your first course ends up gaining some traction and don’t lose hope if your first one doesn’t achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. Either outcome is completely normal and part of the experience.
Learning how to build good courses is a continuous project that will take time and a few iterations before you find your audience and are able to contribute with good materials that will help more people. Don’t quit on the first attempt and always aim to improve a bit further.
On a personal note, I re-recorded almost my entire R Course for Absolute Beginners. The first take was ok-ish and I’ve uploaded it to Udemy but, after a couple months, I noticed that my delivery was much better. It made sense to improve the materials and re-record most of the course with my new found “experience”. We all learn by experience and if you want to be a successful content creator and online teacher, the best thing you can do is.. start!
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