Being an Empathetic Teacher with Morten Rand-Hendriksen

How I Built It
How I Built It
Being an Empathetic Teacher with Morten Rand-Hendriksen
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Morten Rand-Hendriksen is an incredible developer and teacher who brings it all to his online courses. In this extra long Season 3 Finale, Morten and I run the gamut on topics, including courses, empathy, technology, WordPress, and more. I strongly recommend you give this one a good listen because it’s a great episode. Thanks so much for a great Season – see you in January!

Show Notes

Transcript

Joe Casabona: This episode of How I Built It, is brought to you by two great sponsors. The first, is our season-long sponsor. Liquid Web has been best known as a managed hosting company with tons of options. It’s also designed a managed WordPress offering that is perfect for mission-critical sites. If you’re looking for improved performance, maximized uptimes, and incredible support, Liquid web is the partner you’ve been looking for. Every liquid web managed WordPress customer has ithemes synced integrated into their managed portal allowing them to update several sites with a single touch. Liquid web hosts all of my critical websites and I couldn’t be happier with them. If you Sign up today, using the discount code ‘howibuiltit33’, you get 33% off for the next six months. Visit buildpodcast.net/liquid to get started. That’s buildpodcast.net/liquid.  

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Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. We are at the end of Season Three and I couldn’t be more excited for you to hear this episode. I got to talk to Morten Rand-Hendriksen, he’s a Twitter and WordPress friend, I guess. We met at the community…seven, or a couple of years ago. And we kind of break from the traditional format of this show. We start off with the format but we start to get poetic about a lot of things teaching empathy, developing courses, the WordPress community and decision making that goes on around it, and a whole lot more.

And as this is the last episode of the season but also the episode that drops right before WordCamp US, I can’t imagine a better episode to end the season well. We also go for like an hour-long so you might want to queue this one up for a long trip or something like that, that you have coming up like to say, maybe WordCamp US. So, I hope you enjoy this one. I realized how long that was taking and I couldn’t bear to stop the conversation or break it up and put part of it behind a paywall or anything like that. So just have that, enjoy, I love this conversation and I love Season Three. So thanks so much for listening. And without further ado, on with the show!

Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks “How did you build that?” Today, my guess is Morten Rand-Hendriksen of LinkedIn Learning and Lynda. Morten, how are you doing today?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: I am good. How are you?

Joe Casabona: I’m fantastic. Thanks so much for being on the show. I’m very excited to talk to you because you are a big name in WordPress and the online learning space which are two things that I am now squarely in the middle of as well. So I know that you produce great courses and I’m kind of excited to finish picking your brain about that stuff.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Oh, I’m excited to be here.

Joe Casabona: All right. So today we’re going to talk about the evolution of WordPress courses on Lynda, right? I think I have that, right? If I had it done in writing from when we discussed you being on the show.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah, something like that.

Joe Casabona: Something like that, right? So why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Sure. I am Morten, I am an or region living in Canada currently smoke-filled Vancouver where I work mainly as a Senior Staff Instructor with LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com. I’ve been working with them since 2010 on and off and I became a full-time staff author or staff. We used to be called Staff Officers and now Staff Instructors. Maybe that was 2013, something like that. So it’s been quite a stint at this point. It’s my longest duration as a single employer in North America. So, yeah.

Joe Casabona: Nice. So you mentioned LinkedIn Learning and Lynda. Now, if I do this path correctly, right? It’s LinkedIn that bought Lynda, right?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: And so they maintain this kind of two separate entities that kind of do the same stuff?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah. So I guess it’s confusing because it is somewhat confusing. The LinkedIn Learning brand is a platform that sits under LinkedIn. If you go to LinkedIn.com and log in to their own account, there’s a button in the top left-hand corner…right-hand corner that says learning. If you click on learning, you get to LinkedIn Learning. And if you choose to use that, and then hook your account to it and then tell you things like, “Hey, you’re very interested in WordPress. Here are some related courses” or you keep talking about this one thing or you’re in a group that does this on the other people in the group that are also watching these types of courses so it’s very integrated with what you’re doing and what you’re talking about on LinkedIn.

And separately we have Lynda.com which is the exact same content just under a different umbrella because Lynda.com has a presence at universities, schools, and libraries and also searches places around the world. And it’s a brand that people associate with learning. So yes the same exact content is just presented under two different platforms just to provide two different contexts for what you want to do. So if you have a Lynda account right now, you can go to LinkedIn Learning and link the two accounts together. And if you have a LinkedIn Learning account, I believe you can do the same backward because it is the same thing. It’s just two different labels.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. So that makes a lot of sense. I just learned today, on the day that we’re recording this that certain libraries, like give you a Lynda account for free. Essentially like a library membership which blew my mind because I never go to libraries. (laughing background).

