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A Closer Look at

My first impression of was of a cross between Khan Academy and – providing video-based courses on popular subjects, such as math and English, as well as more advanced software training options, including Photoshop and C++. However, a recent conversation with co-founder Eric Hung revealed much more.

As Hung stated,’s mission “is to provide users with the best access to teachers regardless of time, location, or economic status.” Currently covering a variety of high school and college-level topics, each course includes a list of lessons that are self-paced, can be viewed in any order, and searched by keyword. This allows learners to select the specific topics in which they need the most help. New courses are also in the works with a dozen scheduled for release in the next few months, including QuickBooks, GMAT preparation, pre-calculus, and music composition.

Taking a Test Drive

I was eager to explore the services available through a trial account provided by Though Hung reports that their most popular courses involve math and science topics, I chose an area in which I always need a review, English Grammar, to experience the learning environment first-hand.

Course instructor Rebekah Hendershot’s engaging introduction promised The Beatles, pirates, and Star Trek to present everything from nouns and verbs to parts of speech and commonly confused words. Here’s what I found:

  • Video lectures: Each lesson includes a video presentation with an interface (example screenshot below) that allows you to see the instructor as well as what she is writing on the white board, and a timeline of the lesson as you advance through the topics and sub-topics (e.g., nouns, proper and common nouns, capitalization).
  • Examples: In this course, Hendershot included helpful mnemonics and explanations, concluding each section with examples to illustrate the explanations of the grammar concepts presented.
  • Practice activities: Examples are then followed by opportunities to practice. These activities are not interactive, but the instructor prompted me to pause the video to complete the exercise at my desk, and continue the video to see the correct answer with an explanation of why it was correct.
  • Discussion threads: Learners can ask questions under each video lesson and responses can come from both the instructor and other learners.

I also took a look at the WordPress Blogging course, and found a similarly structured series of lessons with video lectures. You can follow the steps for many WordPress tasks, such as adding an image to a blog post, as instructor Brenton Strine walks through the process, click-by-click, on screen.

Potential Uses for Online Learners

If it has been a while since you took an academic course, you may be interested in reviewing basic math and English topics before returning to school. Getting a refresher experience in these areas is a good way to prepare for your online program. And if you are already enrolled in a course, but struggling with more complex concepts, these video explanations can be helpful as supplemental study materials. Test preparation is also an option with this system as offers AP course titles and just last week launched new SAT prep offerings.

The more professional subjects listed in the software and computer science categories provide helpful step-by-step tutorials on topics such as PHP and XML. These could be used as refresher training if you already have some experience, or as initial skill building courses if you are just getting started.

Hung recommends taking these first steps to find out more: “start by watching the introduction video on the home page so you can get a sense of all the courses and features we offer. Then choose a topic from the dropdown menu and watch some of the full sample lessons. Our subscriptions give unlimited access to all 60+ topics so you can brush up on skills or re-watch as much as you’d like.”

Do Your Homework is a great example of the web-based resources available to support your online learning efforts. Before you enter a service like this one, take some time to find out if it’s right for you.

  • Preview course content: Not all subscription fee-based services provide the free preview options described above. Look for course tours and detailed course descriptions for any system before committing.
  • Instructor qualifications: Research details about the course instructors for any course you may want to take. Their credentials and experience with the subject matter will make a difference in their level of qualification to teach the materials. English Grammar’s Hendershot, for example, has a master’s degree in professional writing along with experience as an instructor and editor.
  • Questions and answers: Most learners have questions about the courses they are taking.’s instructors monitor the discussions associated with each video lesson and provide responses. Find out how your questions will be answered.
  • Assessment: Do you need academic credit or a certificate of completion? Explore how your learning will be tracked and assessed at the end of each course or lesson. While does not currently offer assessments, with a paid account your progress through course lessons is tracked so that you can log in and out with a record of what you complete.
  • Cost analysis: Last but not least, estimate what you will use and how long you think you would like to have access to the materials and compare the plans. Subscription and fee-based systems like usually have multiple options available.

If you are interested in finding out more, follow on Twitter and check out their newsletter for the latest announcements. Consider how these resources may help you to become a more successful online learner.

January 14th, 2013 written by Staff Writers

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