Thursday, June 21, 2012

Team Learning

I have been fortunate enough at work to have participated in a couple of trials for online learning/training proposals for our teams, and I thought I would post some opinions.

The two trials were Pluralsight, and Safari Books Online, both of which which focus on self-learning rather than formal training, which is my personal preference.  I would rather determine what I want to focus on than be led down a particular path.

However both of these options have provided a very different experience, and I am not sure which one I prefer.

  • Good quality videos
  • Good range of topics
  • Concise and straight forward guides
  • Offline support
  • Mobile device support

  • Does not always go to the 'next level' of complexity
  • Videos arguably require more 'attention' than books.

Safari Books Online
  • Massive Library
  • Ok mobile device support (no offline access)
  • A lot of crap to wade through to find good resources
  • Books can generally be overly verbose / take more time to digest

Usage Patterns
As an avid reader the poor kindle support of the safari books online is a bit of a letdown, but it does work relatively on modern mobile browsers for reading on the go.  The lack of an offline mode is not too much of an issue as data usage is quite low, though it does mean you need a tethered connection if you are not reading on your phone. 
Pluralsight has very good mobile support (with most major phone platforms supported), as well as offline access for both web and mobile devices.  My key concern is that 'video' requires more investment in attention than reading, as you require both audio and video (arguably you can just listen, making it less of an investment than reading, but i feel you lose too much by doing this).  This makes it more difficult to, for example, sit in the living room while your wife is watching terrible TV.

The sheer breadth and depth of knowledge available on safari books online is outstanding, IF you have the patience to find the right resource, and the patience to actually read a book on a particular topic.  Quite often technical books build on the knowledge of previous chapters to present more complex topics, which can make it difficult to try an pick up the complex topics without having read the rest of the book. 
Pluralsight is definitely a more accessible learning tool to come up to speed with new concepts and tools, but the depth of knowledge cannot compare with that of the safari books online.  Where it excells is providing a very concise information with clear samples that can easily be picked up without having to wade through verbose text or code to understand what is being portrayed.  One area that Pluralsight probably falls down is as a reference resource, as it can be difficult to use to look up a particular detail / syntax, while there are literally hundreds of books you could bookmark and index for this very purpose.

For a small dedicated team of expert developers, Safari Books Online is an excellent resource.
For a larger team with a wide range of expertise and commitment levels, Pluralsight is an excellent way to introduce new technologies without a heavy investment of time for the developers.

Personally I like having access to the entire Safari Books Online library, however the content available on Pluralsight is far more accessible and immediately useful than trying to find and wade through entire books on the same topics.

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