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Why Popular Subjects Make the Worst Courses

I was thinking about something the other day, and it strikes me as a problem with the current way online courses are developed and provided.

Try to finish the following sentence, “I really want to learn how to…”

Each of us are going to have a slightly different way to finish that sentence. But if you believe Google Autocomplete is a good measurement of what people are searching for, the top things people want to learn how to do are:

  • Type
  • Knit
  • Draw
  • Play guitar


Youtube adds a few more interesting topics to the list of answers:

  • Sing
  • Dance
  • Crochet
  • Play Piano



Those are hard things to create an online course about (except for typing).

Computer based typing courses have been around since computers were first in the home (i.e. 1987’s Mavis Beacon).  But how would you teach knitting online? How would you teach people how to draw? I would think video learning would be the best way for that, but these are hands-on skills that require equipment, practice, testing and feedback. How would someone learning guitar know they have passed a test to move on to the next level?

If you go to Youtube, and search any of these terms, what comes up is a hodge-podge mixture of amateur content. Hundreds (or thousands) of videos exist to try to teach you how to play guitar, mostly of poor quality. Yes, VHS/DVD courses to teach music instruction have existed forever too (since the advent of video in the home), but did anyone ever learn how to play a musical instrument from those? Is there any evidence it ever worked, beyond being a telemarketing success?

This is why MOOCs have largely been limited to traditional classroom courses – finance, business, math, science, philosophy, psychology, English, history, etc.

Some people have attempted to rectify the situation by tackling these subjects as a professional online instruction subject. Udemy is a good example of that. The website Mahalo attempted to bring professional instruction to some of these fields – those videos live on Youtube under the HowToPlayGuitar2 user. They also attempted to teach self defense, home cooking, and other skills.

Will we ever get to the point where you could learn how to draw online? Or search any of these popular yet hard-to-teach-online topics and have resources that are as good as in-person instruction? Of course, this problem will be solved some day. It’s just that today, there aren’t great resources for that available.

Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you in the comments.


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