Online Training Library, by Lynda.com
Posted: 6-Sep-2005

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Lynda.com Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: SERVICE
     
$25 per month    

Overview
Lynda.com is an online training web site that provides training videos that can be viewed on the web as well as training videos on CD-ROM for purchase. The training videos are all about computer tech subjects, such as Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and Photoshop. This review will focus on the online service that provides access to the training videos on the web.

From the Vendor
"Learn the latest tools and techniques in digital media design and development from experts in the field who share a passion for teaching in a generous, caring, honest and unbiased fashion. Discover over 10,821 professionally produced Windows and Macintosh compatible QuickTime video tutorials from over 157 topics available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with a subscription to our Online Training Library starting at only $25 per month."

How it Works
Using the Lynda.com online library requires membership. You can try it out on a month-by-month basis for $25 per month, or pay $250 per year for training only. In addition to training videos, Lynda.com also provides exercise files for download. In order to get access to download these files, you would need to sign up for premium membership, which is $375 a year.

Once you are a member, you can access any of Lynda.com's online training video topics. The topics are broken down by chapters, and within each chapter there are several video clip segments. Most topics also include exercise files available for download to premium members.

You can watch the training videos as often as you like, any time during the day or night, on any day of the week. You are not limited to how much time you have, or how many topics you can view. The sky is pretty much the limit, until your membership expires.

There are a number of topics currently available in the online training library, and new topics are added on a regular basis. For example, the following new training videos have recently been added to Lynda.com:

  • Final Cut Pro 5 Essential Editing (8.25 hours)
  • Final Cut Pro 5 Essential Effects (6 hours)
  • InCopy CS2 Essential Training (5 hours)
  • Flash User Experience Best Practices (4.25 hours)
  • Paint Shop Pro X Essential Training (9.5 hours)
  • InDesign CS2 Professional Typography (7 hours)
  • iMovie HD + iDVD 5 Essential Training (12 hours)

In addition to the new releases, the library consists of a huge variety of topics, ranging from Photoshop, to Illustrator, to Maya, CorelDraw, DVD Studio Pro, Dreamweaver, and so much more. They cover products from Adobe, Apple, Macromedia, Microsoft, and others. The best way to see what they have to offer is to view the online library catalog which is available to the public. The website even offers non-members some free video clips to give you an idea of what the training is like. For example, under Final Cut Pro 5 Essential Editing, the website offers the Troubleshooting Basics video segment for free.

As a member, once you select a specific topic, the web page displays an outline of the topic by chapter, then by video segments. Next to each segment is the time that the video clip runs. At the top of the page is also a link for downloading exercise files if that training video has exercise files (only accessible if you are a premium member). As mentioned earlier, the video segments are generally categorized by chapter headings. For example, under iMovie HD + iDVD 5 Essential Training, the first two chapters are outlined as follows:

1. Welcome and Introduction
::Welcome

0:26

(1.7 MB)

::Welcome to iMovie and iDVD

12:09

(20.7 MB)

::What you will learn

14:52

(22.6 MB)

::What you will learn pt. 2

12:31

(18.8 MB)

 
2. Shooting Great Video
::Shooting video

13:42

(20.9 MB)

::Shooting video pt. 2

14:13

(21.3 MB)

 

First two chapters of "iMovie HD + iDVD 5 Essential Training"

For the iMovie HD + iDVD 5 Essential Training video, there are actually a total of 28 chapters, and over 100 video segments, for a total training time of 12 hours. Note that the links in the sample above are all live links, meaning that all the video segments in the first two chapters happen to be available to the general public for free.

How it Rates
During our limited membership over a few months, I employed some help to really put the online training videos to the test. With two people helping, we were able to tackle a wide range of topics, and cover them extensively. The topics that we covered included training on products from Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe. Lan reviewed several Microsoft videos covering Excel and Outloook. Rich reviewed Adobe After Effects extensively. I went through Apple Motion and CSS 2 extensively, and browsed a handful of others as well.

Lan was just learning Excel and Outlook, so this was a perfect opportunity to test the training videos with someone new to the subject. Lan rated the video very highly, as they were easy to follow, while at the same time they spoke to her as if she was capable (versus a "for Dummies" book). The Excel training was straightforward, and got Lan up to speed for doing what she needed to do with Excel. She found the voice soothing, and the material was presented well. She wasn't sure that paying $25 a month for just the Excel training would be worth it, since so many people know Excel to whom she could go to for help. Also, for $25 a month, she would not have received the exercise files. The exercise files only come with the premium package, which is $375 for the entire year. Having access to the training was definitely a benefit.