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah, it is…We have this program called, I believe it’s called Lynda library which we have here at our local library as well where you can…if you have a library card, which typically is something you can get for free by walking through the door then you can check out a subscription. So basically, I don’t know exactly, there’s some sort of you know every single library member can’t watch every single course at the same time. But effectively if you need to watch something on Lynda and we can go in, either watching at the library or you can check it out somehow through the library system. I know it works differently depending on your particular library system because they’re all different. But it is an offering that whoever comes up with. Then I noticed we have the campus, which is something that a lot of universities and higher education institutions use which is similar like, all the students and all the staff gets access to Lynda, and then the instructors or teachers can then create custom playlists and staff for their students and track what they’re doing and everything. I work part-time at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design and we have the campus. So I can say things like next time we’re going to talk about you know…we’re going to do something crazy but with illustrator so if you haven’t done illustrator before go, watch, deep McClown’s course here, watch these four movies then I’ll know in advance that the students know what I’m talking about so I don’t have to spend the whole class talking about how to make spline curves. And then they say “Wash that and come here” is easier than telling him to go by the book or something.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah. That’s excellent, right? Because I’ve been in a situation where I’m standing in front of the classroom and I assume the students have taken some prerequisite or have some prerequisite knowledge and they don’t and then I’ve been stopped teaching like HTML CSS advanced programming or web programs they somehow got written out of the basic class and so I have to like take time out of my lecture. But I mean if the university that had the campus I give to be like “Oh, take this course” like “Take these videos” and now I know we can start fresh on Wednesday.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah. It’s part of this new teaching philosophy called, flipping the classroom which we happen to have a course on. If you’re a teacher and you’re interested in this concept of flipping the classroom there’s an action series of courses on Lynda.com or LinkedIn Learning where you can learn about how to do that. Or basically the original concept I believe was that a teacher would record a lesson in advance in video format and then give the lesson to the students to watch ahead of the class. And then rather than teaching the content of the class the students would come in already having seen the content and then the class will be used to either discuss it or implement it or test it in real life or do whatever. And it’s just, I think it’s a more effective way of doing things than traditional homework because traditional homework, you could learn something in class and have to go home and do it which if you didn’t understand it in class means will sit for an entire night not figuring things out. So instead you flip it and say OK, do…the homework will be learning it and then the classroom time will be working with it so you can get the help from the teacher to do it.

Joe Casabona: Right. And I totally love that idea and something I learned about a couple of years ago and it’s…it seems a lot more valuable, right? Because students can listen to the lecture, write down their questions and then you know, I’ve been in Math classes where I thought I understood what was going on in the classroom and then I do the homework and I’m like, I didn’t understand anything. (laughing background)

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: I’ve been there many times. It made summer sounds 2 hours ago. (laughing background)

Joe Casabona: So you know doing the assignment along with the teacher was always I felt that was always effective like when I was learning you know, I think we always have like that international flag problem or creating a palindrome using Java and you would do that in class. that stuck a lot better than like here, fill in this blank program at home just because you talk through it, you know? Like a real-world situation. Awesome! So you do all sorts of courses right? for Lynda and LinkedIn and you’re not just relegated to like, WordPress-based courses, right?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah, I originally was contracted to a single course, WordPress Essential Training. I think October 20…I think it came out in October 2011 and that course has since then been one of the top-performing courses in the system every single week so it’s always been like 1, 2, or 3. I believe currently I’m being beat out by Excel Essential training. Excel is like the standard software for everything. Everyone is like I need a list with multiple columns, Excel. And it’s just…it doesn’t matter what you’re using that for, recipes, planning your dog’s food, or doing some actual spreadsheet work. Well, yeah. It’s hard to compete against Excel but WordPress Essential Training has been at the very top for a long time. And based on that I started doing more WordPress courses and then I started realizing that a lot of the stuff that I wanted to teach more advanced stuff to WordPress people but then we were missing the theory behind many other things that we’re teaching. So then I came back and said “Hey we need a course on content strategy, and we need a course on how to think logically about your content and structure things and the actual web design process and how that works and, well there’s this cool new stuff in CSS or HTML” or whatever. So now I’m doing… I think about 50% WordPress and 50% web standards and other related things and I’ll probably shift more towards others things soon because we built out a massive WordPress stack. And then we’ve onboarded Carrie Dils to help out WordPress and she’s making fantastic content too. You should go watch all of her courses and that means I can focus more on my piece of extremely technical things instead and leave some of the WordPress stuff to people who can benefit from teaching WordPress specifically.

Joe Casabona: Nice, that’s awesome and yeah. I just second like watching anything Carrie Dils does and I’ll link her episode in the show notes because we kind of talked about a whole bunch of stuff and she’s fantastic. So how many courses like how often do you…like turn out of course?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Uhm, I’d see. I think this year I’m rolling up twelve courses. Last year’s more like sixteen so the number is going down because I’m focusing more on these very complex courses that have… they’re not necessarily aligned but they’re very complex and they need a lot of information and it takes a lot of time to figure out how compressed information is in something understandable. But on average I think I turned out a course per month, recourse every other month depending on the length or the complexity of the course. So interestingly, creating WordPress Essential Training takes much less time for me than creating a course about CSS script for instance because WordPress Essential Training, this course, I’ve now redone six or seven times from start to finish so it’s always playing in the back of my head and WordPress is it’s going to find our WordPress admin something I can walk people through without looking at it. So much work inside it and I spent so much time picking everything apart to figure out what’s going on. But when it comes to something else I need to really invest time to figure out how this works, how would people naturally learn this, what do they need it for, and then create a path for them to walk through on this very theoretical stuff into something practical they can go ahead and use right away.

