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P0: Analysis of Team Treehouse

Cand.it in IT Design and Application Development


7 th semester, 2015
Aalborg University

Daniele Internicola
Hristina Prosenikova
Ann Sofie Nellemann Jensen
Catalin Chelariu
Nicklas Jrgensen

Contents
1. Introduction ............................................................................................................................................... 3
2. The general concept of online learning ..................................................................................................... 3
3. What is Team Treehouse? ......................................................................................................................... 4
3.1. Learning philosophy ........................................................................................................................... 4
4. Overview of the system ............................................................................................................................. 5
4.1. The Badges system ............................................................................................................................. 6
4.2. The role of the students ..................................................................................................................... 7
4.3. The role of the experts ....................................................................................................................... 7
5. The technologies being used ..................................................................................................................... 7
5.1. Browser-based programming ............................................................................................................. 8
5.2. Videos as a tool for (online) learning.................................................................................................. 9
5.3. Problem Statement .......................................................................................................................... 10
6. Using enhanced video for a better learning experience ......................................................................... 10
6.1. An example of enhanced video technology applied to online learning ........................................... 12
7. Conclusion ............................................................................................................................................... 13
8. References ............................................................................................................................................... 15

1. Introduction
The use of technology to share the knowledge between people increases day by day in the modern
societies. This has an effect on the teaching methods there is being used. With the use of technology for
teaching purposes; online learning has become a more developed way of teaching. In this method people
have the opportunity to learn by themselves with the help from technology.
Due to the increase in the use of technology in our daily life and the development in the e-learning method,
it has been used in many fields.
For this reason, in this project we are focusing on online learning as a qualified teaching method. Therefore,
our case study for this project is Team Treehouse since it is an interesting platform for online learning and
since the platform has many users in many different countries.

2. The general concept of online learning


The concept of online learning has various definitions, depending on the field of work and the perception of
the researcher. Online learning evolves constantly with time, so does its definition, but there are certain
characteristics that are similar; e.g. interaction with technologies (media and electronic devices), easy and
fast access to the worlds library (Sangr et al., 2011).
Based on literature review, the online learning is defined as:
A form of teaching and learning - which may represent a part or the whole of
the education model in which it is used - that makes use of electronic media
and devices to facilitate access, promote evolution and improve the quality
of education and training. (Sangr et al., 2011: page 6)
It is assumed that this definition can be applied in this project, since it is aligned with the understanding of
online learning of the authors. This definition is also agreed upon by various international experts in the
field of education and ICT (Sangr et al., 2011).
Online learning represents a different way of learning, which is said to be improved and evolved education.
One of the main benefits is the flexibility offered to students and teachers. Online learning supports
collaborative communication where the users have the control over their own learning process. Therefore,
online learning focuses on the needs of the individual learners in the process of education. At the same time
students can pursue their interests and personal objectives, without being restricted to fixed schedules

(Borstorff & Lowe, 2007). In addition, the use of online learning allows self-pacing, so it increases
satisfaction and decreases stress (Algahtani, 2011).
Liaw et al. (2007) suggest that online learning is a promising way of learning. This is mostly because of
advantages such as service, cost, quality, and speed. Yet another benefit of online learning is the eased
access to all types of data that cover all kinds of fields of work and interests.
All these advantages of online learning enhance and stimulate the self-learning process. In accordance,
BoghikianWhitby & Mortagy (2008) suggest that adult students benefit more from taking online classes
compared to traditional age students, and that computer competency helped improve performance in online
classes over time.
As a result, more people find it convenient to take online courses. Accordingly, an increase in demand, leads
to a raise in supply, so the number of online courses increases. Kartha (2006) suggests that the number of
online courses has vividly increased because of the attained benefits for both learners and universities.
Since online learning becomes more and more popular, it represents an interesting topic to investigate. In
order to gain more understanding of online learning and examine how it works, a specific interactive
platform for online learning will be selected and explored further in this project.

3. What is Team Treehouse?


Team Treehouse is an interactive platform that focuses on online education and learning. The website and
smartphone application launched in 2013 and since then more than 160.000 online students from 190
different countries has enrolled to the courses on the platform (Team Treehouse, 2015).
The platform focuses on teaching students different fields related to web development and programming
through interactive learning and by building an online community. The advancement of online learning
through websites like Team Treehouse offers student around the world flexible access to content and
instruction at any time, from any place (U.S Department of Education, 2009).
The following section focuses on the technologies behind Team Treehouse, and the possibilities they offer
students in terms of learning via the internet or their smartphone.
3.1. Learning philosophy
As mentioned earlier Team Treehouse is an online learning platform, which is developed to help people
extend their knowledge by learning from interactive videos, exercises, and quizzes.

