April 2011

Teaching music through an online community

April 7, 2011 10:38

PREFACE: If any of you have kids ages 5-12 who would like to beta test the program I describe in this blog post, please contact me at bchan@woogiworld.com as soon as possible -- thanks!  We will be closing our beta on April 15th, 2011.

I've always been interested in how people learn music, especially young kids with their very limited attention spans. I used my YouTube channel (BenChanViolin) to experiment with online teaching, and 3 1/2 years later it has grown to nearly 35,000 subscribers and over 6 million video hits. At my current job (WoogiWorld.com), I've also had the fortune of teaching music through an online Music Club to more than 30,000 elementary-aged kids world-wide.

While face-to-face teaching is still the most effective (and crucial) way to teach children how to play instruments, I also believe that online instruction is the most effective way to teach kids the fundamental principles of music. This is for a variety of reasons, including that the cost is a lot lower (many online courses are available for free), that the expertise of master teachers can be spread to a mass audience very quickly and efficiently, and that users can follow the lessons at their own pace, based on available time and interest. My favorite benefit is that these can be done in the privacy of your own home, without requiring extra travel time or money.

In researching existing courses as I put together my own, I discovered the following obstacles to successfully using an online music course, particularly for a child:

1. While you might offer a handful of M&Ms to a child for practicing piano for 15 minutes, it's difficult to find an online equivalent as motivation for singing or practicing an instrument offline.

2. Kids have really short attention spans when learning at a computer because distraction is literally one click away. Like solely studying from a single textbook, a set curriculum alone can be stale.

3. Just by human nature, we tend to start these kinds of courses and then kind of slip off for weeks at a time before returning to them, leaving us to forget much of what we've learned.

4. Music software is notoriously difficult to use, with stiff system requirements, drivers that need to be installed, and a wide variety of troubleshooting issues that persist even in the most comprehensive software packages.

5. The internet has so much information available that researching and compiling what might work for us and our children can sometimes take longer than the actual music learning process.

The best "real world" music programs out there, both foundational and instrumental include methodical, structured teaching with focus on individualized review on what the students need the most at any given time. They also include group lessons/master classes to allow kids to help teach and learn from each other. I believe that the best online foundational music program can proactively mirror those methods in a highly automated and cost effective way.

This month we're launching our Introduction to Music course on Woogi World, with the main audience being kids from ages 5-12, of varying reading abilities. Here is our approach to solving those issues I mention earlier:

1. Students who complete lessons and log their practice minutes are given virtual prizes that they can use throughout Woogi World (similar to systems like Club Penguin, World of Warcraft, or Farmville). These prizes can be traded with other kids or shown off to their friends.

2. Our approach to engaging kids in music is threefold: the daily lessons are done through fun games and videos made by me and my little squirrel friend YY, whom the kids can write to and visit with during my weekly events. My Music Club is constantly being updated with new content, videos, and scheduled live events to provide a consistent fresh look at the current music world outside of the lessons. Most importantly, just as it's so much easier to keep on track with physical exercise when doing it with someone else, a key part of this course is playing music and interacting with other kids all over the world.

3. Taking a cue from the ubiquitous XBox and Playstation gaming systems, we believe that challenging, attainable goals and a tangible path of progression are critical to building and maintaining computer habits. Much as we keep logging on to Facebook to see our friends lists rise, kids in Woogi World keep gaining experience points and virtual money with every practice session and lesson completed. Gaining enough experience lets them raise in their martial arts-style belt level. It's hard to describe how excited a child can get when they achieve a black belt in music to show that their dedicated, hard work has paid off.

4. Everything required to use our program, including composing and sharing music, recording master classes, and tracking progress, is done using your web browser. All you need is the Flash plugin (installed on 99% of computers around the world) to do virtually everything available in the course (the easy-to-install Java plugin is optional for some features). This also means that students can switch to different computers at different times to do their lessons without having to install anything from a CD or download anything extra from the Internet.

5. Because Woogi World is web-based, and unlike software packages that come on a CD, we are able to provide a comprehensive music course for kids. We can also keep improving the program through feedback that both parents and kids send us. I've had enough experience working with Youtube to know that feedback is critical to making things right.

I hope this kicks off an interesting discussion on the points I've made, especially on the nature of learning music online and in an online community. I do want to mention that we're finishing up our beta test but are always anxious for more feedback before we launch. If you're interested in having your child or student try out the program for free for a month (only available through violinist.com), please contact me at bchan@woogiworld.com

For those interested in more info of what actually happens in the Intro to Music course, click here:


Thanks for reading, and I look forward to discussing the future of music education with you!

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