Create quality coworking classes that can be taught by anyone

Consistent Quality

Consistent Quality

As coworking becomes more popular, coworking spaces are starting to offer more and more classes.  Some spaces like the 3rd Ward have very mature class offerings, while others like Republikken and Mutinerie are ramping up their coworking classes schedule.  And all have the same problem – how do I offer classes of consistent quality to my coworkers and community across a variety of locations?  3rd Ward just opened up a new space in Philadelphia.  Betahaus is currently in three locations in Germany and launching in Barcelona.  Republikken and Mutinerie had me in as a guest instructor but that isn’t a reliable way to offer an in-demand course month after month.

Three phases of building a modular coworking class that can be taught by anyone, anywhere

Here is how I built Digital Marketing for Everyone and the lessons learned from that experience.

1) What you want to teach/student to learn.  2) Class Format.  3) Refine and apprentice

1) Figure out what you want to teach and what you want students to learn.  These two ideals will most likely start far apart from each other.  Ready to go behind the veil?  Here is what my very first syllabus looked like.  The goal of the class is give students a layout of all of your digital marketing possibilities and have you leave with 2 or 3 things you can apply to your business.

Component Parts

Break down complex ideas into their component parts

I’m a big fan of breaking complex ideas down into individual steps.  This idea for me was sparked by this article in the NY Times about how students are learning math in Canada.   The key to the system is that ideas have to be broken down “into minute steps so that each student’s understanding can be understood at a micro-level before moving on.”  To this end, I broke digital marketing into its components parts, as best I understand them.

Note: This is the hardest part of building a course!  Formatting the course and refining it (steps 2 and 3) are pretty straight forward.  But the curation of all available material into a course that works for the students in the allotted time is a big task.  The way I did it was to write down all of the projects I worked on and then try to categorize the projects.  I made frequent use of Google to see how other people had dealt with the same problem.  I asked the people I worked with what they wanted to learn how to do better.  Then I sat down with another experienced digital marketing expert (Shannon) and we brainstormed for a few hours.  At the end I felt like we had build a pretty good set of ideas that we could refine over time.

Boring lecture

2) Decide what the format for class will be and build around modules.  I started with the assumption that lectures are boring.  And besides, if students were so inclined to watch lectures, there are endless video lectures on the internet that can be watched anytime.  Thinking back to my student days, I wanted to build a course I would have wanted  to take.  And for me, that means lots of doing, lots of projects, lots of conversation with my classmates and critical feedback from the instructor.


Codecademy – Mini lesson on left, Exercise on right

The skeleton for my course is the worksheet (Shannon’s brainstorm).  The worksheet contains a series of exercises (mini-projects) that the students will complete in class.  Based on my experience with Codecademy (and to a lesser extent Udacity), a quick stream of bite-sized lessons with easy to complete exercises is a very effective learning tool.  I don’t want the students to feel like they are learning.  I want them to feel like they are having a good time talking about their businesses and doing some brainstorming.  It’s only when they look back after the class, and see all the ideas filled out on their worksheet, that they realize how far they’ve come.

Students at Paris Factory

Students workshopping in small groups

My class follows a simple format.  I introduce each module (such as demographics or social), highlight the key takeaways, solicit an example from the students, and then have the students brainstorm in groups of three for five minutes.  At the end of the brainstorm I call on a student for one example of an idea that was generated during the brainstorm and then move onto the next module.

The nice part of having each digital marketing concept separated into modules is that I can easily fix one part of the class if needed or even remove it.  Now that the curriculum has grown to 12 hours of class, it is quite easy to take the right amount of modules to build any size course that a coworking space requires.  Since there is a pattern to how the class operates, the students get quite comfortable brainstorming with each other and learning by doing.  Finally, new teachers can quite easily pick up the system of teaching and then focus on learning the content.

Apprentice superman

3) Refine and apprentice.  After teaching for four months, I updated the curriculum to reflect what I was learning in class.  And then I did it again.  And again and again and again.  The best part about this class is that it can continually adapt to what students want to learn, keeping what is effective and jettisoning what isn’t.  After so much refinement, the course itself is in very good shape and I feel comfortable certifying it as high quality.  The question then becomes getting additional teachers prepared to teach it.

I think the pairing/apprenticeship method is the best way of teaching a new instructor how to teach a course.  Pairing is currently in vogue as part of agile but dates back to the apprentice system.  Pairing takes the place of a formal training system by instead having an experienced practitioner work with an apprentice doing the actual work (no pre-training).  If people can learn to build a car in three hours, they can certainly learn to teach a marketing course!

But let’s say pairing isn’t possible for geographic reasons – then I would recommend a video tutorial.  The class can be filmed so that other instructors can see how the class is taught.  Generally speaking, the methodology of teaching an effective class is straight forward, as I discussed in Format above.  And teachers can quickly grasp the content by looking at the class worksheet (or exercises more generally).  The new teachers can also be filmed so that older teachers can give feedback.

Once there are multiple teachers of a curriculum, a wiki will provide the best solution for continually updating the class.  After every class I teach I wrote a blog post about what I learned in class, what I thought worked and what didn’t, and then update the syllabus accordingly.  With more than one person working on the course simultaneously, a wiki serves as the repository for all lessons learned and market differences that should be accounted for.  If the class is mature and doesn’t need frequent updating, then this step can be skipped.

Evolution of my class – Digital Marketing for Everyone

Here’s how this process worked for my class.  I designed my first marketing coworking class to teach digital marketing at 3rd Ward in 2011.  It focused on pay per click (PPC) strategies for acquiring customers.  When I discovered that the 3rd Ward audience was more interested in learning a complete approach to digital marketing (and preferably one with fewer costs than PPC), I built a new course with Shannon Chirone which is now called “Digital Marketing for Everyone.”  I now teach the class at coworking spaces in NY, Paris, London, Berlin and Copenhagen.  After every class the curriculum and worksheet has evolved to better meet student needs and the (currently) final result is here.  The class will turn anyone into an effective digital marketer.  Students learn how to create excellent content, share it across a variety of channels (websites, email and social), analyze what is working and how to optimize everything.

My class, taught by someone else

I started teaching my class with Shannon and so, in a sense, it was modular from the start.  We each taught different sections of the class.  The first time the class was taught without my participation was when Stephanie Morrow, my cousin and expert digital marketer (must run in the blood), taught at 3rd Ward.

I used a pairing system to teach Stephanie.  She joined me at a class for Catchafire and observed as I taught the first half with Shannon, and then went ahead and started teaching some of the modules herself in the second half!  Not bad for 90 minutes of “training”!

Stephanie then joined me to co-teach a class from the beginning at 3rd Ward the following day.  While Shannon and I normally split the workload 50/50, for Stephanie’s first class I let her teach about 75%.  After both days I gave her very specific and targeted feedback and asked her what changes she would make to the course.  And then the training wheels were off and the following month Stephanie taught entirely be herself.  I’m very happy to  say feedback from the class was stellar.

What’s next?

Based on my experience working with Stephanie, I’ve started exploring how to make my class more widely available with consistent quality between instructors.  I’ve also been asked by 3rd Ward to standardize my class so that it can be taught by instructors that they choose.  And I’ve been talking with Republikken and Betahaus about how they can offer high quality classes to their coworkers.  This blog post is meant to serve as the first step in that direction, so coworking spaces can understand how I build modular coworking classes that can be taught by anyone.

Major caveat!  Anyone means anyone with the proper subject matter expertise.  Anyone can follow a script, but only someone in the field can respond to ad hoc questions from students.

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Posted in 3rd Ward, Digital Marketing for Everyone, Education

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