Books and video are overrated, teach with slides

I've been trying to learn how to code in JavaScript for about 3 months now. I've tried pretty much everything. Books on Javascript, Codeschool, Codecademy, lectures, etc. They all fail short when trying to explain hard concepts.

Hard concepts are best explained when:

  1. Starting with a summarised description
  2. Show examples in action
  3. Describe each step of the example process

What's wrong with Books

Most books are made to follow a traditional printed format. So when it comes to explaining hard concepts, books often have to balance out between the amount of pages needed to visually explain a complicated process and the maximum amount of pages that a book should have.

Often times, books just explain the whole process in a single page, with some pointers on each step of the way. This leads to a lot of confusion on where to start, what would be the next step, and where can the reader find details about each step (next page?). Resulting in a lot more time invested by the reader to understand the material.

feedback-loop

Every engineering student has seen graphs like the one above. Often times, a graph like this raises more questions than answers. If the student is lucky, the author will include a detailed explanation of everything that is happening. However, the attention of the reader will be subjected to jumping back and forward between the explanation (that might be paragraphs away) and the graph to see in what step of the process she's in.

Video

Video is becoming the #1 resource for online universities like coursera and udacity. You record a lecture once, and it can be viewed by millions of people. However, videos fall short in terms of speed in which the concepts are explained.

The viewer is subjected to the rate that the narrator is going to. Even though plenty of video players now allow you to change the speed of videos by magnitudes of +/- 0.5x of the original speed. What if the speed that is ideal for you is 1.77x ? Will you risk going to 2.0x and potentially not understand something? What if you go down to 1.5x and miss the opportunity to learn an immesuarable mount of material 42% faster?

Oh! You didn't understand something! Everyone has gone back a few seconds to see what concepts they missed. After a few clicks, you get to right spot. Didn't understand something else? Click a few times on the progress bar. The video is loading again? It's just a few more seconds.
But these seconds add up, specially when videos are the only source of learning that the student has.

In the end, the extra overhead in videos amounts in a slower learning process overall.

Slides

Slides can only work well if you know how to use them. If you just empty a blank page with bullet points, then you're not taking advantage of the full power of teaching slides.

Slides are amazing when used to explain really hard concepts through examples that can be shown one step at a time. If the process consists of 5 steps, don't show all steps in a single slide! Instead, make a graph that progresses as the reader moves to the next slide. A single step might be so hard that it might take several slides and more fine tuned explanations. Other steps could be so easy that only one slide with barely any details about the step are required.

In the end, the reader will go at the pace that she is more comfortable with. She can just press back if she didn't understand something, press forward to breeze through concepts she already understand.

The process of taking notes will be as easy as taking notes with books. It adds similar advantages to video, but offering a lot more benefits for the students, and a much lower production cost than video.

Tips:

  • The slidedeck should not follow the same format used in lectures, webinars, etc. It should include all the content required within the slides and be self explanatory.
  • The explanation of every step of the process should be defined in a single location in the slide deck.
  • Don't show all the steps of the process in the beginning. Add more steps as the process progresses, but have an indicator of previous steps in the slide so that the reader can see the what preceded the current step.

Slides should not be used for everything. I would never put a novel in a slidedeck. Some other things like "How to" guides will benefit from being in video format. Nevertheless, a well designed slidedeck will save both the teacher and the student a considerable amount of time, and should be considered as a very poweful teaching tool.

Inspired by various slidedecks made by: Marcus Phillips from Hack Reactor.

comments powered by Disqus