I want to teach live, online classes
September 8, 2011 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Is it cost-effective (affordable) for a single person to conduct online video training?

I looked into this years ago, and the technology existed, but it was really expensive. I don't just mean the video-streaming software; I mean the cost of bandwidth. But I'm now seeing a few individuals -- not big companies -- offer online tutoring for relatively low prices. One guy is teaching an 8-hour programming course and charging people $400 for it.

I'd like to do something similar: I'd like to teach online classes and change students $300 - $500 each, maybe limiting class size to 10 people max, so that I can field questions without being overwhelmed.

I've been looking into options, but I can't quite figure them out. How much would it cost me to stream video (of my desktop) and audio to, say, 5 or 10 people? Would charging them $400 each recoup my expenses? What are other things I should know about doing this (pitfalls, tips, etc.)?

If it matters, I am Mac based and have high-speed (cable) Internet access.
posted by grumblebee to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: GoToTraining is $149/month for up to 25 participants.

As someone who has taught short classes both in person and via corporate video conferences all I can say is that it can feel weird to be talking endlessly with no physical people to feed off of for energy or to gauge how the material is being absorbed. Perhaps if your teaching style allowed for more interactivity then mine did at the time.
posted by mmascolino at 7:33 AM on September 8, 2011

There are web-based virtual classroom products - I've used Elluminate (now owned by Blackboard, and renamed Collaborate), Adobe Connect, and Webex. This site has a roundup of products and some reviews that look useful.

I do a lot of 1st class meeting hand-holding. Elluminate/Collaborate is fairly flexible. Most faculty post a powerpoint, word doc, excel sheet, etc., or use the main pane as a whiteboard. Web-page sharing, desktop sharing and application sharing are available. There's a roster pane, where participants can raise their hand, respond to a question, poll, etc., and show status. There's a chat pane. You can set up breakout rooms. The presenter controls use of the mic - more than 2 speakers and audio gets pretty horrible, but discussion works. There's video for the presenter -> participants. More video can be enabled, but I've not seen that work really well; it just eats too much bandwidth. You can set up a trial room to check it out.

When I sit in on a good class with a well-prepared professor, the students start out feeling kind of goofy and shy. The prof will usually ask them to introduce themselves, so they have to use the mic. After 5 - 10 minutes of fiddling with the capabilities of the software, they launch into the class, and in a short while, it becomes clear that the students are engaged, using chat as they would use an analog classroom, and learning or not, depending on how well the materials work online, and how much attention the student want to contribute. The 'online' feeling falls away, and it's a classroom. The 1st time I observed this I was pretty amazed, and it encourages me to think that online education is a real alternative.

We trialled Adobe Connect, and it tanked hard if anybody connected to the session had low bandwidth.

I used Webex years ago, and it was a good product, just don't remember details.

Blackboard is a Learning Management System, server-based, that many schools use. Probably not a good fit for your needs, and if anybody says it's not a great product, I wouldn't disagree. It does have market domination.

Many colleges and universities have licenses for these tools, which are not terribly affordable for an individual. You might be able to offer a class through the continuing ed. dept. of a school near you and have access. Me-mail me if you have questions.
posted by theora55 at 9:24 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As the others have said, technologically there are a lot of options. Supporting delivery of online training is a big part of my job and I use Adobe Connect for the synchronous ones; we have a university-discounted license but the "personal" option is $45/month per host, with a max of 25 participants per session. (The screenshot of the training in the Owning Rails site is of Adobe Connect, btw, so that's what he's using.)

GoToTraining is more expensive ($149/month for the same level of participation) but has the advantage that it's got an integrated payment system with it, so the infrastructure for collecting payments and granting access is all built in, though you still need your own payment processor, PayPal probably being the simplest option there.

With Adobe Connect, you'd have to build some other mechanism for managing that. If it's just ten students at a time it would be less of a burden but there is still going to be overhead in collecting payments, creating accounts, etc. The same will be true of most of the virtual meeting platforms, so GoToTraining has a real advantage there and I'm not sure if there are other platforms that offer the same or whether that's a controlling issue for you.

There is also a free, open source option called Big Blue Button if you want to install and host your own solution, but if you're running video streaming for 8 hours to multiple participants, you'd have to really look at the bandwidth costs as well as the overhead of running the server-based solution yourself.

There are services that offer BBB as a hosted solution for free, such as BuddyMeeting but honestly I would probably steer toward Adobe Connect or another paid solution if you're charging that much and also having very long sessions.

As far as bandwidth, broadband connections (which I'm pretty sure would be the standard for people taking programming classes) can easily handle video and desktop sharing through these platforms. Since these are all server-based, if it's a one-way stream and participants are just asking questions via text chat, then all your own connection needs to handle is your upload to the server and the students are getting it from there.

Beyond the technological part, instructional design is very important for virtual classes because your feedback from the students is so indirect and the available tools are fairly unsophisticated compared to what you can present in a face-to-face environment. There are a lot of options for increasing engagement such as polling and game features but you would definitely want to have the sessions very well-planned and include plenty of time for breaks and inviting questions. I would recommend maxing out at 2 hours per session.

There is a world of advice on instructional design, adult learning theory, etc. but I would recommend first just watching a few samples of other similar courses and seeing what you think works well in terms of balancing explanation vs. demonstration vs. questions, etc.

One thing that we deal with a lot is helping people adapt content from a face-to-face training into a virtual environment and that's something that really needs to be seen not as a process of simply virtualizing an existing pedagogy but of re-thinking the content to make sure that it's maximized for the experience of a student who is sitting in a chair in front of a screen. Some whole portions of the courses need to be tossed out while others that were impractical in a classroom environment become a better approach.

By the same token, lots of online instruction that you might encounter is designed to be watched asynchronously, which is a similar but still different means of delivery, since with the live classes you have the ability to adjust tone, pacing, content, etc. responsively. Just watching a training video might not give you the full picture of what these environments can be like so if it's possible to watch samples of live trainings, I think it would be more instructive.
posted by camcgee at 9:53 AM on September 9, 2011

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