Thursday, 2 July 2015

Is It Better To Study Online Or In a Classroom?

Studying Online. Two screens, one to play the videos and one to do the exercise.
Online study is an incredibly powerful tool. Animation Apprentice founder Alex Williams argues that online study can work much better than traditional classroom study - and for a tiny fraction of the price.  Each student at Animation Apprentice gets to learn at their own pace, watching videos on their own time, and getting bespoke feedback. We asked Alex why online study really is a better mousetrap, and why the results are often better than in a traditional classroom.

AA: How does Animation Apprentice work, and why is it different from traditional classroom study?

Alex: We don't have physical classrooms at Animation Apprentice, but we have something instead that we think is much, much better. We offer a weekly personal feedback tutorial, recorded as a video, which gives you a step by step guide to what you did right, what you did wrong - and how to do it better next time.

AA: But don't you get more personal teacher time in a traditional classroom?

Alex: Absolutely not. How often in a traditional classroom will you get 20 minutes or more of a teacher's time devoted exclusively to showing you how to fix your work? Classrooms are busy places and it is hard for an instructor to help each student individually. Also, the level of the class will vary greatly - some students will race ahead, others will learn more slowly. Catering to everyone's individual needs can be very difficult.

Online learning, by contrast, is delivered at the students' own pace. Therefore it is a system that in many ways works far better than the traditional classroom model.

Out of date? We think so. Photo: Wikipedia

AA: You also teach traditional classes at Buckinghamshire New University? Which system gives better results?

Alex: There is nothing quite like a three year, dedicated degree course at a University - if a student is really able to commit to the time and money that are required to get the best results. Look at what schools like CalArts or Gobbelins are able to do - these are excellent schools with excellent students, and great results. But a three year BA now costs upwards of £50k in the UK, including living expenses. In the USA it can cost two, three or even four times that amount. Traditional higher education is very, very expensive, and it takes a long time.

Online study is much cheaper, and quicker.  Often I see better results from my online students than I do in the classroom. Students who commit to the online course can do very well indeed.

AA: How can students make the most of studying at Animation Apprentice? 

Alex: Lots of our students have day jobs, so the course is designed to be done part-time. Each week we expect students to do around 8-12 hours work, depending on how ambitious they are. We understand that real life can and does get in the way, so the course is very flexible.

AA: How long does it take to do the work each week?

It generally takes students around two hours to watch the videos, and then at around six to ten hours to do the exercise. Each exercise has multiple layers of complexity so students can tackle as much as they have time for. The more time you can commit, the better your work will be.

AA: What kind of hardware do they need?

Alex: The ideal way to learn is to use two screens at once, and do the exercise as you go along. On the left hand screen you watch the videos, on the right hand screen - you do the exercises. Follow the videos carefully step by step, click by click - and you won't go wrong.

Our Facebook classroom is a virtual learning environment

AA: What happens then?

Alex: Once students are happy with their animation, they make a Quick Time of it, upload it to their YouTube account, and then embed it at the Facebook classroom, for review by myself and other students. Everyone pitches in - peer to peer review is strongly encouraged. After all, learning to give and take critique and criticism is part of becoming a professional digital artist. And we'll send you your bespoke video feedback, so you can go back in to your shot and fix what you've done, to perfect it and make it demo-reel ready.

Is it possible to see a sample feedback video?

Alex: Absolutely. To see how our feedback system works, watch this video here.  In reality our feedback videos are much higher resolution than this one, but it gives you an idea of how the system works.


To sign up for our July classroom at Animation Apprentice, follow this link. For more information on finding work and surviving in the animation and visual effects business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, learn how to create an invoice, and see how we are helping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films. Download the free Escape Studios Careers in VFX Handbook. Take a look at how can help you find a job, and read our piece abouthow to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel, and read our post on setting up your own animation business. Also see our post about freelancers and taxes.

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