Joe Casabona: So that’s fantastic! Well, first of all, WordPress Essential Training is user-based, right? Like no programming, I just want to use WordPress right.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: So it starts off with the assumption that the person who’s coming in has been told or has decided to use WordPress and then knows nothing about it, doesn’t mean you have to be a complete novice to watch it. It just means if you are, if you have never used this before and then you come in, it will take you over 6 hours from I have no idea what this is to look at my new website.

Joe Casabona: Nice. So I would love to…as I’m sure the people listening with, to learn your process right? Because as an educator, I have my own process for creating courses and breaking things down. And a lot of educators I know have their own process but let’s start with… like the research, right? So you talk about taking, let’s say, the CSS grid layout. Presumably, before you did the course you knew a little bit about it but not enough to make a whole course. Does that sound accurate?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: If you switch to a different course, then, yes. So let’s take JavaScript Essential Training because that’s a better representative of something that’s kind of crazy and requires a lot of processes to do. So we read it, JavaScript Essential Training this year. It was one of the highest-rated courses but it was quite old. I think it’s from 2013 so it was just outdated. And it was also originally targeted towards a more developer-type crowd so it was a very developer-heavy course that was using language stuff that spoke well to developers but not to front-end developers or design-oriented. And JavaScript has become something that more and more people who generally don’t fit under the typical umbrella called developer would need to know so we decided to redo it. Now I use JavaScript all the time, right? Just like anyone else who works in the front-end, you type out JavaScript all the time but there’s a difference between knowing how to use JavaScript and knowing how to explain JavaScript to people in such a way that they will know how to use it.

So the research process that I went through started with I got a bunch of books I think I got six different books from level all the way from you know JavaScript 101 all the way to one of those insane like every single thing you can ever possibly do with JavaScript things which are frankly impossible to read and clearly targeted at an audience that’s way more advanced than what I was looking for. But I needed to see how this stuff was laid out, right? How do people choose to approach this and also in some cases it’s not enough to say, you know? Do this and then things work. You have to know why things work the way they do. So either you can explain a little weirdness to people or if people come in later and say, “Hey, I saw you do this.” I understand why they have an answer. So I read all six books and I can give you a list. I can give you the list of the books I have because I think it’s a good material if you really want to dive into JavaScript too.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I can include them in the show notes too!

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah, and I read it online. Last conference talks from people who know what they’re doing and try to dive into not just JavaScript itself as a language but also look at how different people are using JavaScript for example. So I spent a lot of time on YouTube and the Mayo just watching different types of tutorials and examples in conferences, and talking with people who were talking about something else but using JavaScript to achieve things. And then I made myself a plan. So if I came in and I have no idea how this stuff works, what is a logical progression that I would need to go through to make this make sense for me. And as that logical progression matches with how people are teaching it now. And in many cases, they found from my perspective it doesn’t. And I think that’s because a lot of the people who write content about Javascript are developers so they think on a developer-centric methodology which is very much based on like someone came back to me and said, “You didn’t spend any time talking about memory allocation office CPU in the course”, and I was like, “That was accurate”. That is a true statement about this course that is also so far outside of the scope of this course that there’s a reason that discussion never happened, you know? That’s not JavaScript Essential Training it does sort of JavaScript at CPU level super advanced. One person probably needs to know this essential training.

No there were no maps, nothing like that but it was…it’s actually that’s also part of the research process that is calling to say here are the 800 million things that should go in the course. Now we have this much time, a very small amount of time and we need to pick the things that matter. And then also tell a story that people find engaging enough to follow through the whole thing, right? So not just make a bunch of disparate examples that have no connection with each other but build a cumulative experience where he learned as one thing then you build an example with it then you learn something else then you take the original example or take something from the original example and build something bigger. You can see how these different pieces stick together and how it all becomes part of a whole, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, just to drive home that point, right? That’s really important because otherwise, you’re just kind of putting together a cookbook, right? Like a recipe style thing that isn’t necessarily based on learning is just about like, “Well I want to do this one thing”. But I like what you said, tell a story which is to use the higher Ed term like, it’s like a pedagogical approach.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yes, that’s precisely what it is. And you know it, I’m almost…I’m very hesitant to use that word myself because I’m not a teacher. I know people who go to university for years and become experts at this. I did not go to university for years and became an expert on this. I went to university for years and became a philosopher which is not the same effect. So, it’s…But yeah. It is a pedagogical strategy to try to give people not just the knowledge but hooks to hang the knowledge on. So I always like to imagine when you were trying to convey any type of new information to someone you’re going to give them the information and it’s kind of like giving someone a pilo bags. And if you’re giving them pilo bags they’ll stash them somewhere but then if you ask me to find something within those bags there’s a pile of bags somewhere. But if you provide them first with hooks trying to say here’s a problem and then you describe the problem and I think “Go, I understand this is a problem. I don’t know how to solve it but I see the problem.” Then you say, “Here’s a bag containing the solution to this problem.” Now I will hang it on that hook. So there, they are now connected. So the next time you run into this problem you know, “I know that the solution to this is because there’s a bag hanging on it with the solution inside”. So that’s how I try to approach everything especially with that course and needed to always establish this not just you know, what is an object in JavaScript, but why is there an object JavaScript under what circumstances is this something you want to use, right? And why can’t you do something else? And then you sit there and try to figure out like, how do I make a non-contrived example? it’s very easy to make my super dumb examples like haha, let’s make an array of horses, big horse, small horse, Arabic course. And I was like, now you can retrieve any one of these horses from the array and make a display that shows the name of the horse like that there is nothing, there’s nothing practical here, right?

