Review of Creativebug – fun friendly quick online learning

Creativebug feels like Pinterest come to life. Short, bite-sized snackable tutorials, curated and quick. This makes it feel fun, friendly and light.

Creativebug_-_Craft_Classes___Workshops_-_What_will_you_make_today_

Most of the creative online learning platforms I’m reviewing in this series have the same features: video players, shared student projects, downloadables, etc. So it’s worth it to focus on what makes them different. For Creativebug, I think the biggest defining feature is actually the pricing and payment model. That payment model even affects their catalog, how people use the service, and it affects the relative “size” of the courses.

There’s a sort of false economy with online learning. People may tend to think “Hey this course long, great value!” But within our attention economy in full effect (oldie but goodie Wired, 1997), we have limited time to devote to anything, much less online learning. From my experience making screencasts, it takes much less time to make a 20 mins screencast than a 5 mins screencast. That compact-ness requires careful scripting and editing. Less really is more. Online learning is moving to shorter formats, and personalized environments. In fact I think for Creativebug, moving to personalization would make a big impact in their experience. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Quick tour of Creativebug

What’s in the Creativebug box?

The Creativebug platform includes:

  • Video player
  • Note taking and bookmarking capability.
  • Downloadable PDFs

Interactivity includes:

  • Student projects

Tips to get the most out of Creativebug:

Overall impressions of Creativebug

I first heard about Creativebug on Crafts from the Cwtch. As Sarah pointed out, the tutorials are mainly product-based.  I almost feel like Creativebug is Pinterest come to life. The topics are often so specific as to fit in a little Pin. But instead of images, you have a friendly instructor with step-by-step activities. The projects seem specific enough that you could conceivably watch a little class, and finish a project in that afternoon. Invite your friends over to make Painted Canvas Pillows or Watercolour Silhouettes! That is sort of how I see Creativebug being used.

“CreativeBug also seems more sort of hip and artsy, while Craftsy is more traditional/crafty,” as Tiny Rotten Peanuts observed. That’s pretty spot-on. I think if you want to build crafts skills, you’d turn to Craftsy but if you want to just make a decoration for a party this weekend, you’d go to Creativebug.

Creativebug seem to work closely with sponsors, such as Michaels which is a craft store in the US. If you’re not in the US, many references about shops, products, etc aren’t relevant. For example a class on dyeing with Kool-aid may leave you wishing you could get technicolour foodstuffs in your country.

Let’s look at the catalog in more detail.

The Creativebug catalog

You can watch quick tutorials for a little decoration, or get absorbed in a longer course to build a specific skill. The Drawing and Illustrations basics course with Heather Ross is over 3 hours long. Sketchbook explorations is another in-depth class. These might be worth the subscription alone.

However it’s the fact that it’s subscription based, and more like a magazine that you’ll feel enticed to maintain your subscription. Check out the calendar when you visit the site.

Creativebug_-_calendar 2

You can see there will be more courses coming up, and you can set up reminders.

Creativebug_-_calendar

They have a range of instructors on Creativebug. They have attracted recognizable talents to their platform. Though the bulk of classes aren’t by those experienced instructors, so the quality can be variable, as one reviewer commented. My main issue is that I don’t find many of the courses enticing. Do I need a tutorial on making a silhouette picture? I think if you’re stuck for ideas though, there’s so much inspiration. I could imagine checking out the catalog when I want to add a hand-made present to a gift. So in that sense, my comparison to Pinterest stands here.

My real issue is that I find Creativebug hard to navigate. I feel like I can’t find things or browse. If I find a class I’m interested in and don’t book mark it, I’d be worried I wouldn’t find it again.

They use the “load more” option at the bottom of each page, and I’m like: when does it end? Am I seeing everything? Again, with a Pinterest comparison, they have a seemingly bottomless pit with a similar grid-style gallery. But my strategy for browsing on Creativebug is very different from discovery and collection on Pinterest. So it seems a strange model to copy, if that is what they are doing.

I think a huge step would be if they included a powerful, faceted search to the platform. In the future, if they included personalization and better browsing capability, their wide ranging catalog will be easier for people to find the value in. Unless the mystery meat navigation was done on purpose?

