On-line content delivery: changing landscape

December 04, 2011 10:46 pm | Updated December 05, 2011 12:05 am IST

New innovations are taking place in the realm of on-line content delivery. This edition of NetSpeak discusses the latest developments in this segment.

Our hunt for support resources begins the very moment we start learning a subject. In the pre-Net days, our options were limited to consulting a few experts in the neighbourhood and accessing text materials available in the local library.

For a student of this age, such restrictions do not apply. Now, she has multiple means to facilitate her learning endeavour (free text materials — textbooks, handouts, a plethora audio/video tutorials and several free on-line courses to cap it all).

To refresh your memory on the potential and depth of such materials, take a look at the ‘Teacher Resources' section at the ‘The U.S. National Archives' site http://www.archives.gov/education/. Here, you can locate a good collection of primary historical documents.

For instance, if someone is doing research on ‘great depression', she may find document set ‘Depression and World War II' (http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/depression-wwii.html) immensely useful.

Though we witness a variety of learning resources, only a miniscule proportion of it is used. It seems, the concept of diminishing marginal utility comes into play here too.

This means, the value of each of the new units (here pedagogic content) is declining and that too with an alarming speed.

One common handicap of the current teaching aids is that they do not offer much room for the learner to interact with content. This lack of facility to practice/interact makes the learning process less exciting. Hence there is a need for radical changes in content delivery mechanism.

Content integrated with a built-in feedback mechanism could be one alternative. Along with the usual content, the creator should provide for checking if the learner has achieved the desired outcomes. It seems many providers have started realising this need.

The lecture videos and review questions pertaining to some of the free on-line courses from Stanford University (example: course on ‘Machine Learning'- http://www.ml-class.org/course/class/index) represent this trend. Here, after introducing a concept, the video pauses, displays questions relating to the topic discussed and waits for an answer from the viewer. Of course, though these videos may not be ideal representations of interactive content, they are attempts in the right direction.


A little bit of programming knowledge is becoming a necessary skill to thrive in the modern age. In fact, this requirement cuts across almost all professions. For instance, many professionals these days own a blog. Given the availability of several free blogging platforms, floating a blog is not a big deal. However, if one wishes to customise the blog or enrich it with more features, a little bit of programming knowledge could come in handy.

The Net is agog with programming related resources; still many hesitate to learn this essential life skill. One reason for this apathy could be, as discussed above, the lack of interactive learning resources.

Being an applied subject, programming skills can be acquired only by regular practice. By simply reading a textbook or viewing a lecture video alone one cannot learn the nuances of a programming language. We need a learning system that allows one to learn a subject by doing it. This is the context in which the new service Codecademy (http://www.codecademy.com/) chips in.

Codecademy (learn programming by coding) strives to facilitate learning ‘how to program' by delivering the course in an interactive fashion. From the first session itself you start learning the topic by doing it. The course content is designed in such a way that you cannot move a bit unless you do some coding. This type of content delivery is certainly a deviation from the past — it helps you internalise the subject being learnt in a natural, effortless fashion. In addition, to motivate the student, the service offers rewards such as achievement badges and the like too.

Currently the site hosts only a few lessons on JavaScript. However, as per Zach Sims, one of the architects of this innovative service, new courses (such as the one on programming language ‘ Python') are in the offing. The Codecademy deals only with programming related topics; but this interactive method of content delivery can certainly be extended to other subjects as well.

Free music

Depending on one's state of mind she prefers to listen to a certain type of music. If you are a music lover, you may enjoy listening to the music streaming service stereomood (http://stereomood.com/) that allows you to listen to music that is in sync with your current mood.

The author can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com

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