Rich is an experienced After Effects user, and already owned a book on After Effects. He found that the training, complete with videos and exercise files, mirrored the book quite well. Rich thought that Lynda.com provided a good user-oriented approach. The most powerful aspect for Rich was the availability of current program training, and the online training provides immediate access to visual training materials. The After Effects presenter seemed like an expert in the field, and the tutorials were clear, and seemed very professional.

In my testing, I spent a lot of time in the CSS 2 and Motion training videos. I also went through a few training chapters on Photoshop, DVD Studio Pro, and Macromedia Flash. As you might expect, the experience from one speaker to the next is not always the same. Having went through the entire CSS 2 training, there was a certain aspect to the speaker's voice that began to distract me more as I got into it.
The speaker had a "wet" vocal, like his mouth was always wet and his lips were sticking together when he spoke. On the other hand, the materials in the CSS 2 training were fantastic, and I probably retained the most from that training. I was able to immediately use the information, which definitely helps in retention. I also found the exercise files that were downloadable to be extremely useful, and find myself referring to them still, months after the membership expired. Not all of the examples provided in the video were as interesting as others, and some CSS 2 features I would have liked to have seen discussed more. Often it seemed like an example was "invented" to illustrate the feature, versus creating an example that would be useful in every day use. But there were plenty of examples that did have real-world application, and the entire set of web pages that were created in the video were also provided with the exercise files. As powerful as CSS 2 is, this topic could have easily been expanded.

In review of the CSS 2 training, the exercise files for this topic turned out to be just as valuable as the training video itself. As mentioned earlier, the normal monthly or yearly membership does not provide access to exercise files. I was only given access for the purposes of this review. Given how key these files are for following up on a lesson, I think that all membership should be able to download the exercise files. For some topics, having access to the exercise files is a critical part of the lesson.

For Apple Motion, I viewed the Motion training videos before I actually owned the software. I knew I was getting the software in a few months, so I thought it would be good to get an introduction. For the most part, the Motion training videos provided an excellent overview and look at the product. It was a great way to preview the application, and I was able to view it at my leisure.

The other two training videos I browsed in were Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Flash MX 2004. For the few videos I watched on Photoshop, I learned quite a bit. I was very impressed with the content and pace of the segments I watched. I received some very good tips on palette management, workspaces, and keyboard shortcuts, all of which I immediately incorporated into my regular habits when working with the software. The one thing that I would have liked to have seen added to both the training and the downloadable exercise files was scripting actions for batch files.

I watched more segments in Flash MX 2004 than I did in Photoshop, yet I retained much less. This is due to the fact that I don't use Flash as often as Photoshop (although I would like to), but mostly I think it's due to the different speaker styles. The Flash MX videos tended to be a bit on the dull side, not as exciting as most of the other training videos. I found a lot of the explanations repetitive and overly drawn-out. Flash is more like Motion in terms of what the software does, and comparing the training videos, I found Motion to be much more lively and interesting. In Flash, it seemed to take too longer before any animation was happening. I found myself wanting to see examples that were interesting, but most of the Flash animations demonstrated were quite boring.

Overall, the training videos were very informative. You did get a sense the that instructors were well versed in the topic they were teaching. For the most part, the videos seemed unscripted, which may not be a good thing even if you are an expert in the subject. I recalled one instructor putting a spin on unexpected happenings, comparing it to real life. Although it's true that in real life you do experience unexpected situations, it's unlikely that you would experience the same one as in the video. A more carefully laid out script would have provided more focus and probably introduced some more interesting examples to look at.

For the most part, the assumptions the instructors made on the experience level of the viewer was decently balanced. Sometimes it felt a bit slow, while other times some terms got thrown at me that I was unfamiliar with (e.g., I didn't know what "Alpha" channels were). Trying to appeal to a wide range of experience levels in a training video is no easy task, but I do think that Lynda.com does a fairly good job of covering that range.

The big difference between any kind of static training materials and live classroom training is that with a live instructor, you can ask questions about how to do something, request the teacher to cover specific topics more in-depth, or have them explain a term that you aren't familiar with. This kind of live interaction is simply not possible in pre-recorded training videos, and that's simply something that the viewer should understand before choosing this route for training. That said, it would be a very useful compliment to the training videos to have some portal on the Lynda.com web site for asking questions related to a topic. Having training presented on the web opens the doors for more possibilities like these, and I would like to see them take advantage of that. It makes a big difference to be able to ask that one begging question that wasn't covered in the video, and get a good answer to it.

