Introduction to the Free Interactive Online Courses
Photo Skills, introduces the joint venture that will provide free online courses in photography and Photoshop skills.
For some time we at Photo Skills have been looking at a way to provide volume training at or near no cost to participants. We looked and experimented with group courses, in concept if you can fill a room with participants it should cost just a fraction of the cost of providing 1 to 1 or small group courses, although we knew from research and feedback we had that this method is not very satisfactory for practical courses like photography training. Many training providers do train with groups of people, and allowing that you charge each participant just £150 for a day with 20 people present you would bring in £3,000, considerably more than the £400 that Camera Images charges for a superior and very experienced instructor 1 to 1. Our objective was not to generate more income per day, but to see if a low cost group course could be structured to be an effective way, and if so, if we could run the same at a lower cost per head.
To fill a course of this type requires a lot of advertising and this eats up a lot of the potential income, then there is the hire of hotel rooms as to run this type of event you need to travel around the country hiring both rooms to put on an event and accommodation for staff. You also have to have assistants to look after the larger number of people, sign them in etc, and as they won't learn anything like as much with you, you also have to produce far more handouts hoping that at least some of the material in the handouts will make their attendance worthwhile, and help them pass the material they could not understand.
In practice with group courses you can't reduce the price greatly, and its neither a good solution to providing lower cost courses or good value for those attending, they achieve so much more on a days 1 to 1 training, and it would be far cheaper and they would learn so much more on a single days one to one than attending a series of group courses. By the time you take into account travel and accommodation many people on multiple day courses pay a considerable amount more for a far inferior experience.
While we appreciate that the one to one route is by far the best, and all the research and feedback shows this to be the case, we did not want to give up on finding another way to provide low cost volume training.
In training that is practical in nature and in which different people have different existing knowledge and requirements, with some picking up some things faster than others and some requiring a more detailed explanation, you need a means of training which is reactive, allowing different people to see the information that is relevant to them, without each needing to read a set of encyclopaedias or sit through thousands of hours of lectures or video. So neither book, series of articles, video or attending group courses could meet this need, we needed to find another answer.
Quite a few years back several organisations had looked at interactive learning, some work had been done by several military training sections across several countries and methods using books that had interactive learning routes were trialled, and some produced commercially. Around 1984 this was built upon, shortly after micro computers came out, to produce a means of training people to programme microcomputers, before they became as complicated as today and before the internet existed. A system called Home Tutor was developed and marketed. It was mostly used by individuals and sold through advertisements in national Sunday newspapers although both the army and prison service also used it. Home Tutor had its own interactive interpretive programming language, that reacted to markers in the text and was able, depending on responses from participants, to route the course so as to allow different routes and information to be shown. It used structured learning techniques. With structured learning you have constant new information, reinforcement, but also supplementary explanations and information when necessary. A course of this type when being developed is a little like a maze, but with sign posted paths, you take shortcuts where you don't need to find out more and can take the longer route where you want to learn more. Structured learning is possible with computer and internet training, but difficult to build into books and can't be done with groups. Both Camera Images and Photography Skills use a modified version of this with their 1 to 1 training, so that participants go quickly over ground they understand and then slow down and go over other information slower. The tutors don't have a script but a complex outline, that structures the courses in a way that the main content always gets covered even when people ask questions and go off subject, and then cover things in a slightly different order. This also means that the tutors can select the level of detail in different areas that they go into, and although its common to overrun, they do get through all that is important, while with a script you would either lose half the content or still be there at midnight. The challenge to us was to see if we could apply similar skills with their help to online training.
This we feel has the potential to provide low cost training in a practical subject like photography. We can use a range of technologies, and using both standard HTML and some programming languages as well we can implement a similar system to that developed by Home Tutor, but of course using the latest technology. The architect of the Home Tutor system is involved in the development of our structured learning programme and should allow our courses to have many of the same benefits. We also have the experience of the editor of a very large correspondence course in genealogy (family history), providing input on the techniques that has proved successful in correspondence courses. Brining in the photographic and training experience of both Camera Images and Photography Skills, and their own structured learning system employed, as well as working with Photographers Resource should provide the ideal arrangements to make these courses complete, well developed and using the teaching and interactive learning techniques as well. We have been producing a detailed definition of 'HT2', which came from the concept of it being 'Home Tutor 2', upgrading the technique to make use of the latest technology, but this is more of a skill set and architecture than programming related. At the same time we have been putting together both a general syllabus and from this developing the more complex structured learning plan, and writing and testing these are now in hand.
We are initially putting together two courses, each will come out in monthly parts, that in structured learning techniques are called segments. The first of these is a combined practical and technical digital photography course, and the second a Photoshop editing course. The digital photography course will start in September and the editing course in October.
