This article attempts to give you, the reader, a leg up on how to teach new hires, colleagues, or your nephews and great-aunties the basics of Web Design using optimal learning and gestalt principles.
The idea of teaching Web Design (or anything really) can be examined in the light of gestaltism.
One of the biggest concepts to understand in teaching your newbie how to design and code a website (or to throw a football or grill halibut, for that matter), is to:
1. Present the bigger picture before tackling the details
2. Connect new learning with previous learning, or concepts and ideas the learner already knows
It comes down to “learning how the brain learns.” Cast your mind back to the most boring high school class you ever had the misfortune to endure. Chances are you were bored to distraction — i.e. looking for a distraction — and you were probably led to feel that it was your fault. “If you’d just listen better,” or “You have to pay attention all the time, not just some of the time,” so forth and so on.
Well, guess what? It wasn’t your fault. At least not entirely.
If you were sitting there in your classroom strategizing on how Master Chief can best defeat Tartarus or thinking about what’s going to happen in tonight’s episode of Gossip Girl, it’s partly because your attention wasn’t being engaged. Your brain wasn’t being activated to learn whatever subject the teacher was attempting to teach. This isn’t to say that your slipping firecrackers into Jimmy Mahoney’s shorts was the teacher’s fault, but it is to say that many teachers, with deep groundings in their fields and the best of intentions, don’t teach their subjects well.
Most people don’t learn in incremental bits, yet that’s how most of us were taught, whether it was Web Design, the Punic Wars, or long division. Do a quick Google search on “web design tutorials,” and chances are you’ll find several results that attempt to teach the subject slowly, incrementally, with the focus on the most boring parts first.
This is where gestalt principles come into play. Boiled down to their basics (and perhaps their most simplistic), a gestalt view of Web Design advises you to look at the entire issue of design as a large (and certainly complex) whole and introduce learners to that view of Web Design before getting down to the bits and pieces.
That’s where you should start, the bird’s eye view.
Many people in the position of teaching someone new to Web Design will just tell the newbie to go to this or that tutorial site and get started. Sometimes we just tell them to Google it to sidestep having to train someone who wants to know if CSS is something they get from kissing girls.
This is always a mistake.
For one, you’re throwing the entire responsibility of the newbie’s learning onto the newbie. That’s a mistake. Here’s a 1941 sales training film from Chevrolet that makes the point beautifully. It’s worth watching even if you don’t need the reinforcement.
Your pupil depends on your experience and knowledge, but more importantly, trusts you to get him started the right way. Farmer John didn’t give Jimmy a copy of a tractor manual and then send him out to plow the south forty. “Just make sure you don’t plow over my crop of soybeans, that’d send my farm into bankruptcy!” “Sure thing, Mister John! …Wish I knew what soybeans look like…”
You shouldn’t make the same mistake with your new guy.
You’re the expert in your company (or your family, or your church, or your neighborhood), you should be the one to give the initial guidance. They trust you, and if they don’t, they will after you get them started correctly. You don’t need to start them off with an explanation of doctypes, or worse, an invitation to get to know Dr. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. They need to grasp the overall concept of what a web page is and how the various elements work together.
Not only does this help your newbie get started properly, it also makes it a bit more fun for them.
And fun is more important than you might think in a learning process. The authors of Engagement Economy note that fun at work creates a sense of achievement, increased socialization with peers (hopefully that includes you), and immersion both in the subject at hand and in the company.
Want your new hire to commit themselves to your company for at least the next five years? Spend five hours helping them get started on the right track to learning. It’s a worthwhile tradeoff.