8 ways to enable workshop attendees to keep learning

A Rails Girls workshop (Photo credit: Kerstin Kollmann (CC) NC-ND-BY)

There are many great movements out there teaching people how to code: Rails Girls and RailsBridge among the most prominent. Those movements host free workshops with a superb coach/student ratio to get more people into coding. However there is one problem: How to keep on coding? After the workshop the attendees are mostly on their own again, but we want them to continue! How can we do that? Here are methods we use in Berlin, that I hope can help other movements, subgroups and organizations to keep students engaged.

1. Project Groups

At Rails Girls Berlin we have project groups. These groups are usually formed after the workshop on the mailing list. Someone can suggest a project to work on or just join a project group. Project groups usually are supported by one or two coaches and have 4 to 8 students. Of course there are bigger and smaller groups. You then meet (usually) every week for a couple of hours to work on the project or talk about concepts. As once a week is not a lot there often is some kind of homework.

This concept has been very successful for us. I know of 8 project groups running right now, but I’m told there are ~12 of them which is amazing. Our first project group, the RubyMonsters, have been working as a group for roughly a year now. They already finished their first app and help coach at Rails Girls Berlin events now 🙂

I also heard of similar groups spontaneously forming in Poland after workshops, which made me really happy!

2. Advanced Workshops

At Rails Girls Berlin we often also let advanced applicants join the workshops (we have a workshop about every one to two months). Advanced meaning that they already visited a workshop or have other programming experience. They get their own groups and don’t follow the normal curriculum but rather work on something of their own (with the help of a coach).

We also sometimes host workshops solely for more advanced learners. I spent one such workshop with an experienced Java developer from Brazil talking about differences between the Rails and the Java world. It was a lot of fun!

3. User Groups

We try to encourage the attendees to attend user groups. Here it helps if they already know someone at the user group, e.g. a coach or an organizer. With us I organize the Ruby User Group Berlin and many coaches go there regularly too. Sadly we didn’t have too much success attracting learners to join us, but those that did, always told me that they liked it a lot 🙂

However there is something more suitable for learners: A user group for beginners! Our friends from Open Tech School have just the thing: The Learners Meetup. This happens once every month and there are learners and coaches present. The coaches may introduce themselves and the technologies they are familiar with.  Then there is a talk about a basic programming topic suitable for beginners.  After that there is a break and people can write down topics they are interested in on cards. Then the different topics are clustered and groups for discussions about those topics are formed. I really love this format and the event.

4. Informal Meetings

Project Groups are great, but they have a drawback: A couple of hours per week at a specific time isn’t really flexible and too much for some. Some also prefer to learn on their own, but how to get help when things aren’t going that well? Well that’s what informal meetings are for. Those are meetings where anyone might drop by and work on something or ask questions. You are mostly not guaranteed to have a coach around but learners can help other learners. And mostly you can check beforehand who is there and then see if someone may help with the problem you’re having. Open Tech School has the Learners Hangout every Saturday, which is a brilliant place to go. And in the future I want to try to establish a regular schedule where you can be certain that a coach is present.

5. Show them resources

During the workshop present some good resources to deepen the knowledge of whatever you taught in the workshop. That might be websites, books or user groups to go to. I think this is most fitting at the end of the workshop. Also make sure to publish that list online so attendees can refer back to it later and don’t have to write everything down. I have such a list on this blog myself.

This might be pointing out the obvious, but it’s important nonetheless.

6. A Summer of Code

You might have already heard of Rails Girls Summer of Code – it’s a worldwide program started in Berlin. The idea is to get more woman into coding – or rather further into coding when you continued after your workshop. It’s 3 months, full-time, paid, work on open source and students get supported by coaches and mentors. It’s an amazing program. And we’re still looking for some sponsors – so if you’re willing to help and want to allow us to accept more students please donate. And thanks a ton to all our sponsors so far!!!

7. Have former attendees coach at a workshop

When a former attendee of the workshop continued to code (which we hope!) then it is a brilliant opportunity to let them coach at a workshop. This works beautifully in three ways:

  1. Motivation for attendees: Attendees love to meet someone who has been down the same path before. When we had our lovely Ruby Monsters project group coach with us for the first time a record-breaking number of 3 project groups were founded afterwards. For me that’s the primary measure of success – the people we convince to keep on coding.
  2. Affirmation for former attendees/new coaches: They see all the things that they have learned, up to the point where they can help others learn which is an awesome feeling. Moreover teaching is the ultimate learning (a topic deserving of a blog post of its own…) – explaining something forces you to really understand something and often times leads to looking at things from a different angle which greatly benefits your own learning.
  3. Better coaching: Former attendees remember pretty well, what it was like as a beginner as this hasn’t been too long ago for them. Therefore their explanations often work very well.

See – everyone wins!

I at least know that in Poland they did the same, where former attendees are now coaches which is amazing. At Rails Girls Berlin when we did this for the first time we paired our new coaches up with an experienced coach in order to have a good mix of experience levels for coaching.

8. Share your learning story at the workshop

It is extremely cool to have someone at a workshop who taught themselves how to program. They can share all their insights and tips. Attendees can really relate to a talk like this as well as the person. You might also tell them, that sometimes learning to code is hard, sometimes it’s fun but in the end it’s worth it and a lot of fun. Tell them that it’s ok to make mistakes and that even the most experienced developers resort to search engines more often than you’d think.

