What a professional computer course should be.

We've all enrolled in these: 3-day training courses on some fad software package or newfangled programming paradigm. I've taken 'em. I've taught 'em.

I'd like to create and teach more of these in the future, but only under the condition that I define what such a course should be in the first place.

Paying for a typical training course entitles one to periods of enforced playtime, snacks in the morning, and a nap in the darkened lab following a chicken luncheon. In other words, your $2,000 has bought you three days of kindergarten.

The true benefit of these courses is that you're made to think about the subject material for a period of time in an environment with fewer distractions than the office. And you may even learn something, most likely disjoint facts without any organizing narrative or context.

And let's not forget the laser-printed graduation certificate!

Leaving aside this ready-for-framing certificate, you would derive the identical benefit by reading a trade softcover on the subject and actually trying out the exercises listed therein.

My definition of a course is one that starts at that point: students have read the book and experimented with the concept before enrolling. The course is now less about spoon-feeding the basics and covering the installation two-step, and more about answering the questions that arose during the students' experimentation and demonstrating the practical avenues for future experimentation. The instructor's role is then to impart experience (something that can't be learned from a book) rather than knowledge (something that can).

Naturally, my perfect course is nigh impossible: people shelling out for training do so precisely because they don't want to have to read or learn on their own, organizations running such courses don't want to forgo income by enforcing prerequisites, and the instructors must command a wealth of experience -- instead of having simply read the book and been given advance possession of the curriculum materials -- and therefore command higher rates.

Of the many folks that exit a traditional training course muttering, "That's nothing I couldn't have learned from a book," there must be a niche demographic willing to pony up for something better.