(from Dick Eastman’s Daily Newsletter · July 1, 2015)
The following article was written by editor Pam Cerutti.
NOTE: Pam Cerutti is the editor of this newsletter, but her professional background suits this review well. After teaching high school English, she went on to a career in computer education, where she developed many courses on software applications. In particular, she spent much of her time creating self-paced instruction and managing online learning. In all, she has over 30 years of assessing educational best practices and a pretty good understanding of how people learn.
Ancestry.com launched a new offering called Ancestry Academy in April, and I finally had a chance to try out some of its courses this week. I have a career in computer education, and my interest in e-learning goes back to the infancy of the internet. Having followed the development of online courses ever since, I thought other EOGN readers might be interested in this review.
To access Ancestry Academy, you need either a free login or a subscription. A free login will get you access to some of the courses, but you will be able to see all the titles available. Subscription detail appears at the end of this article.
To get to Ancestry Academy from the main page at ancestry.com, you can either pull down the Learning Center tab or the Extras tab on the “New” Ancestry, and choose Ancestry Academy. You can also select it from the choices on the right side or use this link: Academy Course Info.
More judicious users might want to view the tutorial video before starting their first course. There is a text link to it at the bottom of the Ancestry Academy page, but it’s also accessible from their Help Link
Being anxious to jump into a course, I immediately clicked on “View all courses.” The courses are grouped under four categories: Ancestry Products, Methodology and Skills, Records, and Localities and Ethnic Research. The courses about Ancestry Products are free; most of the others – but not all – are by subscription. There are 22 courses as of this writing, but the site says that more are being added monthly. In fact, the “Coming Soon” section below the others showed another 10 courses in the pipeline.
Since I recently received my DNA test results, I opened the course, “DNA 101: An Insider’s Scoop on AncestryDNA Testing.” Here I could see a short bio of the instructor and overview of the chosen course as well as the desired Begin Course button. I was also pleased to see that I could expand the course title to see a list of the course topics. Hovering the mouse over a topic pops up a description of what you will learn in that segment. If you want to dive into a certain topic right away, you can click on its “Watch” button to jump to that segment.
This is an excellent design for a couple reasons: (1.) “chunking” the information provides logical break points for the learner to pause and absorb the information, make notes, or simply take a break; and (2) learners can access any topic for desired information that they need at the moment or that they wish to review. In my case, I chose to skip over the segment on “Activating your test” because I already did that.
Features and Benefits
The course opens with a short conversation in which Director of Ancestry Academy Laura Prescott introduces the instructor and the topic. This sets the tone and stage, telling you what you can expect to learn in the course. The subsequent segments have the instructor at a lectern with a display screen to the side. The screen appears in full view when the instructor speaks to the points on a slide or document. In some courses it is used to demonstrate how to use an Ancestry program or some other web operation. In short, it was like having a front row seat at a presentation, except that I was in my own living room where I could control the temperature, wear comfy clothes, and sip my favorite tea.
Going through this course, I found the content informative and easy to follow. Even though I have attended a number of presentations on DNA, there was information here that I either forgot or had not heard before. It was well worth a few extra minutes to refresh my memory where I already knew something, and I picked up plenty of new points as well. With the information I got from this course, I should be able to get the most out of my DNA test by using AncestryDNA matching.
I went on to look at courses in each category. In the “Records” section, I learned how to find and use manuscripts. Under “Methodologies,” I learned about some library sources I have neglected in the past. Under “Localities and Ethnic Research,” I learned how to flesh out French Canadian ancestors. All the courses seem very professionally produced. Each instructor had expertise in his or her topic and covered content that should help beginning to advanced genealogists alike.
Once you start watching a course, the length of each segment appears beside its title. Most segments are 4 or 5 minutes long although I saw some as much as 15 minutes long. My point here is that the segments are easy to complete in a single sitting, which also helps you retain what you just learned. If you can sit through a 1-hour talk at a conference, you should be quite comfortable watching any of these course segments.
I need to mention some technical difficulties I had as I started my first course. The video playback on my PC took painfully long to load, causing a lot of audio stuttering and stalling. I thought the cause might be my wifi router, so I tried a couple YouTube videos and saw the same problem. When I played the course on my iPad, it ran perfectly. It also ran perfectly on my iPhone. The next day, I had to reboot my PC for some updates, and all the courses have run fine ever since. I may never know the exact cause of the problem, but I now know that was in my Windows PC, not the courses.
Playing the courses on my PC made me aware of some controls that I didn’t see on my iPad, too. The video player has the usual control buttons below the picture – pause, resume, volume control, and enlarge to full screen. However, the Academy’s player also has some less common controls: rewind (for backing up 5 seconds), closed captioning (in English, for now), and speeding up or slowing down the playback.
I like this for replaying segments that explain how to use some feature of a program. People who prefer a slow voice might want to play with this control to better understand the words. The control displays as “1.0x” and pops up a + and – sign for increasing or decreasing the playback speed. Once Ancestry develops Android and IOS apps, these controls may be available on mobile devices. In the meantime, you will only see them when running the courses on a PC or a Mac. No definition of these controls is visible, so you might want to play with them to see the effects. You can then use them freely to tailor your viewing to your preferences.
A feature I almost missed appears on the course page as a small book icon above the course outline. When you click on it, the outline is replaced with a linked list of Course Resources. For example, the DNA course had a summary handout; another course had a list of web addresses (URLs) mentioned in the course. I now make a point of reviewing the resources before I start a course so that I won’t worry about missing something that is already captured in the Course Resources.
Another feature I like is the ability to check your understanding at the end of each course by taking a short multiple choice test. As soon as you finish the test, you can see any question you got wrong and use a link from that question to review the related course topic without going through the whole course again. This immediate feedback helps correct any misunderstanding so that you retain the right information.
To summarize, I was favorably impressed with the courses in Ancestry Academy. The production is professional, the instructors are knowledgeable, and the modular design lets each person customize his or her learning experience to get the most from the courses. Most important, the content is robust and has something to offer all levels of genealogists.
Academy Class Cost
As mentioned earlier, you need to register on the Ancestry.com to access the courses in Ancestry Academy. At that point, there are 3 ways to access courses: (1) You can sign up with your email address to access the courses labeled “FREE.” (2.) You can subscribe to Ancestry Academy for $11.99/month or $99.99/year to access all courses. (3.) Access to all courses is included with Ancestry’s All Access subscription.
Ancestry Academy may be found at Ancestry Academy Webpage.