Creativebug’s special sauce: The Creativebug pricing model

I think the pricing model is generous and attractive, and it’s hopefully going to pay off for Creativebug in a large user base. Currently their pricing is $4.95. Apparently a few years ago, it was $9.95 Creativebug is least expensive outlay in comparison to other platforms I’m reviewing. They also give you one credit per month which allows you to “save” a course you really like. So even when you no longer subscribe, you still have access. This seems to me the most generous of all the platforms.

Free to try: I signed up for the free Creativebug subscription to review a few classes. It’s one of the only learning platforms I am reviewing in this series that gives you full access during a trial period. FREE, for real. Credit card required, but still, that displays a lot of trust in their viewers and the model.

Because they are enticing subscribers to stay, there is a drive on their part to continue to publish new courses and tempt subscribers with the upcoming catalog. They are not bound to try and get higher price tags on their courses, they can fill a special niche with shorter courses. This means the environment seems ever-changing and evolving.

I’ve also reviewed and Craftsy and Creativelive if you’re curious!

Review of CreativeLive – social creative learning

At the most essential, all of the online learning platforms I’m reviewing in this series have similar features: Online videos, some student interaction, a way to share projects – these are all common features. Most of the courses also follow a formula where the outcome is fairly clear. Such as “Learn to do X”, where the instructor starts with a clear “Here’s one I made earlier” example. The sizzle of the spontaneous learning experience that arises from interaction among students and the teacher is lost. It’s very hard to replicate that experience online in a self-paced asynchronous environment. Craftsy manages this by inserting comments at various timecodes, so you see others’ comments in context. But that doesn’t feel spontaneous.

CreativeLive is the most unique platform in that the first time courses are run, they are done so in front of a live audience, both in the studio, and sometimes online. This means you as a live viewer can influence the content of the course. As a viewer watching the recording you also benefit from the fact that people are most likely asking for the same clarification and extensions that you would like to know. The “Live” aspect of CreativeLive is what makes it truly unique.

Video tour of CreativeLive

I’ve recorded a quick video tour so you can see what CreativeLive courses are like.

What’s in the CreativeLive box?

The CreativeLive platform includes:

  • Video player – streaming only
  • Note taking and bookmarking capability.
  • Downloadable PDFs (depending on the course).
  • Sometimes discount codes for services and software.

Interactivity includes:

  • Live Q+A – if you attend the course live.
  • Chat rooms – both a casual lounge and on-topic chat room.
  • Student projects and peer feedback.
  • Sometimes Facebook groups or off-site groups run by the instructors.

Tips to get the most out of CreativeLive:

  • CreativeLive accounts are free, but you pay per course.
  • Pop into the live listing to see what courses are rebroadcasting right now.
  • Watch sample previews to get a sense of the instructor and the content to see if it’s worth investing.
  • RSVP to Join the upcoming/live courses for free. Click “Chat” to join the chatrooms for the live course.

Overall impressions of CreativeLive

Of all the platforms I’m reviewing, CreativeLive does the best job of connecting learners with each other and with the instructors. The social aspects to this platform are some of the most valuable. They seem to encourage plenty of off-site interaction too.

For example a course on Ditching your Day Job also includes a Facebook group you can join. While many online learning platforms may dream of being the all-in-one solution, the problem is that “The Conversation” has moved off of membership based sites and on to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. The ubiquity of Facebook for example, cannot be beat. If you don’t work with it, learners will work around you and create Facebook groups themselves.

Instructors on CreativeLive seem to know this very well. It also means that CreativeLive doesn’t have crusty old message boards – which in terms of community vibe is a real killer. facebook-group In addition to reducing communication barriers, they also make it easier to connect emotionally to the content. I noticed that CreativeLive instructors, even when they talk about fairly straightforward topics, they tend to dig a bit deeper into what drives you as a creative person. In the live course I attended on using  YouTube for marketing the instructor, Whippycake, zeroed in on the thing that is holding many people back. For many it’s not for lack of technical knowledge, it’s having the guts to get in front of the camera. She brought out emotional aspects to engaging your audience to the heart of the course topic. I was actually bowled over with her honesty about her own struggles. Somehow Whippycake manages to create her videos in a home-studio, with four kids running about the place! Many topics in CreativeLive are sort of like that. Let’s look at the catalog next.

