This article was published on July 16, 2015

Inside the teacher’s studio: Ryan Bonhardt on how to learn (and teach!) better

Inside the teacher’s studio: Ryan Bonhardt on how to learn (and teach!) better
TNW Academy
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TNW Academy

The official online education and training chapter of The Next Web The official online education and training chapter of The Next Web

Since TNW Academy started four months ago we have received a lot of positive feedback from happy students. Most notably, Ryan Bonhardt’s course How To Build Beautiful Responsive Websites has been a favorite for our students. To find out more about Ryan’s effective and popular course, we asked him to shed some light on his tricks and tips.

Read on to find out how he does it and how you can learn key skills as efficiently as possible.

Ryan, why do you enjoy teaching?

There’s definitely a couple reasons for this. I’ll start with the intangible benefit I didn’t expect.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

– Albert Einstein

When you are teaching something, you learn it better. You realize things you didn’t beforehand. Any area that was fuzzy you have to completely figure out before you teach because if you don’t then you won’t be able to explain it to anyone else. This was definitely a big bonus for me when I first started teaching because I wasn’t expecting that to happen.

But the major reason I enjoy teaching is just helping others. Most of what I decide to teach stems from what I wish someone had taught me. I wish I had the option to learn Web development when I was younger and be taught it effectively. So I took the time to develop what I thought would be the best way I could have learned if I were to do it over and turned that into a course. Everytime I get a response saying “I’ve been trying to learn HTML/CSS forever and finally have now,” “thank you so much for giving me this life-changing skill”, or anything positive then I’m happy. I know I’ve done what I set out to do. It’s incredibly satisfying for me to know that other people’s lives are being made better.

Now that I’ve had some time to be out of school and get a bunch of different work opportunities and am doing what I love doing on a daily basis, I wish I had learned soft skills at a younger age. So now I’ve been working on creating courses to teach people these skills: how to get their dream jobs, and how to explore their passions and discover what makes them happy. I think teaching the soft skills is much more of a challenge, but also at the same time evergreen. Evergreen, in the sense that someone will always need these skills and they are life-changing. So if I can help people’s lives in these areas that is beyond amazing.

Short answer: I enjoy teaching because it translates to others’ development and happiness.

What makes a good teacher and course for that matter?

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

I’d say for a good teacher it’s thoroughness, ability to make complex topics simple, and knowing what roadblocks beginners hit while learning a topic.

In other words, to be an effective teacher you must know exactly what students need to learn in order to understand the topic. A lot of time experts forget where beginners have hiccups while learning. They assume they know certain things and jump past or go fast during key parts of the learning process. It’s important for you as a teacher to remember where you had troubles when you were learning and make sure you cover that lesson completely.

Then once you have all those points along the learning map identified you have to understand the material well enough so that you can break it down into something simple. Make complex topics easy to understand and you’re golden.

And of course you must be thorough. You must leave no stone unturned in teaching the student. Anticipate their questions beforehand and answer before they ask. There is also beauty in uncovering these stones or lessons at the right time. You don’t want to overwhelm them at the start with throwing everything at the student. You want to ease them into learning each new topic.

A quality course is a lot like a quality teacher with learning-by-doing added to it. You don’t want to just throw theory out there. With a good course you want to get your students working through projects and challenges so that they get their hands dirty and have enough foundation to build upon when they finish the course. Cover the fundamentals so that they can then explore afterwards.

Why do you think the people who take your course find your way of teaching so good?

I think it’s because I’ve taken the time to think about everything and because my courses are project-based so the students are learning through doing and building, not simply drowning in theory.

With my courses I try to take them on a journey. I lay out a learning map of all the skills someone needs to have and understand in order to be fluent in the transformation I promise them. I say transformation because with my courses I like to give them an expected end result. For instance with my HTML/CSS course I promise my students they will learn how to build beautiful, responsive websites with HTML5 and CSS3 in less than a month.

I lay out all the skills they need to have in order to be able to do that and then I come up with 3-5 different projects. In this case these projects will be creating sites or pages, that while building them students will cover all the skills they need. So when they come into the course they are engaged, they’re building, they don’t get burned out and they are constantly excited because they are learning, they are creating, and I’m helping them through the bumps along the learning process.

I simply teach the way I want to learn. I get excited the way they learn through the course and in turn so are the students. And so far they’ve loved it.

What are some tips for learning new skills faster?

I’ll list them out and if you’re interested to dive deeper definitely check out The First 20 Hours, and the first section of The Four Hour Chef. In no particular order…

  • Create a quantifiable, loveable goal

Make sure it is a clear goal that you know when you hit it and goal that you love working towards. If you want to learn a new language maybe your goal is to have a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker of that language. If you want to learn to cook maybe your goal is to host six people over for dinner and cook a three-course meal. Whatever it is, make sure that your goal is something you can do, you know when it’s complete, and that you take delight in working towards.

  • Quantity over quality

In The First 20 Hours there is this story of a pottery class. At the beginning of it they split the students into two groups. Group A would be graded on their best piece of pottery. Group B would be graded on the number of pieces of pottery they created.

At the end of the semester there was a showcase of the pottery. Group B not only created many more pieces, but the quality of their pieces were so much higher.

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. The more you do, the more you learn.

Building blocks

Tim Ferriss advises that  when learning a language, you should learn learn the 100 most popular words. Those 100 words will comprise the majority of conversation in that language. You should use this tactic when learning any skill and master the 20 percent of the material that is used most frequently.

Break your skill into sub-skills and identify ‘shortcuts through frameworks’

When you learn something new, more than likely it will have a bunch of different skills involved. Break those down into sub-skills and learn them one-by-one. Also see if there are shortcuts.

For example, when teaching web development I try to break up material so that they don’t get overloaded. I concentrate on one concept at a time. And along the lines of the shortcuts I start off teaching through bootstrap so they aren’t overwhelmed with complex concepts at the beginning. Then, I slowly strip it away till they’re building full-fledged sites from scratch.

For learning a new language the ‘shortcut through framework’ would be identifying auxiliary/helper verbs through the 6-10 golden sentences so that you don’t have to learn the different verb conjugations.

If you fancy effective teaching tactics and want to learn how to build the best and most responsive websites, then follow along as Ryan reveals the most effective ways to learn HTML5/CSS3 and other vital tools.

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