Two Problems of Teaching: Credibility and Accountability

When I look at online classes, they always face two problems. Credibility and accountability.

Credibility is a problem because students must trust an instructor’s authority on the subject. Teaching doesn’t work if the class is spending half their collective mental resources deciding whether the instructor is reliable.

This is why YouTube tutorials are mostly ignored. It doesn’t matter if the information is next-level insightful. If the source’s credentials are suspect, your brain won’t take to the information like it would from a perceived authority on the subject.

Example: Recently KSHMR presented a “how to make a drop” tutorial on Splice. KSHMR is widely known in the dance music community as a prolifically successful producer. In the tutorial, he talks about a concept called a rhythm track, which helps producers stay focused on driving home a specific rhythm. Now that I have heard him say it, I know it is worth my time and efforts to implement the practice in my own work.

(As an interesting aside, I had that idea on my own several years ago. I even explained it well to myself and my friends a dozen times, as a revelatory insight. But because my credibility on the subject of producing was low, my friends mostly ignored the idea. Now that I’ve heard KSHMR say it, I believe my own idea more than I did in the first place.)

If the idea came from a regular YouTube tutorial with an unfamiliar name behind it, no one would notice the value of the information.

The Masterclass website recently released a music production tutorial. It is appropriate for novice producers, covering some ideas on creativity, songwriting, mixing, mastering, and managing your own career. It has astronomical production quality compared to YouTube material.

But the real value of the class comes from its credibility, because it’s not coming from an unheard of producer. It’s coming from Deadmau5.

As a result, students will be more inclined to pay attention to what he says, be less dismissive of his recommended practices, and internally, they will be less prone to arguing with the ideas.

My point is that it is important to establish credibility with prospective students. Ideally, credibility is established before the class even starts.

But once credibility is handled, we enter another problem.

Accountability is the issue of motivating students to retain and practice the presented materials. It isn’t even close to solved in the real world — and online, it can only be worse.

Relative to a real world setting, an online classroom severely limits the instructor in holding students accountable. When a person knows they will need to use the information later — on an assignment that will be handed in, say — they engage with the communication. More importantly, they imagine the negative consequences of inaction. As a result, they take notes. They listen.

The online world removes the usual paths to accountability. An instructor cannot speak to the student about incomplete assignments, or give feedback on difficulties. It isn’t a question of whether you show up or not; it’s a question of whether you even log in. The student knows this and will act accordingly. (This does not discount the self-motivated, but every bit helps.)

I have yet to see an online course implement real accountability. I am sure the solutions are out there. One method of increasing accountability would be to unlock the next lesson only after completing the assignments from the last one and receiving feedback. That seems like a good way to add value to the process.

Have you ever taken a course where you felt the instructor or institution was not credible? How did it feel?


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