CreativeLive’s catalog

CreativeLive does have some straightforward step-by-step types of practical courses on specific techniques for crafts, photography, etc. If they were just competing on those craft techniques courses, then I don’t think it would be very competitive. One thing you might notice as you browse CreativeLive courses is that are a little more expensive than the snackable prices of other platforms such as CreativeBug (at $4.99 a month) or Craftsy which has courses sometimes for $9.99. They are also longer (1 day or 2 day courses) and more in-depth. What makes the CreativeLive catalog special is that there are more courses which could inspire you to take action on your dreams; enhance your job prospects; or help you build a business by determining your market, your pricing and optimize marketing and production.

For this reason, I assume CreativeLive would appeal to an audience who was taking their craft a little more seriously – as in: They can justify the prices because it’s a business expense for professional development. And when you compare the cost of these courses against similar in-person courses, the pricing is pretty reasonable. Michelle Ward charges over $3300 USD for her coaching services; and she also offers CreativeLive courses. In comparison to either her own coaching services or even a local career counsellor, her online classes such as Ditch your day job ($99) or Create your dream career ($99) look like pretty good deals. While it’s not going to be the same as having a career counseller working 1:1 with you, it might be a good first step to get you in gear.

CreativeLive’s special sauce: The live buzz

When you attend as live online class, you can join in a live chatroom at the same time. I found the ongoing live chat is fun. Sometimes it descended into back channel chatter, so I preferred to watch the “on topic” chat room. The facilitators do a great job of monitoring consensus and bringing the questions forward in the classroom. I was amazed in the class when a remark I made was mentioned in the class and the instructor responded(!) That really opened my eyes and I understood the value of having a live event. creativelive-chat Just one tip about finding the chat room: I was watching the class for a while before I realize you have to click the “Chat” link, which opens a pop-up window. creativelive-chat-questions And after that, there are two tabs in the pop-up window. Monitor the Lounge for random chatter, or click the main tab for on-topic chatter. creativelive-chat-tabs

Tip: Get the most out of CreativeLive by attending the free live broadcasts

Look through the list of upcoming, live courses. RSVP for a course and attend the live online class to participate in a discussion. creative-live-rsvp The fact is, attending a course for hours is going to be tricky for most people. The times for the course I attended was 5pm-midnight in my timezone. It went well the first night, but the second night, I received multiple family phone calls which lasted for a long time, and this meant I couldn’t attend the entire class. Of course, you always buy the course! And that is clearly why they allow participants to try before you buy. As one reviewer wrote, “I did try to tune in for the free streaming but I had technical issues and missed most of it. I ended up buying the Optimize Your Online Store workshop and I’m so glad I did.”

No good deed goes unpunished of course. I was amazed some viewers still expected more for free. During the second night of the class I took, I was a bit annoyed by a viewer who complained a few times when the facilitators would remind viewers that the class they were viewing (FOR FREE, mind you) was also available to purchase. The viewer complained that the facilitators were pushing the class purchase. What?! Um, guys, they are a business. And isn’t it nice they let you watch for free? I think they are building great good will within their learner community by offering so much for free, with no credit card required.

I’ve been pleased with the quality of the courses and content, and I’m certainly going to be taking advantage of the current 30% off sale.I think that ends July 27th!!

Have you signed up for any CreativeLive courses?

Review of Craftsy.com – online crafty classes

As mentioned in my introduction post in this series of reviews, I want to take a close look at a number of online learning platforms which focus on the niche area of creative and crafty pursuits. First we’ll look at Craftsy.

Video tour

Here’s a quick video tour showing some of the features mentioned in this review.

Multi-mode for everyone

I wanted to start off by confirming the myth of “Learning Styles” has been soundly debunked. So PLEASE stop saying you’re special because you’re a visual learner, or an aural learner. You’re not special. (OK you’re special, just not like that.)

Two things do hold true for all learners:

  • We all learn better when we learn through multiple modes.
  • The highest bandwidth learning experience is always going to beat out the less rich experience.

Therefore, live, in-person will be better than online, and video will be better than paper. And providing the same content in video, as well as in printed text and images will always beat out one single mode. However, learning tactile hands-on activities while watching a two dimensional recorded digital video is likely to pose challenges.

So any of the online learning platforms I’m reviewing in this series will need to work around this problem if they are to teach creative and making activities. How they do so and to what effect is what makes them different.

What’s in the Craftsy box?

My_Craftsy

The Craftsy platform includes:

  • Video player for online streaming.
  • Apps for Android and iOS for offline viewing.
  • Note taking and bookmarking capability.
  • Downloadable PDFs

Interactivity includes:

  • Comments and questions marked along the timeline and appear as you watch the spot.
  • Responses from instructors and students.
  • Project sharing, comments on fellow learner’s projects.

