In my opinion a good course will contain theory, experience based stories and a practical part. Each of these will deliver value to the participants in its own way, therefore I think all these elements need to be present in every course. No software testing course can be complete without some actual testing in it.
Theory is considered to be boring by most of the participants, but it’s necessary! The theory will provide some common understanding of terms and definitions that can be used throughout the course. Of course the theory is best accepted by participants when it’s backed by experience based stories, but these stories alone will not suffice to bring the message. It’s up to the teachers to deliver a good mix of theory and experience based stories! The theoretical part of the course is actually a guideline for the teacher, so no relevant subjects for the course are forgotten. Since a course is usually not limited to a single teacher, the theoretical part will make sure that the minimal need information to make the course worthwhile is delivered every time.
In the previous paragraph I mentioned that it’s up to the teacher to deliver a mix of theory and experience based stories. Beware for courses where the teacher lacks personal experience in the provided content. However, the teacher is the only one that provides experience stories. A good course will use some form of discussions to let all the attendees share their knowledge. Stimulate all attendees to participate in discussions. Where one person sees problems, the other already tackled these. A good teacher will learn from these discussions and will be able to provide more information every next course. It’s important to acknowledge that you, as a teacher, do not know everything. Also give credit to the attendees and tell them that you will use their input to improve the course.
To improve the chance that the information in a course sticks with the attendees; always make sure to have some exercises. In the case of software testing, make sure there is some actual testing in the course! Challenge all the people to actively try to make the topic work for them. To really learn something, people need to apply the learned in their own context. Soft skills are important for testing too! Help people develop their soft skills e.g. by letting them present a part of the course and than using the group to give feedback.
What makes a good course great, is a follow up session after the course. Let the attendees try to work with the material in their context and then let them tell how it worked out. As a teacher you’ll learn how the provided material will work out in different contexts, preparing you even better for next courses.
Theory is needed to provide the context for the course. Add stories based on experience to emphasize how the theory can help in real world situations. Let people practice with the provided material, enabling them to apply the material in their own context.