Joe Casabona: Right. That’s a purely academic example, no real world.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah, so trying to figure out how to make things that contain that information which is very important but at the same time presented in such a way that people understand what it’s for beyond a list of courses is the tricky part.

Joe Casabona: Nice, that’s fantastic.I love that! And I’m sorry to interrupt you driving that point home like you’re telling a story. So once you have your story like what kind of your next step? You have kind of like you know, you want to teach, you have the way you want to teach it.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah. That’s something else that evolves. So the difference between…So I’ll tell you a ridiculous story because it’s hard to believe. When I originally was contacted to record to make WordPress Essential Training back in 2011, I did not take that assignment very seriously because I was stuck in the back. I had another job, it was just cut. My life was just total chaos and I was shipped down to California to go to a recording studio to do this stuff. And I went in, into the studio, I was booked for a week so we’re going to record Monday through Friday in a week and then I fly home on Saturday. And I went into the studio the first day and I started recording the course and I planned it out. I’ve made these little one-pagers for each movie. So I had a little intro spiel and then some bullet points and then an extra thing and we recorded maybe 10 movies and I went back to the hotel and I was like, “Oh I made a huge mistake.” So I rewrote the entire course through the night and then I came back the next day and then I recorded 37 movies in 1 day and the producer was much bigger, “I can’t watch this. I’m leaving. I can’t handle this.” You just don’t ever stop talking. So what I realized was the way I structured the course was great for a book but not for a video course and it made no sense. And that was my first real understanding of how presenting something in a video format requires you to rethink structurally, how things are done, what you’re doing internally in the video, what kind of examples are created, and everything.

So what happens now is when I have a new course I need to figure out what are the things that I wanted to teach. So we started with just a table of contents exactly like a book. You make a huge table of contents, so there’s a chapter and then there’s a bunch of stuff inside. And that’s what you see. If you go to Lynda or LinkedIn Learning and you go to a course you’ll see chapters and individual movies. That’s where we started. We start with this table of contents then you start writing out what goes inside each movie and try to figure out the structure of that. And then how…where do you make slides to make examples, and how do you present those examples to people, how do they follow them, and you have to go through this relatively complex trial and error procedure of just figuring out how does this stop fit together. So in many cases, it’s a matter of building a website then reverse engineering it back to the beginning. Then figure out what are all the steps and then build it out again, and then go back and then record the whole building out again, right? So sometimes I’ll write scripts for the whole thing. Sometimes I’ll write scripts for some movies and just ad-lib others. Sometimes the whole course is just me standing in this room and just blabbing to myself. It just depends on the content, right?

Joe Casabona: Gotcha, yeah. So had you written a book previously about WordPress Central training? Is that why you kinda got hired to do this? Or…

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: I had written a series of books on Microsoft Expression Web which is the… What came after the front page? So Microsoft Scrap Frontpage. They made Expression Web which was the first truly web standard space I ever released. And then I wrote a bunch of books about that, that we’re pretty well received, and then Lynda came to me and asked if I wanted to do a course on Expression Web and I said, “No”. I don’t want to do a course on Expression Web for various reasons. So, and then they said…Yeah. I could see the writing on the wall there where I had a strong suspicion that expression about web might not survive, in which case investing a lot of time making a course will be pointless. So we decided, “OK, we will do something different.” And then they asked me “Can you provide a basic table of contents for a bunch of different courses and then just tell me what you want to teach?” And then I sent in a bunch of different things. One of which was WordPress and at the time they had a WordPress course that was out of date and wasn’t doing all too well and then they said, “Yeah. Whatever! You know, no one’s watching this WordPress course anyway. Will just have you do that.” And then in a month that became the most crash course in the library. So it was very…you know a lot of serendipitous things such as happened to have that at the same time that led to that, right?

Joe Casabona: Gotcha, that’s fantastic! So you put together these videos. It’s a combination of screen action, slides. Do you do talking heads in your video? Do people like, see your face?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah, some of them. So if you watch WordPress Essential Training or JavaScript Essential Training you’ll see a lot of me. It usually depends on what level, the materials. If there’s a lot of theoretical stuff that’s more like just thinking out loud things, then usually see a human being. Because otherwise, you have to put something on the screen, right? But if it’s highly technical like if you’re going to watch with my rest of API courses there’s no talking head. It’s just code, code, code, code, yeah. With the essential training courses, we tend to have a human being talking to you. Also so you get an understanding of who is this you’re listening to, right? And you get, it’s not just the unknown voice behind the screen that’s a human being. You could see all of me waving around, very…I don’t stand still. I’ve had to learn to not use my arms a lot in the video because if I’m on stage or whatever I’d wave a lot but in the video, doing that is super distracting. After learning that being very controlled I just…

Joe Casabona: I feel like I’d have a lot of trouble, I’m an Italian, I talk with my hands. So I feel like I would certainly have trouble with that. Cool. So, do you do editing for your videos as well?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: No.

