Sunday, September 30, 2007

Are Screencasts the Future?

Before I joined ThoughtWorks I worked for Nelnet. Nelnet is a student loan products and services organization. While employed at Nelnet (around Sept 2004), I was sent to an education conference where one of the keynote speakers presented data showing that students who were born after 1981 learn differently than those born prior. The reason this data was important was because it demonstrated that students born after 1981 were far more effective at learning through watching, listening, and doing. The speakers conclusion was that the educational system needed to react by creating classes which didn't rely so heavily on simply reading a textbook. At the time I thought the information was interesting, but not particularly relevant to me.

Today, some of the more popular educational materials can be found in audio (podcasts) or audiovisual (screencasts) form. Additionally, sites like Try Ruby encourage you to give kinesthetic learning a try. After seeing the growth in each of these areas over the past few years, I think it's fair to say that the conference speaker was on to something.

I sent a draft of this entry to Geoffrey Grosenbach for review. He sent back a few more reasons why he believes in screencasts as good teaching tools.
  • Efficiency of time: It takes dozens of hours to read a 300 page book straight through. But a screencast can pack the most relevant information into an hour.
  • Passive/Active: You can sit back and pick up whatever elements are interesting to you. Some people say the most valuable part is learning auxiliary shell shortcuts or workflow tips.
  • Graphical/Textual: I don't know any tech publisher who pays an artist to draw helpful diagrams. Screencasts are inherently graphical and it makes sense to include a few diagrams that explain the topic better than paragraphs of text would.
Here's a few links for those intersted in trying out some alternative learning tools.
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