There are lots of online courses ranging from some that are incredibly compelling to others that, well, that are just plain boring.
One of the problems with online learning is that it takes more than just aiming a video camera at a lecturer to create a compelling class. Sure, YouTube is full of videos from lots of brilliant people, but online lectures and those Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCS, from the likes of Harvard, MIT and Stanford don’t work for everyone. In fact, they probably don’t work for most people, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get into one of those universities. It’s not that students at elite colleges are necessarily smarter than others, it’s just that they’re hand-picked by admissions officers to do well in those types of environments.
If you’re going to develop an online course, you need to think about the attention span of the learner, the fact that there isn’t likely the social reinforcement you get from classmates, teachers and teaching assistants on a campus, and the need to use various interactive learning tools to reinforce the lessons.
That’s where Versal comes in. It’s a learning tool creation platform that enables course creators to mix in all sorts of “gadgets” that can enhance learning. Yes, there are the usual embeds like YouTube videos and SoundCloud audio but also gadgets that use small JavaScript programs to reinforce anatomy, geography and other subjects. In an interview (scroll down to listen) Versal founder and CEO Gregor Freund said that learning gadgets “can be almost like games where you take a graphic and then annotate that graphic and then put additional information behind it and the learner can actually dive in and play around with it and you can make an assessment based on that.”
Versal also supports 3D images created with SketchUp that allow the learner to peek inside an object. I saw one example of a camera where you could not only rotate it to any angle but peek inside the lens, just as if you were holding a real camera. You can create your own 3D drawings or access a library of existing Skethup drawings to embed in your lessons. Either way, Versal has tools to allow you to annotate the drawings and build-quizzes around them by, for example, requiring students to identify certain parts of a drawing as part of their lessons.
For more on Versal, listen to my CBS Radio News interview with Versal CEO Gregor Freund.