If we talk about the process of education, then one must say that most people are lost already at the stage of solicitation of participation. It seems to me that this was the real reason we launched EdEra project four years ago. The most important part for us is to show and prove that some area or a subject indeed is wow and super-cool. Further on, the person will go deeper him/herself, staring to learn new aspects and discovering new depths. However, what should trigger this person's desire to study and to fight that anxiety effect is a well-designed initial form and content of a course, easy-to-understand message without unnecessary bureaucratisation and fictional complexity. For instance, it's a scientifically proven fact that the effect of mathematics anxiety does exist. Children from the earliest years are scared with math as something extremely difficult. Consequently, many are scared of this discipline to the rest of their lives. To avoid this we have to build an east-to-grasp math-related chain of associations, not to make it overcomplicated and to explain that this is not a rocket science. I sincerely believe that one of the true goals of education should be this fight with learning anxiety.
Active learning with online elements and without it
Our team has identified those key principles of effective learning that are internationally acknowledged and accepted as efficient ones by the academic community. One of them is the active form of providing information and interaction. Students should be encouraged to be active in classes and to be responsible for their own education. These can be interactive sessions, group work, presentations, experiments, project work, debates, etc. Moreover, students can be offered to decide themselves what and when they want to study.
You simply cannot tell a teacher: "Now just stop reading your notes and start inventing something!" It does not work like this. You need lesson scenarios with active formats or demonstrations of how you can modify and transform the learning experience for students. Online content is just one of the instruments to help you activate your alternative formats. For instance, you can apply a rotation model. This is how it works: we are dividing one big group into 2-3 smaller ones with each of them having its own goal. One should find all the theory online, the other one is busy with developing a project and the third one is interacting with their teacher. Then a signal comes and groups switch over. In this way, every student gets more attention as it is much more efficient to work with 5 people than with 20.
Online learning alone is not a magic bullet. The idea of mixed format education and the online role is not about improving the teacher's lesson content with the help of technologies. In fact, online materials help you to make the learning process more interesting.
Teenagers' acceptance as a quality measuring stick
The whole team regards acceptance by teens of our project on YouTube as the best ever award. You have to agree that this audience is open to all types of content that is why they have quite a lot to compare things with. Therefore, when creating videos for students we are not solely trying to outplay the school but rather other videos on YouTube. Therefore, educational content for teenagers is a real challenge in terms of scenarios and visuals.
Dress code for a course
Creating an online course for me represents a mesmerising mixture of design, psychology, education and marketing. We have to understand who is our audience, we have to clearly see this hypothetical 21-year-old Kyrylo, the 3rd year student at the University.
Education is a product just like any other. That is why depending on the target audience we have to change the visual packaging of our courses and the format we apply to provide information. This is just like a dress code for certain types of jobs. Every detail matters, even colours, because they also transmit certain ideas and our attitude towards the subject. For example, if we are working on a course for teachers of elementary school, who are supposed to create welcoming and warm learning environment for their students, then all the course content will be arranged in warm colours and undertones.
Ecole Polytechnique [French public institution of higher education and research for engineers – ed.] has produces guidelines on the basic principles for online course visualisation. Harvard initiative for learning and teaching also experiments a lot with forms and the delivery methods for educational content with the use of texts, etc. Here are just a few basic rules that we can also support with our own discovered insights:
If you have a large scale online course, you should always have your lecturer in the picture from time to time, as this creates the effect of presence and visibility;
If a lecturer wants to share his/her subjective opinion about the context on the screen he/she has to interact with it: either look or point at it;
If a picture is extra vivid and is packed with information, you should take your lecturer out of the picture;
Too much information demotivates, too much milk-and-water brings on boredom;
With the lack of visualisation and associations the content is not perceived and absorbed properly;
Too much visualisation, shadows and blinking underlying texts could provoke epilepsy;
The lack of air space between words and more than three main colours is a sign of bad taste;
The worst annoying thing you can do is placing a text on the screen and reading it word by word. Do not do it! Human beings naturally are quicker with reading than hearing, that is why to do the abovementioned is simply incongruous.
Do not put more than 80 word text in one slide;
The narration speed in a learning video should be quicker than that in a real life (based on edX research it should be over 185 words/min, in English)
You should split material in an online format into small relevant blocks of information (Microlearning). The video length should better not exceed 6 minutes (according to edX research).
The lack of high-quality educational materials is typical of all the areas, be it technical or humanities. To tell you the truth I cannot name a single discipline that is irrelevant. Perhaps, only astrology, but it’s only because I do not believe in it) Apart from that, everything matters.