In the weeks since we’ve launched CodeLesson we’ve had a decent amount of uptake (hello, actual money in exchange for goods and services!) and we’ve had a lot of great conversations with people about what we’re trying to do with the product. Some of the feedback we’re getting has to do with real-time learning experiences and videos, so I thought I’d capture some of this here.
One of the questions we’re getting is whether our courses are based on some kind of live video feeds. The answer to this is no; from my experience giving and receiving various kinds of online learning, “live” or “real-time” anything isn’t really what most students actually find to be useful. I think that video can be valuable, but only as one component of the process. Personally, I find it much easier to learn by reading from a printed page, but there’s obviously a place for a visual demonstration of what’s going on, and that’s where video comes in.
There are plenty of sites that provide recorded video tutorials, and we incorporate that content into our courses, too. I use a bunch of screencast video in the Web Design and Management course I teach for the University of Victoria, and the CodeLesson PHP course I’m teaching now has a few screencasts as well. But they compliment the written material in the course, they don’t replace it. I don’t even really consider a bunch of videos by themselves (either live or pre-recorded) to really be a “course” since, to me, a course is something that has an instructor who can answer your questions and tailor what’s going on in the course to the students’ needs. I understand why online learning sites would want to do this (no involvement with a live human means, at least in theory, that their businesses are very scalable), but it’s not the kind of thing we’re looking to do with CodeLesson.
That said, I think that the folks at Lynda.com, iTunes U, and sites like NETTUTS are doing amazing work; we’re looking at ways to incorporate the kind of content that they provide into our courses. It’ll probably be easier to work with sites like NETTUTS, honestly, because they make so much of their stuff available for free and what they provide is very relevant to what we’re trying to do.
In general, though, the key thing to bear in mind with respect to video learning is that it’s not a terribly high-bandwidth way to take in information. Live video is even more challenging than pre-recorded video as far as information density goes, but more importantly, to take in a live video, you have to be online at a certain time. A big advantage of online learning is the ability to time-shift (this is the same advantage of email over voice phone calls); providing live video takes away that advantage. Not only does this time-shifting give us the ability to work with students who have day jobs or weird schedules (enabling them to do course activities more or less at their convenience), but it enables students in any time zone in the world to take our courses. This is a great deal for students who aren’t located geographically close to a technology center, and it’s great for us as a business because we can work with students who live in nearly any country in the world.