Interface
Viewing the training videos on the web browser using Quicktime was a very effective means of sharing information. The sound and video quality was excellent, and you can scrub the movie (e.g., slide the playhead back and forth) to replay sections that you might want to revisit, as well as pausing the video to take a break. During a training session, you typically click on one segment after the other. When you are finished with a particular video segment, you return to the contents page that lists all the segments, and the videos you've already watched typically reflect a "visited" color on the link. The one issue I noticed is that if you break for the day, and come back the following day, the visited links no longer show visited. Of course, you want to start up where you left off, so it would be nice if they would improve the web site to keep track of watched videos so that it is apparent which segments you've watched from day to day. You can review history on a different page, but that is not as convenient.

The web page provides a decent interface for browsing all the titles, by vendor, product name, or general topic. What's missing is a search function. It would be great if you could type a key word or phrase (such as "Photoshop Cropping"), and receive a list of video segments that include that subject. This, of course, would require maintaining an indexed table for searching, but the benefit to the student would be outstanding, and a tremendous time saver.

There were a few interface quirks, nits really, that could be improved as well. For instance, I wanted to expand the Quicktime playback window to fill my screen, but there was no option to do that. Also, during certain video segments (e.g., a few of the Motion segments) where the Lynda.com watermark actually obscured a control on the screen that I wanted to see.

Lastly, after your subscription expires, there's no way to log back in to review the titles that you've watched. I wanted to do that for some screenshots for this review, and I can imagine others wanting to do that if they simply wanted to summarize the training they've taken, or possibly to determine which CDs they may want to purchase.

Online versus CD-ROM
There are a number of differences between the online service and purchasing a CD-ROM. When you purchase a CD training video, you own it, and can watch it essentially until the end of time, without worry of a membership expiring, and without having to pay a monthly fee. The exercise files are also included on the CD. The downside is that a single CD covers only one topic, and it is a bit pricey (e.g., $149.95 for the Photoshop CS2 Essential Training CD-ROM). On the other hand, the online service allows you to watch as many training videos as you can cram into your schedule during your membership period. If you have a free month, you could watch 200 hours of training on a wide range of products for $25. However, once your membership expires, you cannot go back to review any materials, and unless you signed up for a year under the premium membership, you don't get any exercise files.

There are a number of scenarios that may lend one method being more favorable than another. For a company, the online training premium membership is an excellent tool for getting on-the-job training, and utilizing that knowledge in your job. For someone trying to become proficient in a specific application, the training CD-ROM is the way to go. Both methods do compliment one another. For example, a great way to determine which training you may want to purchase on CD-ROM is to view the online training videos. If you like what you see, then purchase the CD-ROM. If you don't find the video useful, you've just saved yourself $150 (minus the monthly fee of the online service). That's the great thing about the online service is that you get to see whether a training video is useful to you before choosing to invest in it.


Summary
Lynda.com's Online Training Library is a web portal for accessing a wide range of technical training videos. This is a subscription service, providing you month by month, or a full year's access to as much video as you have time to watch. It can be utilized any day of the week, at any time of the day. The selection of training videos is huge, covering web development, digital photography, networking, animation, Microsoft products, Adobe products, Macromedia products, Apple products, and many more. There are a number of different instructors, each with their own styles. Some videos are more interesting than others, and some instructors are more exciting than others. All of the videos appear to provide a very good coverage of the product being presented. These videos are useful as introductions to the products, improving your knowledge of the products, or just a refresher. Paying month by month doesn't provide the exercise files, which is unfortunate, since the exercise files play a critical role in exploring the subject after the video is viewed. I see two primary targets for this service. The month to month service provides you an inexpensive way to review as many titles as you can to help determine which titles you may want to purchase on CD-ROM, perfect if you're shopping for training videos. If you are interested in a variety topics, and your schedule is all over the place, the premium year membership is the way to go, giving you immediate access to the entire library of training videos, including the exercise files, allowing you to view the videos at your leisure.

Pros

  • Wide range of useful and informative videos on computer tech topics
  • High quality video and sound
  • Able to scrub through videos, or pause
  • Watch videos as your leisure, and preview videos before purchasing CD-ROMs
  • Useful downloadable exercise files (premium membership only)


Cons

  • Exercise files not available for month-by-month subscriptions
  • No support for asking questions on topics
  • No way to search for a specific sub-topic
  • No way to see which segments you watched after membership expires
  • A few of the training videos are less interesting or useful than others


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice