Podcasts with Pictures: Learning Academy

Another in the “Podcasts with Pictures” series designed to bring to your attention video materials you or your students might find useful. In this instance we have a series of “video lessons” created by The Learning Academy.

Each of the 14 lessons lasts between 10 and 15 minutes and consists of someone talking about a topic while you look at a slide that, by-and-large, contains the information being talked about. Although this is supplemented by a few pictures and direct screen annotations these don’t necessarily add much to the lesson – although to be fair this does vary from lesson to lesson. In some the annotations just mirror what’s presented on-screen while in others they do introduce new information.

learning academy screen

One problem with this approach is that it wastes a lot of time while the viewer watches the narrator annotate the screen while telling us what they’re writing. Why not just prepare the slide beforehand with this information?

That quibble aside – and there are others: the pictures that appear on-screen don’t seem to have much connection to what’s being discussed, small white text on a black background is very tiring to watch – the lessons cover three broad areas:

  • “Introduction to Sociology” gives you a brief overview of the subject.
  • Perspectives introduces 5 approaches (Functionalism, Marxism, Interactionism, Feminism, The New Right)
  • Education covers a slightly-odd amalgam of perspectives, school organisation, labelling, subcultures and identity. These categories are, however slightly-misleading in terms of content because, for whatever reason, more-conventional categories (such as differential educational achievement) seem to be covered. Why they’ve done things this way I can only guess. It may be because they’re trying to cover different Specifications, but I could be wrong.

The content itself is generally sound and there’s a welcome, if slightly obsessive and overdone, focus on intersectionality – although I chanced upon some curious and jarring errors in the films I watched (I didn’t sit through all of them so maybe I was just unlucky).

The Functionalism film, for example, had a section on “Talcott Parson” who apparently viewed society “in a similar way to the functionings of a human body” which is, apparently, an “organic analogy”. While the latter is a common mistake (it’s an “organismic analogy” because it’s based on the idea of bodily organs) this view of society was actually proposed by Herbert Spencer in the 19th century. Parsons (note the “s”) didn’t see society in this simplistic way – it’s just a device we use to help students get a basic grip on the underlying ideas contained in general Functionalist thought.

There was also the rather curious assertion that “Interactionism rejects the concept of socialisation since individuals have free-will to make their own choices” – a statement that illustrates one of the main potential problems with these lessons: they’re not really long enough to cover the stuff they’re aiming to discuss. Things get said that sometimes require further elucidation, otherwise they just sit on the screen looking (and sounding) a bit daft.

There were quite a few other mistakes I picked-up on (the suggestion that the “nuclear family” was a relatively modern (1950’s) invention because “nuclear” was a modern word (it’s not…) kind-of misses the point quite spectacularly) so you need to be a bit careful when using these materials.

Another thing that might be a problem is that the lessons only cover education, a brief Introduction to Sociology and some stuff on Perspectives. Whether there were supposed to be more lessons in the series isn’t clear – there are a couple of mentions of topics like Crime and Deviance – but since all the lessons were made in 2022 I think we should probably infer form this there will be no more.

As you can probably tell, I’m a bit ambivalent about these materials. On the one hand, the format makes them a bit dull at times and they aren’t really long enough to cover topics in any sort of depth. On the other, if you’re looking for some relatively short revision films – particularly for Education – these might help (but if you’re a student it might be useful to ask your teacher to give them the once-over to identify any misconceptions…).

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