Those of us serious about the art of photography are always looking for ways to learn more about the craft and broaden our understanding of the skills involved. Those more tech-savvy among us may have noticed a striking number of online courses available, aimed at teaching everyone from first-time picture shooters to seasoned photographers. It may seem like a simple way to hone your skills, but before you jump in and pony up the course fees, there are a few things you should ask yourself first.
What kind of learner are you?
All of us learn and absorb information in different ways, and although online courses are convenient in their global reach, this same convenience can also create a barrier of learning. One of the most important processes in the student-teacher relationship is the constant feedback that the pupil receives from the instructor. This aspect is sorely lacking in almost every major online course available now. Most of the instruction is transmitted through pre-made videos, lectures and articles, leaving no opportunity for the student to ask questions or get instant feedback. This might not bother veteran photographers looking to brush up on some new techniques, but those just starting out might be better off seeking hands-on training first.
How self-motivated are you?
Continuing on from the first point, the “any-time, any-where” convenience that online learning offers is also a double-edged sword. Because we can view the course material at our convenience, there’s no external impetus to fully challenge ourselves or even finish the course. Compared to a traditional class, we have the urging of our instructor and the friendly competition of our classmates to keep us chugging along when we’re feeling a little sapped of energy. There are certain websites like takelessons.com that offer training over Skype, which may help give you some of the motivational push you’d get from having a live teacher.
Do you have a plan?
The sheer variety of options available for studying online poses another question for us would-be learners: what is it we actually need to learn? Take one of the leading online photography courses, lynda.com. This one site alone currently offers 527 different courses, ranging from panoramas in Lightroom to photographing the fjords of New Zealand. If we don’t have a clear idea in our head of what to learn, it can be downright intimidating looking through the selection of available material, especially for a beginner. Online courses seem best, then, if we have a specific skill or software in mind that we want to delve in to or brush up on.
It’s a lot to consider, but the art of photography requires a lot of sacrifice, not least of all of the time spent learning skills and educating ourselves on the methods and techniques of our craft. Online courses may seem appealing because of the convenience and relative low pricing compared to traditional classes, but don’t rush blindly into it before weighing the pros and cons. While it may be the fix you need to access expert insight on a difficult topic, remember there is no “magic pill” to become a great photographer, and the most important thing is to fully apply ourselves whether we learn at our computer or in a classroom.