Saturday, May 17, 2014

An initial review of Udemy, from a student's perspective

Udemy is one of those platforms that frequently gets lumped into the "MOOC provider" category. Perhaps, these days, with the term being anything you want it to be, Udemy fits into this category.  Over the past few weeks I've been experimenting with their courses to see what Udemy is all about.  originally (a year or so ago), when I first went to Udemy I experienced sticker-shock.  The courses (or at least those one the homepage) were not free. This was not something that I was expecting to see from a MOOC platform.

That said, this time around, I fished around and found six free courses.  Three were more like professional development workshops, traditional self-paced learning, and three were created by academics.  The three more academic courses were Ancient Greek Religion, Intercultural Communication, and a political science course on American Democracy. From a motivational perspective, I assigned up for these courses because they were free, and they were interesting from a topic perspective. Intercultural communication wasn't new to me, so I wanted to see how a familiar topic "felt" in this platform.  From a design point of view (which I got from Udemy's own how to create a Udemy course) the platform supports audio, video, uploaded documents, and mash-ups (a combination of slides and video, or any two of the aforementioned  document types). 

It seems to me that most videos, at least from my academic, and professional sampling, were just talking heads, or talking heads and slides. To be honest, it was quite boring. The political science course actually gave me reason to look at my screen (it explained some graphs which were hard to describe orally), but all other courses were content that I consumed in an audio only fashion.  I guess the only exception was the photography course which prompted me to look at some examples of photos.  It is a bit of a bummer because it is this way  by design.  In the how to create your own Udemy course the chief learning designer who runs the course tells you that at least 60% of the content needs to be video because that's a better way of doing it.  I don't know about that, I really have my doubts.  At the end of the day, it's not the mode of delivery, it's what you do with it. :)

It's not all doom and gloom though.  Udemy has a really nice iPad and smartphone app that allows you to download all lectures and materials for offline viewing!  This was pretty sweet because I was able to download everything while on WiFi at home or work and then view the lectures while I was on the train, commuting to and from work.  That said, as I wrote above, it's not (just) the medium, but what you do with it.  One of the courses I undertook seemed like a pile of ancillary materials from someone's corporate workshops just thrown together (not designed). This means that lectures recorded for other audiences were delivered on Udemy and some videos were 30 or more minutes in length.  To me this violates the principles of mobile-friendliness that I articulated to my colleague Joeren this past spring at the DML conference. If you are providing mobile apps for your MOOCs it's not just OK to be able to download materials for offline access. 

The material needs to be bite sized and easy for mobile access.  Sometimes you only have a few minutes between stops on the train and therefore you cannot devote your visual processors to a visual lecture that is more than this time in length.  However your audio processors may be perfectly fine to handle a 10 minute audio segment on what you are learning.  If you have forums, on a mobile device (not that Udemy did), questions and expected responses need to be shorter than when at a keyboard and you can devote more time to the course.  I think there needs to be a companion aspect of mobile and desktop elements since I don't think we can scale video and audio multimedia in this nature.

Speaking of forums and test, these don't translate to the smartphone version, so if you want to participate in a forum discussion or take one of the unit tests, you will have to wait to get to a desktop.

All things considered, I would consider using Udemy for self-paced tutorials, but in it's current form, it's not really well suited for synchronous classes with many students, and the video-heavy nature really slants the design for the course. I am wondering how those Jack Welch classes are on Udemy, and how well they are designed, but I am not curious enough to shell out cash to attend one of those courses. 

What about you? Do you have any Udemy experiences?

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