Tips to get the most out of Craftsy:

  • Watch the entire course all the way through while you craft or in transit.
  • Add bookmarks and take notes.
  • Return back to the class when you’re ready to tackle the tasks and you have your materials ready.
  • Use the browser to skim to specific tasks and steps.
  • Challenge yourself to complete classroom activities, take photos and share your work. The feedback from other students can be a great motivator.

Overall impressions of Craftsy

Craftsy videos are very well produced, well lit and usually at good angles to see all the action. However, there are limitations to the studios. In videos which require information about soaking knits or yarn for example, they don’t have a sink or show a real situation. I’ve noticed more on-location shots in Interweave videos for example. So in that sense it is limiting.

Some criticize the pace for being too slow. Another way to say it is: it’s thorough.  I appreciate that instructors don’t skip over things. If an instructor says you need to continue on a row, they show that again step-by-step. If you think it’s slow, do something at the same time you’re watching.

I like to knit or spin while watching the videos, though I don’t necessarily follow along at first. I return later and work on specific tasks or techniques when I’m ready. For example, in the Shetland shawl course, I have watched all the videos, but go back to watch techniques when I’m working on a specific part.

The “Improve your knitting” class with Patty Lyons is one of the classes which was great to do right along with her. I paused, rewound, played back and inspected her actions to learn new methods for forming knit and purl stitches. If you thought you knew everything about knitting, that is a great course to go in depth on techniques to save you time and improve ergonomics.

Read reviews of Patty Lyons courses

Craftsy’s catalog

craftsy-_catalogThere is a massive and growing catalog of craft-focused courses. Mainly the courses would appeal to beginners and experienced amateurs.

That is one consistent criticism I have come across: good for beginners, not too attractive for more experienced learners. I think this is one of the issues of per-class purchase. They can’t assume any prior knowledge or experience so beginner, redundant topics will be covered again and again. While that is fantastic for beginners, an experienced learner with feel like they purchased something they can’t make use of… ‘why do I need to see how to spread fondant *again* in every video’? Still each instructor will likely have their own tips for even beginner skills.

As Craftsy has introduced new areas, they tend to start out with the more essential and basic classes. Later they seem to expand those topics with content which will be appealing to those with more experience. For example, in the topic of Spinning they started with one basic handspinning class about using a Spindle and then they added more well-known authors and instructors with more detailed exploration of methods and techniques.

More than crafts?

The Craftsy courses focus almost entirely on crafts, baking, and photography. There are some courses for budding businesses, mainly in their Art & Photo section and cake sections. Baking is big business!

Craftsy also sell craft supplies alongside their classes business. Some classes come with bundles where you can purchase a specific kit. Be warned though, some courses don’t come with the same exact materials the instructors used in the course.

Craftsy’s special sauce: Their app

Most of the creative learning platforms I’m reviewing only offer live-streaming access. That limits where and how you can learn, which is an unfortunate limitation for a medium that is attempting to increase accessibility.

The app for Craftsy is stellar. You can select and save videos to watch offline. So if you’re going on a long journey, or away from your nice fast wifi, this is an excellent option.

You can also add bookmarks and notes for future review.

Tip: Keep an eye out for discounts

Craftsy is dangerously addictive. I notice people mentioning they “stock up” on courses when a sale comes along. It’s a very clever marketing tactic on Craftsy’s part.

The classes are easy to watch and the marketing incentives are enticing. Sure, you might not have considered that course at the full price, but at 50% off it suddenly seems pretty attractive. When the price gets down to around the mental $10 or £10 mark, you might start comparing to other small purchases and then they look down right affordable. It seems that many Craftsy fans tend to rely on the sales and discounts to come around, and then pounce. The learners feel like smart shoppers and Craftsy still earn great income at scale.

So – to play the game right, make sure you’re subscribed to their newsletter and keep an eye out for discounts before you buy.

Also, if you’re going to make a purchase, consider going to the instructor’s website or blog. They often have their own affiliate code which allows them to extend a discount directly to fans. The instructor also gets hopefully a little bump in their commission, which is nice too. You might have noticed I linked to Patty Lyon’s website (http://pattylyons.com/online-review-improve-knitting/) to refer to the craftsy course. From her site you can save $20 by using her referral link.

Have you used Craftsy? I’d love to hear what your favorite class is, or which class would you not recommend?