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“Useractive Learning” Starts Early

One of my first “useractive” learning experiences happened when I was in elementary school, when my class participated in the National Geographic Kids Net acid rain project.

We collected rainwater and tested its PH level using small test strips. We compiled the results, and entered them into a computer. Our teacher used a dial-up modem to submit our results to a national database, and afterward we were able to view graphs and maps of the results we submitted, as well as those from students at other schools across the country.

During this process I learned so much about science: how to collect samples, how to perform a scientific test, and how to record and exchange data across the miles. We were engaged with the scientific method, and putting it into action. We were learning by doing. We didn’t just talk about science, or watch videos about scientists. We were scientists.

Would I have learned the scientific method if I had watched a video of scientists collecting rainwater, testing its PH, and recording the data? I don’t think so. More than likely my eyes would’ve glazed over, my mind wandered, and I would’ve digested just a small percentage of the information presented. Or what if I had been given a computer poker game where I had to collect water and test its PH that way, never once collecting a water sample or touching a PH strip? That kind of virtual participation would have made for some pretty dry science, not to mention a less than exciting video game experience for the kids in my class. I mean, why play a video game to test PH when we could perform real experiments to do that? And if we were going to play a video game, Mario Brothers was much more fun. Have a look at this slot machine website to find out how the user interactive works on the used script. This helps the gaming programmers to design and come up with the games that are liked by the users such as this slot machine games.

My point is that you really can’t learn skills by passively watching a video, or playing around with a game or simulation. Ultimately, you have to roll up your sleeves and experiment, and use practical examples to help you make mental connections about the way things work.

While videos, simulations, and games can serve as supplemental learning tools, in the end the student has to go out and grab education for himself. As a young student, I didn’t know the proper way to use PH test strips, so a short video demonstration could have been a good way to get started. But this kind of learning continues to have limitations. Watching how to use a PH strip would not take our class to where we were trying to go, though that small tip might have helped kicked off our journey. But in the end, we would need to test the PH ourselves.

At O’Reilly School of Technology we sometimes receive questions from people wondering why we don’t offer video lectures, PowerPoint slides, or flash animations. Our answer is always the same: because we can do better. Instead of providing our students passive resources, we provide real, active, engaging learning. O’Reilly School of Technology students are responsible to make their own learning happen, by diving headfirst into real, never-simulated programming, and hands-on experimentation.

Learning works the same way for all subject matter. All the videos and power point presentations in the world will not turn new students into swimmers, good drivers, chefs, or programmers. Not until a student jumps into the water and takes the strokes, gets behind the steering wheel on the road, or tests a recipe in the kitchen, can he lay claim to that new skill. Programming is no different. To become a proficient programmer, you have to get dirty, program, learn what works and what doesn’t, and in the process, get to where you want to go.

I have fond memories of the experiments we worked on with the National Geographic project. National Geographic seems to have known way back then how learning happened. But little did I know that those elementary school experiments would start me on the path of learning that I would follow into adulthood. Active learning continues to be a big part of my life. It has an impact on just about everything I do, or at least everything I ever succeed at, eventually.

More on the National Geographic Kids Net project visit:


  • Anne Aloysious

    I’m signed up on 3 courses at OST
    1. HTML & CSS
    2. Javascript 1
    3. Introduction to XML

    I’m almost done with the first course. I find the lab construction really good (especially the new Coderunner 2 Beta). I agree with you that powerpoint slidesets, animation & other attractions distract more than they teach & the way in which the OST lessons are broken into digestible modules makes it easier to learn.

    However, I find the content sometimes a little bare, the quizes & objectives (assignments) sometimes a little too simple and the tutor feedback a little too brief. For extra information & practice I find myself turning to http://www.w3schools.com Considering that the courses at the latter institution are free & the certification costs just USD95 I think it’s fair enough to expect more from the OST courses that are considerably pricier. :)

    I’m relatively happy with the courses and the course set up but I have used a number of online course programs & just thought you might like some balanced feedback.

    • Kerry Beck

      Hi again Anne,

      Just to reiterate, we offer certificates, not certifications (not to belabor the point, but there are consequences, dire consequences if we use the incorrect terminology.)

      And thanks for your feedback, it is appreciated.

