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Running a learning hour

Learning hours are one of the ways that the FutureLearn team continue to learn new things. Chris Zetter, a Developer in the FutureLearn Technical Team, talks about his experience of taking part in and running learning hours.

A year of learning

For the last year we’ve had an hour on every second Friday afternoon blocked off in our calendar. We call this our learning hour. Every learning hour someone runs a session to help teach something to the rest of the team – it’s one of the ways we work to create a culture of learning at FutureLearn.

Here are a few of the things people have done with this hour:

  • Mal Pinder ran a learning hour about regular expressions. This session had a worksheet with lots of questions that got people to think about how different expressions matched different text. It helped people better understand regular expressions and made them feel comfortable working with them.
  • Laura Kirsop led a session to give us the knowledge and confidence we need to facilitate retrospectives effectively.
  • Simon Coffey gave a talk about mocks, stubs and factories after we found that not everyone in the team had a clear idea of the difference or when to use them in our test suite. Some of this session has since been turned into a blog post.
  • I ran a workshop on the command line tool jq. I found jq helpful when I had to process some logs that were formatted as JSON and thought it would be great to share this with others so they could benefit from it too. I explained how the tool worked then I got others to solve some problems using it.

What’s great about learning hours

Learning hours teach us something new and although that’s great in itself there are many other benefits to them. For instance most of our learning hours contain activities that are done in groups or pairs so there’s also a chance to work with people you haven’t before. I’ve also found that preparing and running my learning hour about the jq tool really helped me consolidate my own knowledge – I became more comfortable with the terminology of the tool and it helped me memorize it’s syntax. The session also exposed me to new ways of thinking: I asked people to talk through their solutions to their exercises and some of the participants had solved them in ways that I hadn’t even considered.

Run your own learning hour

Do you want to start your own hour of learning? Here are the steps that I took before running my session:

  • Choose what you want to teach: This might be something that you have learnt recently that you would like to share or something that your team has a need to know (we run regular retrospectives and sometimes these identify missing knowledge in the team). You might have to spend time researching it further so you feel comfortable talking about it and are ready to handle any questions.
  • Think about your audience: Is there any required knowledge that attendees will need to know to understand the session? You should communicate this so people will know if they will be able to follow the session. You might also want to tell people to bring laptops (or not!) or to make sure the relevant software is already installed if required.
  • Decide the best way to share the knowledge: Our learning hours have been diverse – we have had worksheets of questions, people presenting from slides, live demos and group work. Sometimes a mix of these are used in a single session. Think what knowledge you’re trying to share and what might be the best way for a group of people to learn it. This might also be influenced by how many people are taking part.
  • Share your materials: If you’ve made notes, slides and worksheets for the session – share them! By making them available people can refer to them later, and others can run the same session again if there’s ever the need to. We’ve just started to run some of our sessions again as more people have joined the team.

You can see the worksheet I created for the jq workshop that contains a reference for using jq and some exercises. I have also created some presenter notes so that anyone else can run the workshop.

We’d love to hear from anyone who has started their own learning hour, or has run a workshop on jq. How did it go?

Finally I’d like to thank everyone in the team who has taken part in our learning hours, especially Mal Pinder who introduced them to us and has helped to arrange many of them.

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