Katie Hawkes (Senior Program Manager) and Dennen Hansen (Program Manager II) of Twitter University (Technical Learning & Development)

How Twitter Enables Peer Instructors in a Remote-First Environment

with Katie Hawkes & Dennen Hansen

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Over the last few weeks, it has become clear that working from home has become a new reality for many of us. As we started talking to peers at various companies, we realized that everyone was working hard to adapt to this new work-from-home norm and remote-first learning and development. We decided to come together on a virtual Roundtable to compare notes.

Seventy-five leaders who work at the intersection of technical training and learning & development joined in, and Twitter was one of the three companies that presented.

Here is what Katie Hawkes (Senior Program Manager) and Dennen Hansen (Program Manager II) of Twitter University (Technical Learning & Development), had to say about effective peer-to-peer teaching and learning in a remote-first work environment.

1. Peer-to-Peer Learning Program

Twitter University is a team of 3-4 people responsible for educating over 2,000 engineers. They focus on utilizing Subject Matter Experts to teach classes to each other efficiently and effectively at scale. Volunteers, not professional instructors, teach most of these classes.

2. Enabling Remote-First Peer Learning

Their onboarding program, Engineering Flight School, has historically been 21 hours of education during a new hire’s first week, entirely in-person. The challenge: 

  1. Transitioning the global program fully online to remote-first learning
  2. Equipping volunteer instructors to teach effectively

3. Strategy: Crowdsourcing best practices

Twitter University started by crowdsourcing best practices from their volunteer instructors, particularly those who have historically been remote or have taught remote-only sessions. They began by doing the following:

  1. Create a Google Doc to compile brief, common-sense list of best practices for remote instruction
  2. Send an email to instructors asking for feedback 
  3. Categorize then code feedback in a Confluence page to distribute to all instructors
  4. Evolve the list of best practices as the weeks go by

4. Remote-First Instruction Best Practices

The feedback they received fit neatly within four categories:

  1. Class Setup
    1. Curriculum adjustment, reviewing the curriculum
      1. Example: If group work functions typically well during a class but not online, you can choose to scrap that section or replace it.
    2. Virtual environment
      1. Test cameras/microphones for both yourself and others
  2. Starting the Session
    1. Making small talk
      1. Establishing rapport at the beginning of remote sessions was significantly underscored by instructors. Get names and understand their pronunciation.
    2. Setting expectations
      1. Ask about special accommodations first, then set objectives, expectations for participation.
      2. Instructors and participants are encouraged to close out of all other windows.
  3. Classroom Management
    1. Participation
      1. Calling on people by name is a great way to personalize the class and build rapport. It also ensures that people are paying attention.
      2. If someone is answering most or all of the questions, make sure that you are calling on others. Check for understanding.
    2. Disruption/distractions
      1. Provide instructors with an understanding of how to utilize AV tools to minimize disruptions.
  4. Accessibility
    1. Disability/impairment
      1. Determine the necessary accommodations for both learners and instructors through each session.
    2. Availability of content
      1. Sessions may not always be timezone-friendly to all customers and learners. Ensure that all courses and content are accessible to everyone in the organization who can benefit.
      2. Right now, the rule is to have everything recorded as a backup for anyone who couldn’t attend. The long-term plan is to make the overall program more remote-friendly.


Dennen has shared a more comprehensive, ongoing list of remote-first instructor best practices: Twitter’s Remote-First Instruction Best Practices [Collaborative Doc]

Click here to watch the full recording.

About TechKnowCon

TechKnowCon originated as an annual conference in 2018 to bring together peers from various companies to compare notes and share best practices about technical training, documentation, and learning in the workplace.

About TechKnowCon Roundtable

TechKnowCon Roundtable is a facilitated monthly gathering over Zoom where technical learning leaders at various companies can share best practices, ask questions, and discuss changes in the industry.

Want to be a speaker at a future TechKnowCon Roundtable? Let us know.

Click here to register for the next event.

Click here to join our Slack community of leaders at the intersection of technical training and learning & development.

Based on the TechKnowCon Roundtable that was hosted on March 25, 2020, moderated by Marko Gargenta, Founder of PlusPlus.

Written by Joseph Lam.

Category: Ideas Author: Joseph Lam Date: April 9, 2020 2:03 am