Does your Tridion Item Metaphor Work?

It's always a challenge, at least for me, in balancing the need to explain Tridion concepts with hands-on practical time. To far one way or another and students miss out on practical hands-on time or don't fully understand the relationship between components, templates, and pages.
The best training sessions give students the opportunity to understand the concepts, practice them in a safe environment, and then connect this to their practical work. If you can, limit training to about ten attendees, include someone from the actual implementation if it's for custom training, and be sure to match the audience to the right type of training. Be careful with attempts to cover everything in a single session (which is possible when the topics are properly scoped).
One way I can tell students are engaged and trying to work through the definitions is when they start creating their own metaphors to explain Tridion relationships. I've heard (and even tried) several, including:
  • Database columns for fields and rows for components
  • Components as "instances" of schemas
  • People as pages, with organs for components (true story)
  • Rooms for components
  • Legos for components
  • People as components, with "human" as the definition (schema)
  • People as components, with them standing in different positions for component presentations (yeah, feedback was mixed on this one)
To test your metaphor, see if it fits into the following description, adjusting as needed.

A _____________ (schema) defines the available options for individual _____________ (components). For example _____________ (a specific "schema") defines the options to create _____________ (a specific component) or _____________ (another component).

These _____________ (components) can be grouped together in a specific order on/in one or more _____________ (pages). When adding a _____________ (component) to a _____________ (page), you can choose a _____________ (component template), which changes the way the _____________ (component) presents itself, without actually changing the _____________ (component).

Whew. Let's try one?

A recipe (schema) defines the available options for individual dishes (components). For example cake recipe (specific schema) defines the options to create this cake or a separate cake with some optional variation (two components).

These cakes (components) can be grouped together in a specific order on/in one or more ads/photoshoots (umm... pages) (watch as the metaphor breaks a little). When adding a cake to an ad (page), you can choose a set of instructions (component templates), which changes the way the cake presents itself, without actually changing the cake (component).

Maybe let's try the classic Lego scenario?

set of Lego instructions (schema) defines the available options for individual Lego constructions (components). For example "Minifig" defines the options to create an Anakin (minifig) or Obiwan (minifig, as separate components).

These Minifigs (components) can be grouped together in a specific order in one or more Lego Scenes (pages). When adding a Minifig to a Scene, you can choose a set of instructions (component template), which changes the way the Minifig presents itself, without actually changing the Minifig.

Let's make it practical by looking at the icons again.

Schemas are definitions. They define what goes into the box. The brackets suggest (xml) tags, which may or may not make sense to authors, but should be recognizable by techies (did you get your Linked-In endorsement for XML yet?).

A component is the box that holds your content and images. It even looks like a box.

A component template does something (not permanently) to your component. It's a box as well, but that gear suggests it makes or does something (maybe a component presentation?).

A globe on a page. Hmm... maybe it's a page for the web? ;-)
The "Tridion" approach Global Education lead Kelly Thompson has us following includes the phrase, "See. Do. Connect." After demonstrating (see) and having students perform the exercises (do), we follow up with a recap, quiz, or small discussion to connect the exercise to something practical for students.

A metaphor won't completely explain Tridion item relationships, but if your students start suggesting their own, you're making good progress.

Happy training!

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