Originally, I had planned on writing about the introductory seminars for Moodle in my last term at teacher training. It was an interesting experience, but I kind of got away from the topic as the term went on. Now I got the opportunity to hold a Mahara workshop for a couple of teachers and sort of experience the whole process from a different perspective. Although I've been working with Mahara for quite a while now, I actually never got around to work with it in a primary/secondary school setting.
The premise at both the workshop and my seminar was that the attendees were all rookies in terms of the platform itself. For the Moodle course, there were student teachers in their last term, while for the Mahara seminar, there were experienced primary and secondary teachers present. Obviously the biggest difference was that for the Moodle course we had a full university term to work with, but the Mahara seminar took around 2-3 hours. Therefore it is clear that there is no way to attain the same level of detail in a couple of hours compared to a process that lasts a couple of months.
My first encounter with both platforms was very similar. The first time I got in contact with each of them I basically didn't have any guidance. Our first Mahara version was very low on features and usability compared to every version since. Also, we were the first group at the university to use the platform, so we were kind of the test-dummies. I guess that's why my whole mindset later was to just go out there and click my way through everything by myself. I say that because my first encounter with Moodle was me getting the task of creating and filling a Moodle course structure with content, but the content I was supposed to work in, being nowhere close to my field of expertise. So as I built and explored, I simultaneously learned about the platform itself - about what it can do, how it can do it. A thinking process for how it can be used properly for my own work started right away.
This "click-and-explore" approach is obviously not always the ideal choice. Especially when it comes to beginners for e-Learning platforms, there is a bit of restraint. Although I like to tell the participants in my workshops that they should do exactly that, I always leave it to the very end. It is important to get rid of the "fear of the unknown" in the beginning. The relationship between user and platform has to become somewhat natural for them to be able to use this approach. The best way to achieve that is still a simple step-by-step guide about the basic handling of the system. The key is to get to a spot where the handling becomes second-nature and you can focus on more important things, namely talking about the actual benefits for using a specific platform.
Of course it takes a while to get over the shakiness, but most of the time e-Learning platforms work along the same principles and it is enough to give participants a simple framework of how to use the system. This is all easier said than done, but unless attending a workshop about a new e-Learning platform is "mandatory" (in their own mind), the participants are open to experiencing new things. It also adds extra motivation, helps swaying their mood and opinion if they are shown the "upgrades" a platform can bring to their teaching and their work.
All in all, it is interesting to think about personal experiences with a certain kind of introductory method and how it can work in various settings, be it beginners in the field of e-Learning or absolute pros wanting to try out something new.