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Learning the Arts, Online

When you think about online learning, it may be MBAs and traditional academic disciplines that come to mind. What about the fine arts?

Convenience and access are both motivators for online learners, including those in the arts. Students who are working and managing family obligations can benefit from the flexibility made available through online courses. Online options also open up new possibilities for those who want to study a particular field, but don't have programs in their local areas.

More online options are emerging for those interested in learning about music, art, dance, and theatre. From full academic programs to continuing education courses learning opportunities are available through traditional colleges, online schools, and other organizations. The level and type of classes also ranges from art appreciation to studio art, as well as art education.

Online Learning Logistics

For learning that usually takes place in campus studios and music rooms with instructor demonstrations and lectures, how can it be achieved online? These courses and programs offer a wide variety of experiences for students and are leveraging technology for content presentation, assignment submission, and instructor feedback.

Materials and Assessment

While delivery of the course content and communication with classmates and instructors may all take place via the Internet, students in these programs often create complex products as course assignments. Think about a class in sculpture, printmaking, or vocal performance, for example.

Like online courses in other subjects, art and music classes incorporate multimedia presentations in the form of video tutorials, interactive simulations, audio recordings, and slide shows. These presentations can be replayed multiple times for review. The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division has posted examples of how course topics, such as studio set-up and drawing, are presented online.

According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Online classes like these often require students to have access to expensive or potentially dangerous tools, and students are encouraged to ask permission to use tools and facilities at nearby high schools or colleges." One example provided was a printing press used to complete an etching assignment in an online art class. Finding space in your own home to study, create, and work on art or music projects may be challenging. And how would an online instructor grade this etching? Students may be required to submit high-resolution photographs of their work for instructor grading and feedback, and may also critique the work of their classmates.

Berklee College of Music offers online courses and certificate programs through their online extension, Berkleemusic. Courses such as Guitar Chords 101 and Drum Set Fundamentals incorporate multimedia presentations, discussion forums, and live chats with instructors. Students use a variety of software, including Audacity, to submit their assignments for instructor feedback. The learning that takes place in these kinds of courses includes not only the subject matter of the course, but also the technology used to create and upload recordings with multiple tracks.

Education and Experience

Just as practical experience can enhance learning in traditional academic disciplines such as business and education, having the opportunity to explore the fine arts through internships and other face-to-face interactions can be beneficial. The Academy of Art University is one program that encourages opportunities for student internships with potential employers like Nickelodeon.

Hands-on experience is part of the University of Idaho's Master of Arts in Teaching program, which is offered online and focused on studio art. In addition to online coursework, studio work is completed at another institution in the student's local area or through online directed studies with faculty critique of a student's work posted to a website.

Movement Explorations Dance, offered as a non-credit continuing studies course by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides one-on-one instructor communication and multimedia learning materials online. A requirement of the course is "access to a classroom or group of students." Designed for teachers interested in incorporating dance in their classrooms, this course includes both online and experiential learning components.

Beyond Colleges and Universities

If you are interested in online courses in the arts as a way to fulfill a personal learning goal or complete continuing education requirements, you may also find options outside of traditional schools. New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is just one example of an organization offering formal online courses in both instructor-led and self-guided formats. MoMA's resources include professional curators and web-based research archives. 

Take a Closer Look

As with all higher education pursuits, you'll want to do a little research before getting started with an online arts program:

  • Accreditation: The process of accreditation ensures a basic level of quality and also impacts the ability to transfer credits to or from a program. Find out more about the type of accreditation held by the schools you are considering.
  • Technical Requirements: Most online programs have specific computer guidelines available letting you know what is required to access the courses and complete your coursework. This may include hardware and some specialized software.
  • Costs involved: Beyond tuition and fees, look for estimates related to art supplies and equipment necessary to fulfill the requirements of your courses. These purchases can add up. The school may offer discounts through a bookstore or other online purchasing arrangement.
  • Student Reviews: What are students saying about the program you are considering? Search for feedback online both on the school's website and on other school review sites. You may also want to search for student galleries and online exhibits.
  • Faculty and Support: Find out about the course instructors through brief bios with details about their experience and qualifications in the courses they teach. What other resources are available to support your learning experience (i.e., career services, library access)?
  • Samples and Examples: Many schools now provide sample lessons and online course tours. Explore these as well as FAQ lists to find out more about the course environment and technology used.
  • Ask questions: Explore your prospective school's online resources and ask questions of advisors and admissions counselors. You can also interact with current students and alumni on the school's social media sites (i.e., Facebook, YouTube, Twitter).

It may not be right for every discipline, program, or type of performance, but online learning increases the number of options available for learners. Through the application of technologies and the integration of models that provide a variety of experiences, there is a potential for students to find value in an online arts education.

February 24th, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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