"Cherryleaf are launching a DITA e-learning course" it stated in the e-mail to all ISTC members. Before Outlook had time to crash, I was fully paid up and waiting for the link to arrive. Yes, I was that keen and that quick.I'd been looking for a DITA course for a while, but didn't fancy travelling to London, where all of the courses seemed to be based. The Cherryleaf e-learning course answered my prayers (not that I pray, but you know what I mean).Now that I've completed the course, I thought I would share my thoughts. Remember, I don't go in for paid advertising, so this is all my genuine opinion. I have no interest in, or association with Cherryleaf at all (other than I may have been registered with them when looking for work a while back).
What I Liked about the DITA e-Learning Course
Let's start with all of the things the Cherryleaf team have got right:
The short modules are just the right length. Lasting around 10 minutes with additional exercises, each module provides enough content to increase your learning without overwhelming you with too much information. It also means you can fit in modules easily enough around a busy schedule.
The content is clearly written and presented. Ellis has a clear voice with a neutral accent, so is easy to understand. This will be good news to people from outside the UK who may have feared a stronger regional accent.
The introduction to DITA principles is excellent. If you are new to DITA, there is nothing to throw you off here - the key concepts are introduced gradually so that your learning curve isn't too steep.
The scope of the course is a perfect foundation. When I've read books on DITA, I've often found myself asking questions early on that just didn't seem to get answered. The Cherryleaf course covers the main areas that new DITA practitioners will want to know about, and importantly, the content flows well. I didn't find myself asking questions, which is generally a good sign.
The price! The cost of the e-learning course is much lower than in-house or on-site DITA courses I have seen, some of which don't even seem to cover all of the main subject areas.
The section on future developments. I thought this was a nice touch as it re-emphasises the fact that DITA is a 'living' mark-up language and is constantly evolving.
Now for Some Constructive Criticism
It wasn't all plain sailing with the DITA course, but that is largely due to the fact that I was the guinea pig - the very first customer. Here are some things I would have liked to have seen:
Better installation instructions. The installation instructions in the course were out of date, and this caused me some frustration when I was trying to get started. With a little extra help from Ellis and some information found on the web, I was soon up and running though. And it is an issue Ellis has since dealt with, I believe.
A bit more visual variety. Each of the modules is a presentation from Ellis. Nothing wrong with that, but I would have found it more engaging if there was a little more variety in the way information is presented. It felt a little too 'classroomy' at times, although this is alleviated by the modular format. Maybe a few more graphical slides or some form of interactivity would have helped break the information up and make it easier to remember.
Less referring to the course notes. Later on in the course, we are asked to refer to the course notes more frequently. Fair enough, the amount of information needed cannot be provided easily in a presentation format, but I would have liked more points to be explained on screen in the form of an example. It is probably just me, but when I am watching something, I don't like to have to interrupt my viewing with reading a document.
More 'real-life' examples. There are several good examples in the course, where Ellis says "you could use this element in this situation...." but the latter end of the course would benefit from having some more of these.
Overall View of Cherryleaf DITA e-Learning
The Cherryleaf DITA course ticked a lot of the boxes for me:good content, good value, and available without having to travel to the South East. The introduction to the key DITA areas was presented very well - I have read similar information in books and online, but I was able to absorb it much better through the e-learning course.If you want to learn the basics of DITA, the Cherryleaf course will prove to be a wise investment. If you'd like to find out more, see Cherryleaf DITA e-Learning.