Joe Casabona: Okay, so Lynda will take care of the editing stuff.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah, it’s one of the privileges we have at Lynda is we have an amazing post-production team. So I produce the content with the producer and then it gets sent off and then a bunch of very smart people go through the videos and edit them down out graphics and everything and it goes through this huge QA process. It’s a very complex machine that has been built out over time that ensures quality and everything. But part of the process for instance, we have this Beta testing system where there’s a company that Beta tests everything and then we get these huge reports. Let’s say, you know, well he mispronounced this word consistently for 800 times through the entire course. And then in the beginning they were like “Yeah. That’s a problem. Another go. Yeah. Whatever.” He mispronounces everything all the time anyway. No one seems to care. So I know…I forgot which it is, but I know there’s a course in the library where I mispronounced a word consistently throughout the entire course. And it’s not like some little word, it’s a word I should know how to say properly. And then a bunch of people have sent in comments because we watch of course you can send comments about individual movies and they sent them, that I was like, “Haha, sorry if I just saved it”. And it seems like he thinks this is the right way to pronounce it. So it’s the Beta people who did catch that but then the producer said, “You know what? He’s Norwegian. He says weird stuff all the time.” Anyways, no one’s gonna care about that. And it does not, has no bearing on the education that is just entertaining, right? But there’s a huge process behind it and we have an amazing team that does an enormous amount of work. So what you think my job often feels like a very small part of a very large puzzle, right? I’m just sitting here mocking around on my computer and then magical things happen and it ends up coming out the other end sounding very coherent and extremely smart.

Joe Casabona: That’s amazing because I feel like you know I do kind of everything I saw at WP one month. I do everything that you’re talking about, right? The pre-production, the planning, and then I do the recording. And then by the time I get to post I’m just like, “I’ve got that plan across”. I’ve been like this.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: I’ve done that too! It’s a different kind of job. But I mean, there are benefits and drawbacks to both methods, right? Companies of our scale, you must have a system like this in place because we turn out so much content and it has to be consistent. But if you’re creating a bespoke solution like what you’re doing, it makes more sense to do it in-house because then you know exactly what’s happening, right? Now you can make all of those decisions about how exactly it’s going to work? Is this right? Should I go back and fix that? And you can tweak everything in a much more specific way.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. So when you’re not…because I mean like, you know kind of just know where I need to stop or clap my hands as you did at the beginning of this recording or something…I’ll do some things that I know, this is where I need to edit like looking at the timeline. When you are sending stuff that you recorded off to post-production, what’s that like? Say you mess up? What exactly do you do to kind of let the editors know that you need to reset?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: If it’s bad enough, I’ll just re-record it. Like sometimes I’ll do stuff like, “Oh my! This does not end well, let’s just start over.” So in many cases, if you watch some of my courses, like what you’re seeing, a movie might be like fifteen to take of that movie because it usually is especially when you get into super complex things where you have to type out a ton of code and everything has to be exactly right, and then I misspell stuff all the time, and then everything crashes, and I’ll be like, “Do all this stuff…?’ And then run on the browser, ‘Error’. Never mind, let’s do that one more time. And it makes it…on the other end, it makes it look like this perfect code, which is a total lie. I re-recorded everything again. But in…you know, I often…my English is not as good as it sucks. So my English often is not great. So I’ll say stuff and then I realize that’s not how you say it or I mispronounced words, or get stuck in my head like, I can’t try to say something and the sentence does break apart. And usually what we do is just stop, and then rephrase, and then do it again. And what happens is the editors, the way you say rephrase just becomes like a standard automated thing and the editors can actually see on the waveform where you say it and then it’s whatever was before that just cut it out. And if it’s something significant like if there’s a minute of this garbage or something like… and now we’re just going to fill in this form, and then two minutes of the filling in a form, I’ll write a note and say, you know, from here to shorten it down right, do a regular paper cut like you wouldn’t TV editing. So provides some notes and I also provide notes about things like there needs to be a link to service here or, here, you need to mask out the username or password or key or whatever is going on or provide information to say things like do not use this key, will not work, use their camp, so it all depends.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. So you mentioned specifically, I’m glad you brought this up when you like to mess something up or there’s a back-end editing out completely.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah, ideally, I don’t send it in. I mean if it’s bad enough, I’ve only had a couple of instances where I shifted courses with actual bugs, and then, they…people, like, know it pretty quickly and then fix it. And that’s one of the advantages of doing this in video and not in a book format. What if there’s an actual error, that somehow gets past everything, right? Which is usually something trivial or something super obscure, then it’ll get caught. And then we can churn out an update to it within like a couple of days, right? So I think the worst air I ever made was consistently mistyping the name of a variable like throughout the entire course and it was like, you look at her to go that is so misspelled like it doesn’t do anything because it’s a variable, right? So as long as you consistently misspelled a variable, it’s fine, right? It’s just misspelled and people got so hung up on the misspelling. And the funny part was the producer sent it back means that everyone’s complaining about this thing spelled incorrectly. And I’m like, “I don’t see it…What’s wrong with this?” because I have Dyslexia so I honestly don’t see it. And then I had to take it to my wife and she goes, “That’s not how, that’s…” and I don’t know what she’s saying but it’s not what you think it is. So…and then I go back and re-record everything to make it.

