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About learning in class, versus learning from books, ebooks and video tutorials

In learning any type of skill, knowledge or technology, classes and books still seem the prevalent option. Here is a personal reflection on how I learned throughout the years.


Class-based learning is often the first choice in schools and universities. I'm not going through all the advantages or disadvantages. But I want to reflect on why class-based learning has stopped working for me to learn software and technology skills.

I am mostly self-taught for CAD or BIM skills. I did have a basic cours during my student years at the school of architecture-engineering at KU Leuven in Belgium, where I still work at this moment. However, when I learnt that we would be introduced to CAAD in our fourth year I started during the summer to learn it myself. We are talking 1994, when AutoCAD 12 was running on MS DOS and the first windows versions became available. My father bought me a Sybex book on AutoCAD 12 which I studied in detail.
The classes were still interesting, but more to learn actual tasks and integrated projects, rather than the basic skill set of drafting and modelling. And I actually skipped 2D drafting at first, being fascinated by 3D modelling.

Skip a few years, and I applied AutoCAD during my professional internship at an architectural office.  I took a few classes too (from an Autodesk reseller and also from a few competitors, learning something about MicroStation, Arkey, Arc+).

Reading manuals

I then discovered MiniCAD (now VectorWorks) at another office. There was no formal training, but I read the manual in the evening in two days and at the end of the week, I knew more about it than my boss.

During the following years, I learnt CAD, rendering, MS Office, CorelDRAW, Photoshop and programming in C and C++ mostly through books. There was no broadband internet available.

Till today, books are still a very valid way to learn: you can read them away from the screen, to pick up insights and knowledge. However, interaction is severely limited. I have kept most of my IT-oriented books, although I seldom return to them these days, thanks to internet searches.


Today, for me, eBooks are most valuable for archiving. They can be searched, indexed, kept with you on your laptop or tablet and have full color. And with a retina display, it is a bit easier on the eyes. But reading books on a screen is something I'm not doing often. An iPad is a better device for that, but I have a mini with no retina display, so the text is still quite blocky.

Reading while sitting behind your computer, however, does not work for me. I usually get distracted and stop reading.

Video tutorials

The first time I got a good experience with video-tutorials, was when I discovered the free video-courses from 3D Buzz. They had a quite informal and sometimes overtly tongue-in-cheek style, which appealed to me, yet they did convey professional knowledge and practical skills.

Switch back to teaching.

After a few years of teaching CAD in a classroom, I finally started switching to Video-tutorials. The main reason, in hindsight, is that the pace at which you teach is not aligned to the majority of students. You're either too fast, so they miss a crucial step and get frustrated. So they end up in Facebook. Or you're too slow, so they start exploring themselves, get distracted and eventually also end up in Facebook.

In the end, I started recording my ArchiCAD classes. They are now fully online, alas a bit dated with ArchiCAD 16. I added Cinema 4D, Solibri, Artlantis, SketchUp, Unity, Rhino and Grasshopper to the list throughout the last two years.

On the plus side: they are HD, full-screen, streamed easily through Youtube and cover things most manuals don't cover in detail.
Students appreciate the amount of information, the fact that you can pause, rewind, skip at will.

On the negative side: it is often quite long (as in: several hours for a particular subject) and they lose their value afterwards: once you have seen them a first time, there is often little use of going back. In that sense, a book, webpage or ebook has an archival and retrieval value that is lacking in video tutorials. I must say that I tried to added a content overview (with time-code) to most video tutorials to compensate a bit for that.
Alas, they are outdated quickly, take an enormous effort and sub-titling is missing for non-Dutch speakers.


So what to do next? Invest in updated, English-spoken and subtitled versions? Keep them free or after  a payment system to get some income to invest in them? Translate some of them back into a book or web page? I'm not sure. Maybe someone can chime in here?

Who reads manuals these days?
Who still reads books?
And eBooks are not a real replacement either...
And you can only watch a video-course once or twice...


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