Can Training Work Remotely?

I get this question a lot: Can distributed/remote training work as well as in person? Especially for threat modeling, where there’s a strong expectation that training involves whiteboards. (I remember one course in particular, about 15 minutes in, the buyer said: “Let’s get to the whiteboards already!”)

And there’s no doubt: people learn by doing. They also learn by having their work respectfully critiqued by an instructor, and they learn by having their work critiqued by peers, and critically examining the work done by their fellow students. And so it’s helpful to include all three elements in the design of a course.

There’s advantages to being in person: as an instructor, I’ve learned to read the energy of a room. It’s easier to add energy, both my own, and getting people to stand up and move around.

It’s literally harder to see the advantages to being distributed. I see two sets of advantages: the exercises and time budgets.

On the exercises, people can spend the time they need. Some do them faster, some do them more slowly. In a classroom, I have to allocate a time block for that: 15 or 30 minutes. The folks who can do them faster are waiting, the ones who are going more slowly might feel cut off. In the distributed course, there’s no need to time box them for the benefit of the other students. (This can also be a curse, and so our exercises have a time range per exercise so people can see when to ask for help.) Also, doing the exercises in small groups does have its advantages, and a key disadvantage: the weaker students can just nod along, rather than struggling through the exercises. Struggle isn’t a particularly positive word, but learning happens as you push through and figure out how to do the exercise.

Production-wise, it’s easier to switch tasks: instructors don’t need to be onsite and so running the course a few hours per day doesn’t entail being away from home for longer. Participants can get other work done during the day.

Over the past year, I’ve learned to make lemonade, and to be honest, I’m now at a point where I expect to continue with distributed classes into the foreseeable future. The lectures, on video, are better than they can be in person. They’re better because you can speed them up, you can re-wind, you can turn on closed captions (only some of our courses so far). And the many takes that go into them mean that I’m fresh, I’m concise, and maybe I’ll even use them in person.

You can check out our current offerings at https://shostackassociates.thinkific.com/, and seats are available for both May courses.