Using the structured techniques we can offer a choice of routes through the courses, so you get the information you need and can see additional information if you wish, this also means we have been able to design in routes through some pages, (called frames in structured learning), to suit different cameras and versions. This means that rather than getting to a page that either just tells you how to do it completely with a single camera and you have to work it out for your camera, or having to give you many ways that it can be done across different cameras which ends up a bit like a ball of spaghetti, we can route you through so that the information you get is that which is relevant to your camera. Similarly with the Photoshop course, we can route you through with instructions that are relevant to the version you are using. We are currently experimenting with a revision system that will allow you quickly to be able to find information you have covered not as complete explanations initially but revision notes, but connecting back to the segment material covered if you want it, so an advanced form of notes and indexing. Having looked at this you will then want to continue from the point you have reached.
Camera Images and Photography Skills, also wanted this system to be of major benefit to their clients who have had training, both to reinforce knowledge learnt, and in particular to allow them to make use of the revision system going off to pick up paths of information to add to the knowledge that they have or to look over specific areas by choice, without having to do the full courses. Although its going to be some months in before this starts to show any real benefit to their clients we are designing this in, and ultimately both Camera Images and Photography Skills will be able to add client support links for each of their courses that will access information both within our courses and on Photographers Resource. Editorial meetings now combine all the needs of these interested parties.
All of this would be a lot easier if we asked you to register and provide some information, and we ran a database of information on those using the system, but we know many people don't like having to do this so we have developed this without any registration necessary, you will just use it when you want.
We are also planning in a range of optional support. Although you won't need to use any of this to be able to complete the courses. We will be organising around 4 optional workshops a year, these will be designed to allow you to get to see practical demonstrations, for example one will be in a hall or hotel, but sometimes a wildlife park or nature reserve, and have a range of flash studio setups, some with still life's, some models etc, and for you to have the chance to try at least some of these. This will be possible without queuing a long time as we will allow people to book staggered arrival times, so they are at different points along the route through. So you would go through as a small group, similar to the way groups are fed from room to room at a lot of historic properties. Another event we are looking at with wildlife photography, we will have different equipment and tutors at different points, in different hides, plus an exhibition and you will just go around the site, the badge you have on entry will identify that you are participating at this event. We are looking to put these on, with a minimal budget the target being £49 a head, or for those with training vouchers, 1 training voucher. These events will be spread eventually around the country. In addition to this both Camera Images and Photography Skills will be adding to their course lists a 1 to 1, both a 3 hour and day non structured support session, at which anything that you don't understand and any area that you would like to go into further will be explained. All you will need to do will be to give them a list of the main areas you want to look at, so they can get some items ready, but you will be able to raise more on the day. We are still looking at more ideas, and we may involve other training organisations as well.
These are of course optional, they're there to provide additional experience and perhaps speed up things for you. If you find information that you don't understand as you progress through the course, you will have a means to respond and let us know, we can then either patch modules to better cover these points, or add an extra piece into a later segment to reinforce and explain this again. Photographers Resource will also be running alongside with articles and more, so you will have a second set of information to look at and in many cases we will link this from the segments.
The other important parts that Photographers Resource will be providing is the reference information, much of which is changing, and we would have difficulty keeping up to date and the diary and location information, that will allow us to have exercises that you can all do near to you. We could for example in a section use an exercise involving garden photography, knowing that, and linking to, indexes in Photographers Resource that now contains over 1000 gardens open to the public, so you all will have a choice of suitable locations near to you. We are going to be able to use this very widely, together with the other information in Photographers Resource, and without this we would not have been able to have built in so many chances for you to put theoretical knowledge into practice, without an enormous amount of travelling.
We have to cover our costs of course and as there is no cost to use this course, it at first may not seem a sensible activity for relatively sane people to embark upon, some of this is of course of mutual benefit. Two training organisations have a lot of extra customer support improving further the value of their courses, so more people will book, without them having to increase their advertising spend. Photographers Resource is as you may know now being published by a non profit organisation, and so doesn't need to look for a profit, but do see this as a way that many people will get to see just how useful their information site and other information is, and we will get some income from the 4 optional events we are putting on a year, which won't be advertised, other than within the courses and mentioned on Photographers Resource. There will also be some income from advertising, which should cover the cost of the internet servers and services we will draw quite heavily on, but this is being handled by another company, who are providing these services to us, so there is no link between editorial content and advertising, and at no time will it get in the way, it is completely restricted to the borders, and won't be in the middle of or as a part of any material we produce. They will try and make it relevant for example by promoting books to line up with segment subjects and the like, so in some ways its like another service. Photographers Resource uses a similar arrangement to cover their internet and service costs.
So concluding, although we recognise that this is not as good as going on a one to one with Camera Images I hope I have been able to show you the power of these interactive learning courses, using very special techniques, a new system and cooperation from others, allowing you to learn from home with local exercises and support if you want to use it. I am sure you will agree that this comes second, and is preferable to other options available like group courses, videos and books. what's more being free and available online its available to everyone. In addition those who do choose the one to one route, with the two leading trainers, will find this become of benefit to them as a means of revision, to put more of what they learn rapidly into practice and to provide patches extending their knowledge without having to undertake the full course with us.