Joe Casabona: So, do you ever address error catching in the video? So like you mess something up, you see the bug on-screen and you’re like, “Oh! This happened. Let’s go back and see why it happened.” Or how would you otherwise adjust the bug end?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yeah, what I try to do is figure out what things that everyone makes, right? What are common errors? And then sometimes I’ll make a secure movie. There are a bunch of things you can do like WordPress Essential Training, there’s a whole chapter or at least a couple of movies that just discuss disastrous things, right? White screen of death, what is this? What are the causes? How do you fix this? or like you know, what happens if you install a debugging plugin. And I have in the course and made this awful thing, you can just destroy everything and I make a plugin that crashes to site and then shows, this is what happens when you install something buggy. WordPress will try to save you but if you bypass WordPress then it will eventually destroy everything. And then here’s how you recover from it. And in other cases, if there are common errors that are often made I’ll try to break them into the course so I’ll deliberately make an error as I’m teaching it, or amid some important piece of information. And they kind of comment say, you know, I’ll type the sand and then, see if it works. Let’s see if this works. So that usually means it’s probably not gonna work. I was going to produce some auto results, right? or if it’s something I pronounce making the API course when I was developing an example I had created a recursive function, that created…(laughing background) and then just stopped the browser right now. And it was a recursive function that was surprising. That I didn’t realize that it would be recursive when I triggered it. It wasn’t a regular coding error, it was actually something where the rest of the API returned something to you that would then call, create another call, and then it’ll know almost like a nuclear explosion. Just keep fracturing and making more instances of itself.

Joe Casabona: Like a thread creating a bunch more threads in Java.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Yes, so in that case, it became an opportunity to rather than walk people through the process of destroying their computer which is what they could do. Say you know, here it’s very important that you limit what comes back and say like you now put an actual limiter to say give me one instance even if the system says I have more. Just returned one and put extra limits in place and unexplainable, right? Because it’s dangerous if you…as a teacher, you have authority, right? Which means people will take anything you say as an absolute doctor. And not only that, but if they follow you for a long time they’ll start just following exactly what you’re doing as you’re doing it in a course. And if you set them up to do something dangerous then they’ll do that before they get to the point of the movie and then say…”Oh, by the way, don’t do this.” But they’ve already run that code. And then it’s like “I understand when my computer is on fire” is like well you shouldn’t have watched for the fire for more seconds when I’ve told you not to do it. So I try to avoid that, right? But it’s tricky because when you get into advanced enough stuff you’re making people more dangerous, right? So you’re making them…you’re giving people abilities to do more, more complex things that…and then every level of complexity you add will allow anyone to make complex things that don’t work properly. And often the consequences are not immediately obvious, right? And figuring out where those thresholds are and then explaining whether or not you should do this or shouldn’t do this. It’s really hard because usually in complex issues understanding why you should or should not do something requires more knowledge than what the viewer has at that moment. And then you have to make a decision. Should I take this out of the course entirely and not address it? or say we’re going to address this in a different course to kind of elevate it up to a new level? or how do you address that which is tricky? But I don’t know if other judgment calls are going on educated guessing and stuff like that. So…

Joe Casabona: Yeah, it’s tough. But like it depends on your audience too, you know? Like in the classroom, you can make some general assumptions about the people in your classes, right? They’ve likely taken the 101 courses or there’s like five of them in the class so you can have better one on one time. But you know, I have a course on Udemy that is…That’s 200 students strong right now and I don’t know any of them. I know like maybe five of them, right? Like five of my friends who picked the course because I said pick-up the course but I don’t know the backgrounds of all the other people taking the course. And so it’s really hard to kind of gauge except for a clear course description. This is what you should definitely know. You know, this is what you will learn, and like proceed with caution, I guess? Yeah, like don’t break your computers.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: That’s something I’m working on now is providing a sort of ramp for learners to start from WordPress and ramp themselves all the way into advanced front-end web development. And honestly, I like to use WordPress as the ramp to get them into Web development and then moving off WordPress which interestingly with WordPress is Rest API. WordPress improvises optimal routes out of WordPress which is great because that’s what it should be.

And the tricky part is, always been, “How do you walk people through the process and how do you figure out where they are when they get started?”, right? Because people will guess at their own skill level but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they place themselves in the right place. They’ll often either watch courses that are way too basic and then be frustrated because I know everything or watch something too advanced and be frustrated because they don’t understand anything. And for that reason, we’re currently experimenting with this learning path model so on both LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com you can go on and see there’s a learning path called ‘Become a Junior WordPress Developer’ which takes you on a path that starts with WordPress Essential Training and walks through a bunch of WordPress courses and a bunch of other related courses, HTML, CSS, PHP, and JavaScript and so on and tries to slot them in that logical times through the progression. Do you watch, work, WordPress Essential training then you learn a bit about themes, then you start mucking around with Child Themes then you learn, “Oh I need CSS and HTML to do this.” Okay, here are some CSS and HTML. And then once you figure that out you introduce some kind of postal code type and they try to build this cohesive system of courses that brings people through the process. And honestly, some people are watching these courses from start to finish. And they reach out to me sometimes and having conversations with them about their learning journey is very informative. The first time there was a guy who came to me and said, “I have watched every single one of your courses”, which I personally think you should wear some medal or something like that. I haven’t watched all of my courses. But…and he said, “You know, I saw this listing. I think the order in which you put these three courses are backward” and he gave me an explanation. And I’m like, “This is Totally the rationale that this makes so much sense” is just I have way too much knowledge here to be able to make a list that fits people who don’t have that knowledge yet. So my understanding of how other people understand this is wrong. And I need to listen to them. So we swapped the order of three courses and then people got more of it. So this, you know you were talking about teaching in a classroom, the benefit of placing teaching in a classroom as you can see eyes glazing over what just happened clearly. Whatever I just said did not register and then you can roll back and be like stop, “Okay, where did you get lost here?”. You know, and you can just tap yourself back in the process and figure out where the blocker is, explain the blocker, then move on. In an online training environment, there is no such feedback. So that means anyone who reaches out over the Internet in any way like through the feedback forms or just hits me from Twitter or LinkedIn or whatever and tells me things that material that they provide me becomes quite a meaningful bearing to the future of our core start made.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I mean what you said is perfect. You know like we have the burden of knowledge, right? We know how everything works so we definitely see it a different way and it’s important to get feedback from your users and understand our students and understand how your students are learning, right? So that’s integral. So we are…Well, we’re pretty over time. This is going to be a two-part episode I think. So I want to end with the two questions I love asking, and the first is, “What are your plans for the future? So like… and I love to break this down into, “How do you decide what to teach next and what can we look for upcoming on Lynda and LinkedIn Learning?”