  • Kendell Welch

    All due respect Anne, but it sounds to me like you’re underestimating the value that you’ve gotten from OST’s “Learning-by-Doing” philosophy. You’ve learned that while a given course/resource can give you the fundamentals of development, no single course/resource can teach you everything you need to be a successful software developer. You have to learn how to seek out supplemental resources, and go beyond the course material, which apparently you have.

    I suggest, speaking as a professional software developer, that the “Learning-by-Doing” philosophy has given you a “leg-up.” I’d recommend continuing through the rest of your courses with that concept in mind…they teach you how to program, not what to program.

  • Anne Aloysious

    Thank you for your professional opinion, Kendell.

    As I said I’m relatively content with some aspects of the OST courses & my intention was simply to provide feedback
    to the school at which I’m currently spending quite a bit of money. As the OST generally upgrades courses and
    content, I gather they expect feedback from their students.

    I’m not expecting as a learner to gather all I need at OST, I don’t think any OST student thinks that.
    What I did do was simply compare online school offers, contents and prices (& yes, other schools
    also provide this “Learning by Doing” experience) & it helped me realize that shopping around for
    classes would be useful.

  • http://www.oreillyschool.com Trish Gray

    Hi Anne,

    Thanks so much for your feedback, it’s much appreciated! I think your points are extremely fair, and as a matter of fact we are working hard to improve our courses in exactly the ways that you describe.

    Our first big overhaul was indeed the CodeRunner system, so I’m thrilled that you are enjoying that. Now we are working on our authoring, editing and quality control processes, both to improve the timeliness of our course releases and to make the student experience as full and rewarding as possible. We are also hiring more instructors, to ensure that thorough feedback is not limited to just those assignments that need improvement. The instructor/student relationship is our greatest source of pride, so we continually work on that aspect of our courses.

    I do want to clarify that our goal is not to train or prep for exam-based certifications; rather, we want to provide professional development courses that foster real-world experience and instructor communication, more on the level of a college or university continuing education program. You’re correct in that if your goal is to pass the certification, there are many free resources out there like W3 Schools. This is why we encourage all our potential students to speak with Georgia or someone at OST who can assess his/her needs to ensure that we are the best fit.

    Again, I truly appreciate your comments, and I encourage you to reply here or via our contact page if you would like to discuss this further.


    • Kerry Beck

      Just to be clear Anne, we currently offer only proficiency-based “certificates” as opposed to “certifications.”

      This may help clarify between the two:

      Certificate vs. Certification: What’s the Difference?

      Professional or personnel certification is a process by which individuals are evaluated against predetermined standards for knowledge, skills, or competencies. Participants who demonstrate that they meet the standards by successfully completing the assessment process are granted certification.

      An assessment-based certificate program is a non-degree granting program that:
      (a) provides instruction and training to aid participants in acquiring specific knowledge, skills, and/or competencies associated with intended learning outcomes;
      (b) evaluates participants’ achievement of the intended learning outcomes; and
      (c) awards a certificate only to those participants who meet the performance, proficiency or passing standard for the assessment(s).

      (Also, yes, we agree, Kirby is an amazing instructor and we’re lucky to have him!)

  • Lorri Coey

    Hey Anne,

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us. If we don’t hear from students, we don’t know what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong.

    I’m the instructor for your html course and your comments have spurred me to work harder at providing more feedback.
    The html course is definitely on the radar for getting updated. I have a working list going already about what I’d like to see happen. I’d love to hear what you think as well.

    Everyone at OST is really eager to provide a great learning experience for all our students. Thanks for reminding me of where I need to improve.

    Lorri Coey

  • Jami Smith

    Ah yes, kids do have to dive in head first BUT that doesn’t mean that using games is a passive approach. We teach C++ and Java at our technology summer camp and we often use games in our curriculum to teach core concepts. While I agree that PowerPoint slides and lectures are passive approaches, having students learn by creating games is not. Our kids are already interested in video games. We break down those games piece by piece in an effort to show them an interesting and real world application to programming. More info on our curriculum if you are interested, here

  • http://oreillyschool.com Josh Nutzman

    Hi Jami,

    I love the fact that your students create games! Creation is the key. Creation is not a passive activity.

    Generally speaking, I don’t care for curriculum where students *play* games. What is more rewarding – passing a level in a game, or showing friends the game that you created?