I’ve been actively involved in an online course through Treehouse (www.treehouse.com). Here I’ve been learning Java Script coding to learn how to create applications for the Android operating system. Each course is broken up into stages, which are broken into various videos, quizzes, and what are called code challenges. For example, the lesson Building a Simple Android App, is broken into 6 stages. In the first stage, there’s an introduction video (about a minute and half long) followed by a code challenge where you must enter a string of code correctly that you just learned. Quizzes are spread throughout the stage, as a self-check for understanding to ensure you understand key information from the videos. Failing a challenge or quiz does not prevent the user from moving forward, nor are users prevented from skipping ahead or going back. During the videos you build components of code in a program on your computer, in a follow along with the video type of system.
All the instruction would be considered direct instruction with a combination of an instructor talking and standing in front of the camera, and the instructor talking over a screencast as he enters and creates code. This whole process is identical to a face to face sessions however, users are unable to ask questions during this process (although questions can be asked on the forum) however, users can replay the video as many times as they wish which would be unavailable in a face to face session. What makes this course so spectacular is not it’s instruction however, but the ability for the user to control my pace and what they learn, when they want to learn it. As an example I stuck on the part where I needed to name my app so it appeared appropriately on people’s phones. I had to go back and watch the video 3 or 4 times to understand my mistake. In a regular classroom setting it would have been impossible for me to go back in time and re-listen to these kind of instructions.
Educationally the course relied heavily on cognitivist learning theory where the instructor passed knowledge to me and I was expected to reproduce this learning to my created project. It’s not my favorite kind of learning as my final product is exactly what the instructor wanted me to create, with little to no creativity allowed. However, I’m not entirely sure what an online lesson like this would look like using constructivist learning theory since one must have a basic understanding of code before construction can occur.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my online learning experience as it allowed me to do something I would have never been able to accomplish in a regular classroom setting, and at no cost to myself. I enjoyed being able to learn at my own pace and received quick help from the instructor via the classroom forums. I realize however, that this kind of learning is not for everyone as watching how-to videos via direct instruction may not be enough. Since these courses are free however, I would recommend them to anyone to try once.