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: How do I decide what the teacher set? So we have this special room at the LinkedIn Learning headquarters which has a teleporting device that portals us into the future. Then we look at what people are doing and then we return to the present time and then we make the courses that people use in the future. That’s what we’re working on until then we have a team. So I work on the web or under the tech team there’s a web team vigil levels and other staff on that team. And we spend a lot of time very carefully thinking about what the future looks like. There’s a lot of research and we look at what people are talking about, what technologies that are currently using, what is upcoming, what new standards are in place, how far along are these standards allow these very meta conversations about, you know? A couple of years ago we had this meeting where we were discussing different JavaScript frameworks. At the time I think the competitors were a meteor, and iconic, and backbone, and angular, and something else. And there was this conversation but Okay, which ones of these will win because only one of these will and the other would just die.” So if you’re watching it, listening to this you go… Meteor, iconic, what’s this? Yeah, that’s fine and that’s what conversation matters. And then we have to make a decision, right? Like okay, we’re going to invest in one of these things or two of these things. Which ones? And it’s tricky because you don’t know, right? If you went back ten years and said that jQuery was going to be huge. People be like, “I don’t know.” You know, some other things are pretty cool too. It’s like, looks like a cow script or whatever. Like there are other moo tools? Cow script? And then yes, we have those conversations that are tricky and sometimes you make mistakes. But we’ve been, I guess our educated guesses of an educated enough that we haven’t made those mistakes yet.

And then in other cases, it is just a matter of really carefully looking at upcoming things. So for instance, I made a course about CSS grids last year that I released in April 2016, which was well ahead of what, you know CSS as creators like barely working in Firefox so the course is like, “Okay, so you need to install Firefox nightly and half of this stuff will not work at all. We’re going to pretend that it doesn’t if it had worked this is how it works”, right? And none of this will probably be correct. And then I said in the course at the end, I’m pretty certain that a year from now…See that great thing will be live in production browsers and ready to use. And people came back and said, “You’re crazy.” You know this is like Firefox, like five years. And then in April 2017 CSS grid was live in every browser except for Edge. And Edge had a plan to release it, right? So and that’s not because I’m a genius, it’s because I can…I pay enough attention so I can see where things are going and what people are doing. And I spend an enormous amount of time just looking at conversations in all these different realms to figure out. So if they’re saying that and what’s that mean, and you can see it, I mean if you follow me on Twitter, cut out all the noise because I talked about dance TV shows all time, get all ranty about some crazy thing, right? But if you pay close attention you’ll see me occasionally ask someone something. Like yesterday I was asking Jen Simmons when she thinks that the great tools in Firefox and people least in Firefox core and then she said “Man you know, it’s fine”, right?. And then I pushed back and said, “No, no, no. I need to know when?.” That’s the kind of conversation that if you follow me on Twitter, that’s what you should be looking for is when I have these interactions because that’s how I find out, right? I just persistently ask people and if someone doesn’t answer then I have someone else.

And try to…Because the information available is not necessarily publicly available. And not because it shouldn’t be but more because people don’t know or it’s not quite ready yet. But getting some inkling of what is coming down the pipe is important. So that’s kind of how we do it, right? And at the same time, we have to make decisions about things like, if I make a course I realize people don’t know this stuff. Before that works is that we need to fill that, which brings feed to the other hard questions like other questions. What’s next?

The next two courses I’m working on right now it’s a course on HTTP and of course on ‘Rest’. Not us, you know? Here’s how to use a ‘Rest’ in API but what is ‘Rest’? How does this work and what is HTTP and how does that work? And those two courses come out of a need for when people use Rest API. We need to understand what these transactions are happening. How does it function? And in what cases do you have a Rest API? All the stuff needs to be understood at a most basic level. If you want to get more and more advanced, right? So it’s one of those things where it’s easy to use a rest API but if you want to do something advanced with it you need to understand how it works. So you start by learning how to use the API, then you learn how’ Rest’ works, then you learn how HTTP works. So it’s almost backward. So now I’m making the courses that are just looking at how ‘Rest’ works in itself and how HTTP works in itself. And there’ll be 2 little weird courses that are very different from these regular standard courses. And then pushing into 2018, there’s this Gutenberg thing that is happening in WordPress. Possibly some people are talking about it like they’re turning WordPress into some sort of lever pressing machine and then at that point, I will make new courses. So my plan for Gutenberg is to make a course that looks at how to do things like build themes around blocks. If blocks become a theme at WordPress. And then another course that looks at how to build blocks so you have the front-end and the back-end. There’ll be at least two courses that cover this stuff in detail. And then probably, also something about Gutenberg and the Rest API is down, or further into the future. So that’s…Right now that’s what it looks like but a lot of this stuff is very murky. Things will happen and things come out. There will be an update to work with WordPress Essential Training when WordPress and Gutenberg become part of this course. If it does, you know I have an updated course on new courses. I reimagine existing courses, it all depends on what’s going on at the moment. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s awesome. And the last question I like to ask is, “Do you have any trade secrets for us?”

