Friday, March 18, 2011

Upcoming Online Classes I'm Taking + How To Choose Online Classes

Friday Favorites are coming up later today, but I wanted to get this out there since at least one of these classes starts next Monday!

I've talked at length here about how much I love online scrapbook classes. My local scrapbook store doesn't have many classes to choose from, and those that they do have are either not my style or just not interesting to me. Online classes, though? There are soooo many to choose from that it's almost impossible to not find one that I like. In fact, I'm signed up for six that start in the next month or two!

Club Got Sketch is another of Valerie Salmon's fantastic sketch classes. It includes weekly PDF handouts (with precise cutting, placement, and photo size directions) and a class community on Ning.

Kelly Purkey is teaching a third installment of her Sketchbook class series. I purchased the first two in PDF, and they're absolutely fantastic!! This class includes three PDFs emailed to you each week and a private message board for the class.

28 Days of Sketches (hmmm, I'm sensing a theme, here) is a class that Lisa Day is teaching at Big Picture Classes. When you take a class at BPC, there's always cool stuff involved- at least weekly emails (it varies by class), PDF handouts, audio/video presentations, and a private community for the class.

Just a side note- if you want to sign up for any Big Picture class, the Paperclipping Roundtable has a coupon code here for 10% off any purchase. Also, if you use their affiliate link, it helps support their awesome podcast. And, if you haven't listened to their podcast yet? You should totally give it a try!

May with May. I absolutely adore any class taught by May Flaum. She's got such a great teaching style and is totally involved in all of her classes. This is another class at Big Picture, so it includes the cool goodies I listed for 28 Days of Sketches.

I took Shimelle's first Blogging for Scrapbookers class, and I think it's safe to say that it's part of the reason I am where I am right now with this blog and all the things that have come from it. Before this class I only blogged sporadically, but after completing just the first couple of lessons suddenly I couldn't shut up and was blogging like a mad woman all the time!! I will admit that although I read all the lessons I really only completed the first few, but that was all I needed to push me to get going. ALL of the content is fabulous, and if you're a scrapper who's wanting to be a better blogger I totally recommend that you take the first class along with the second. I'll be in the second for sure!

Ali Edwards' Scrapbook on the Road class is the only downloadable of the bunch. There's no community or ongoing workshop attached to it like the others, but that doesn't make it any less amazing! There is soooo much content- hours of video that you can download and not have to watch online (I've got mine on my iPad), several PDFs, and lots of photos. Ali's teaching style is so accessible and comprehensive. I really, really can't recommend this one enough (and at $14 it's an absolute bargain).

In general I enjoy all the online classes that I take, but there have been a couple that I just really didn't care for. It's not that they were necessarily bad classes, they just didn't work for me, and hopefully I can provide some tips that will help you avoid the same issue. While there are many, many different types and formats of online classes, I've found that if I ask myself two simple questions before signing up I'm almost guaranteed to have a positive experiece.

Question 1: Do I Like The Instructor

I don't mean the word "like" in the personal sense- most of the time you never actually meet your instructor in person, so how you feel about them isn't an issue here. What I'm talking about is their style in both the scrapbooking and teaching sense.

If you've taken a class from an instructor previously you'll have most (if not all) of the information you need to make this decision based solely on that prior experience. But what if the instructor is unknown to you? Then it's time to do a little research. Most instructors have blogs, Twitter feeds, or at least online galleries. Take some time to read their posts, see what they tweet about, and check out their scrapbooking style.

Do they write their blog posts in a way that makes sense to you, and that you enjoy? Since most online classes are delivered with some sort of text-based component (PDFs, blog posts, web site with instructional text), reading an instructor's blog will give you a good idea of what to expect from them when it comes to the style of course material.

Also, check that their scrapbooking style is something that appeals to you. Most instructors use layouts and projects that they've created themselves as examples in their class content. If their scrapbooking style doesn't mesh with yours, that could be a signal that this isn't the class for you. Note that this isn't always the case, but its definitely something to be aware of.

Some instructors have free classes or sample lessons you can download. If this is the case, take advantage of it!! Check out the provided materials and see if their style is something you want to work with.

Question 2: How Is The Content Delivered

There are any number of ways that course content can be delivered online. Most scrapbooking classes I've taken, though, fall into one of these categories (and some incorporate more than one):
  • Workshop style- content is delivered in pieces over the course of the class, most of the time according to a pre-set curriculum. The format of this content can take on many forms, including:
    • Private blogs
    • Forums
    • Email delivery
    • Online community (Ning, etc.)
  • Project-based- content is delivered all at once, usually immediately or shortly after the student signs up for the class. Format of the class can include any of the options above, but most of the ones I've signed up for only include the downloaded materials provided at signup.
  • Membership based- I'm actually in a couple of these (Paperclipping and Masterful Scrapbook Design come to mind). These are ongoing ventures and not necessarily discrete classes. Students pay a fee (sometimes monthly or yearly) for access to materials. Content can be delivered in any number of ways, including all those mentioned under the workshop style.
  • Webinar- This is a relatively new venue for online scrapbooking classes, and Lain Ehmann's True Scrap event is a great example.

    Lain has twelve instructors lined up to teach seminars in given time slots on given days. If you don't have time to watch the course content at the time its presented, you can pay an extra fee for access afterwards.
Also take a few moments to find out what happens to content after the class is over. Are the course materials/classroom still available for a period of time after class ends? Is the content downloadable so that even if the classroom closes, you still have access to the content from your computer?

For me, it's a huge deal that I get downloadable content. You'll have a very hard time getting me to sign up for your class if it's not provided. Whether that content is in PDF, video, or audio, I insist on having the option of loading it onto my laptop or iPad so that I can access it when I'm not online. That may not be an issue for some students, but its likely that you do have some sticking point when it comes to how a class is run- figure out what that is, then use it as a criteria to judge future classes by.

I hope that some of this information has been helpful to you, and I hope even more to see some of my readers as fellow students in upcoming classes!!