Our Ruby Monsters often give a lightning talk about their story of learning in a project group at our workshops. And regularly Joan Wolkerstorfer also tells her story and gives tips. You can watch her talk about this and read about it.

When talking to attendees weeks after the workshop and asking them why they kept on coding meeting someone who has done it and hearing their story is almost always mentioned first.

A lightning talk is also an ideal time to introduce git or github, as these tools enable you to cooperate with others on your project! And we all know that working together with others, building something together, is a great motivation!


There are lots of ways to motivate workshops attendees to keep on learning. These are ways that worked for us or that I think work. Do you have other ideas how we can help people to keep on coding? Have you tried something? I would love to get some input! As a result of initial comments this blog post already grew from 6 to 8 ways 🙂

Slides from the Febuary 2013 Rails Girls Berlin workshop

Hi there,

So here are the slides from my talks from the Rails Girls Berlin workshop on Saturday, in their chronological order:

Introduction to web applications (the one with the map)

I love programming

The slides are Creative Commons Attribution license – so feel free to share and modify them but say where you got them from 😉

And as a little bonus I was allowed to post the beautiful Rails Model View Controller comic drawn by Anja of our Ruby Monsters project group – the comic is Crative Commons as well if I understood her right!




(green) Tobi

By popular demand: recipe for the cookies from the Rails Girls Berlin workshop

Hello everyone,

for my talk on Saturday I prepared cookies. Apparently people really liked them (yay!) and I got quite some requests for the recipe. It’s kind of a family recipe but I guess my grandpa is ok with me sharing it 🙂

So I translated the recipe to English – as good as I can – it follows in German afterwards. And at the end of this post there are some photos of me making those cookies this march (back in Sweden) – maybe it helps you.

The recipe (English) – short crust cookies

Spoiler:  My baking English isn’t really good.

Basic ingredients

  • 500g flour
  • 250g butter
  • 150g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 packets vanilla sugar
  • bitter almond aroma (Bittermandel Aroma) for 500g flour (I usually use a bit more 😉 )

additional ingredients (for the dark part)

  • 40g cocoa
  • 50g butter

general instructions

Use the basic ingredients to make the dough. Knead the dough thoroughly. Then halve it and add the additional ingredients to one of the halves – knead this one extra thoroughly. Leave the dough to chill for approximately 30 minutes. Roll both doughs out to roughly equal size (and ideally shaped like a rectangle). Then put one dough on top of the other (I usually put the lighter one on top of the dark one) – here you may roll them out a bit more. Then coil them up. Keep rolling and halving until the rolls have the size you like. My grandpa goes for a diameter of 7cm – I take less. When the rolls are done you should leave them to chill (e.g. fridge) for about an hour. Afterwards you should make approximately 1cm thick slices and put them on the baking sheet.

My grandpa gave me these rough guidelines for baking them:

  • temperature: 225°C
  • time: 12 mins

or for air circulation:

  • temperature: 165°C
  • time: 25 mins.

The most important rule though is the following: COOKIES SHOULD NOT GET BROWN! which often is quite hard to accomplish. Sticking to the guidelines never worked for me – frequently checking them did.

Pro-tip: I always use at least 4 times the ingredients of this recipe. If you do so it’s much easier to make 2 separate doughs (light and dark one) from the very beginning. And the roll them out and put them on top of each other part also gets so much more fun!

Rezept (Deutsch) – Mürbeteigplätzchen


  • 500g Mehl
  • 250g Butter
  • 150g Zucker
  • 2 Eier
  • 1 Prise Salz
  • 4 Päckchen Vanillezucker
  • Bittermandel-Aroma für 500g Mehl

Teig schnell und gründlich kneten. Dann halbieren und eine Hälfte mit 40g Kakao verkneten (etwa 50g Butter sollte zusätzlich noch mit geknetet werden). Beide Teige ca. 30 Minuten kalt stellen. Danach beide Teige ausrollen, übereinander legen, leicht andrücken und zusammenrollen. Teig weiterrollen und dabei lang ziehen, sodass eine Rolle von ca. 7 cm Durchmesser entsteht. Die fertigen Rollen ca. 1h im Kühlschrank kühlen und dann in ca. 1 cm dicke Scheiben schneiden und mit entsprechendem Abstand auf ein Blech legen und backen. (PLÄTZCHEN DÜRFEN NICHT BRÄUNEN)

Fürs Backen gibt es diese ungefähren Zeitangaben, bei mir weichen diese aber leider teilst drastisch ab. Deswegen empfehle ich oft nach den Keksen zu gucken.

  • Backtemperatur. 225 Grad Celsius
  • Zeit: ca. 12 min

 für Umluft:

  • Temperatur: 165 Grad Celsius
  • Zeit: 25 min

Protip: Ich mache meistens die 4-fache Menge an Keksen, da macht es sich dann auch besser wenn man den hellen und den dunklen Teig von Anfang an getrennt macht. Das übereinander legen macht so auch gleich noch ein mal viel mehr Spaß 😉


Here some photos from my kitchen back in Sweden this march of me making those cookies – enjoy. And before you ask what the beer bottle does there – it excels at behaving like a rolling pin. One of the first things my grandpa taught me. Yeah, poor students.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.