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: What are trade secrets? But the whole point of this is still open? And that’s what I love so much about the Internet like everything is open and there are no secrets I guess. Okay! I have something for you. I think a lot of this conflict and animosity that’s happening online around pretty much everything these days comes from a place of not accepting that everyone is usually doing things because they think it’s the right thing to do. And this is something I learned way back in my past life. I worked in politics and one of the things that I learned the hard way is, even if you…when you disagree with someone else, I’m sort of on hot topics, like how big plastic bags should be or something like that? Everyone will have this very very strong opinion about this topic and it’s very easy at a certain point in a conversation to get to the point where you’re like, “You’re just wrong”. Or you have some sort of agenda here or you’re misinformed, whatever. I’m looking after the people but you’re getting in the way of that right and you can see this happen again and again in a lot of conversations. And people will say you have to remember that there are people behind the screen that, you know, we’re focusing on getting to what the actual user needs. And…what I learned was everyone is trying to do that. There are very very few people who are not produced, either, just causing problems or have some sort of legitimate agenda that they’re trying to further. So if you ignore those people for a second and just think about the majority of people who contribute to sources, contribute to any conversation in general, everyone is coming at it from their viewpoint of I think, I know what’s best here and I want to ensure that, that’s what happens because I believe that is the right thing that should happen. And anytime you approach them as if they are wrong or that you know, their standpoint has no value to itself, it ends the conversation before you have any chance of getting anywhere. Because in many cases understanding the viewpoint of the other person even if it’s a viewpoint you disagree but will allow you to have a better understanding of your viewpoint as well. And it may turn out that the best solution is somewhere between those two things but that can only you, can discover that if you accept what other people are saying. And there are limits to it. There are certain viewpoints that are unacceptable. Because that’s usually…Because they’re uninformed, right? or because they come from a place of a certain conviction that you may not agree with for other external reasons. But in most cases like for instance whether or not WordPress should have block editing, every single person involved in that conversation wants what’s best for WordPress. And every single person wants what’s best for the end-user of WordPress. That’s all that matters. And even so, everyone feels like the people that are on the other side of the debate are wrong and are doing things that are bad for everyone, and accepting that both sides of that debate have the best interests of the user in mind is the only real path work. So basically the trade secret is, listen to other people and accept their statements as they understand the truth of the world. And try to understand their viewpoint and inform your own viewpoint based on that rather than just automatically saying, “You’re wrong, I’m doing it my way.” The end, close ticket. (laughing background)

Joe Casabona: I love that for a million reasons. But also it creates empathy and understanding, right? I mean you and I have disagreed on certain things but we had respect for each other because we understand that at least about each other, hopefully.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Absolutely.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. You know, there should be…I mean, I’m not going to say we said as well as we said it. So I will just leave it at that, an absolutely great point. Listen to each other.

Morten, thank you so much for joining me today. I had an absolute blast talking to you for just about double the normal length of this so I will probably cut it into two episodes or will make it like a super long season finale. Either way, the whole conversation was great and I appreciate your time.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: I appreciate being allowed to come here and just talk.

Joe Casabona: You’re one of the people who when you talk I will listen because I know you understand when you have an opinion it is definitely not just like shooting from the hip like me a lot of the time.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: I think you’re selling yourself short but I appreciate the compliment. I’ll send it back to you.

Joe Casabona: Awesome.

I hope you enjoyed that. Morten was very generous this time and honestly, I could talk to him for a lot longer than we did. So I hope you enjoyed everything that we talked about in an amazing conversation.

Thank you so much to everybody who made Season Three so great! Especially, perhaps including the season-long sponsor. Liquid Web this season wouldn’t have been able to happen without them. So definitely check the amazing things that they’re doing over at buildpodcast.net/liquid.

And of course thanks to our new and final sponsor for Season Three, Lifter LMS. If you want to create great online learning or a membership website, Lifter LMS is the way to go. Head over to buildpodcast.net/lifter.

And that’s it! That is the wrap on Season Three off. I’m going to take the month of December off and will be back in January.

Now, little caveat there, if you head over to Patreon I have a couple of nice things planned for the Patriots subscribers. If you want to join and kind of hear the kind of one-off stuff that I’m doing related to the podcast. Also, if you do listen to this before WordCamp US I will be at WordCamp US so come say “Hi”, I’ll be giving away build something stickers. And you know, the rest of the drill, raid us over at Apple podcast, head over to the Facebook group, and do whatever it is that makes you happy.

So until next season, get out there and build something.

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