The main philosophy at Team Treehouse is that people can learn by themselves in their homes, only by
using the platform with videos and the learning exercises. Team Treehouses concept is that everyone can
learn from this platform because it contains many different ways to learn such as videos, exercises,
workspaces (here you can try to code by yourself), quizzes and many other features. Team Treehouses
unique way of learning is designed so everyone has a chance to follow the programs and learn from it.
Peoples motivation to use the Team Treehouse can be different. For instance, there may be some people
trying to land a new job, brush up on their skills, or learn how to build up their ideas.
The students of this platform can choose to learn by themselves in the library, or they can follow a track if it
is overwhelming to know where to start. Furthermore, there is a forum where people can ask questions
and get help.

4. Overview of the system


The system offers organized courses and a series of learning paths called tracks (Team treehouse, 2013).
Each track (Figure 1) is a collection of organized and linked courses about a common theme, made by
different section and an introduction. Each section is organized in subsections that are focused on a specific
part of the main subject, guiding the users step by step, through videos, quizzes and practical exercises.
For example, the main track Web Design includes 14 different sections who gives to users a full
knowledge of web design, from coding to design a logo.
The system is well designed and gives users the possibility to choose different tracks step by step. It offers
the freedom to skip lessons and exercises to user. In this way, users with a higher level of knowledge can
move forward faster through shortcuts. At all times, users know in which part of the track they are and
which sections or subsections they already complete at all times. Moreover, the system keeps track of
completed steps so, users can stop and start again from the point they stopped. A visual feedback of
subsection advancement is provided by a bar positioned in the upper part of the window.

Figure 1: The Tracks System, Team Treehouse, Available: https://teamtreehouse.com [Accessed 18 September
2015].

During the video lesson, there are different options, designed to help user to understand better the subject
of the lesson. There is the Teachers note, which can be defined as the summary of the lesson with a short
explanation of the main concepts. There is another part named as Video Transcript where students can
find the contents of the video in a textual version. A written document regarding the video lesson could
help the students better understand the lesson by using the document as a support for the video. The other
options include a list of questions other users asked to the community about the lesson and a zipped file
with all the lesson content.
4.1. The Badges system
Completing a subsection or a section give users achievement badges (Figure 2). This is a common feature of
e-learning websites and services and it is an important reward mechanism of the gamification (Glover,
2013). It helps to motivate and enhance users to continue to study. As stated by Glover (2013)
gamification is a concept that can be used to make learning more engaging. Adding small rewards and
completing little challenges could help users to improve themselves and be motivated. It makes education
more fun and engaging, without undermining its credibility (Muntean, 2011, page 238).
Adding badge rewards improves learning significantly. In a study by Hakuline et al. (2015), a group of
students rewarded with badges spent more time per exercise, suggesting that they thought about the
solutions more thoroughly before submitting them.

Figure 2: The Badges System, Team Treehouse, Available: https://teamtreehouse.com [Accessed 18 September 2015]

4.2. The role of the students


The whole system is highly adaptable to different users, with different knowledge levels from the beginner
to the advanced. It gives all the necessary information to learn. User can follow a predefined a precise path
or create a personal one choosing different parts from different tracks. There are no real constraints to
avoid users skip lessons or start from the advanced ones.
There are only suggestions and tips about which course should be completed before starting with advanced
classes, but it is always possible to ignore them and go on. Even if the system is totally flexible, it is
expected that users follow the chosen track from the beginning to the end.
4.3. The role of the experts
The teachers mainly contribute to the platform with the video lectures. They create the path that users
should take but hardly give users direct feedback. The experts who help users to solve issues and achieve
challenges are other users, who are part of the Team Treehouse community. The role of the community in
Team Treehouse is fundamental in order to learn better, have a live feedback and a solid support. Users are
invited to share their knowledge, even if it is just a small tip. The motivation to participate to the
community is to learn new skills and advance the knowledge with practices (Gray, 2004).

5. The technologies being used


Online education and learning is a growing concept (Allen & Seaman, 2007), and the internet offers
numerous different websites where students can enroll to learn web development, business management,
programming and lots more. While there are different ways of structuring online learning (Harrison &

Stephen, 1996), Team Treehouse base their online courses and education around the concept of interactive
online learning through videos, online quizzes and browser-based programming.
5.1. Browser-based programming
The first of the major technologies behind Team Treehouse is their browser-based code editor and
workspace, illustrated in Figure 3. By offering a free-to-use code editor implemented in the system, Team
Treehouse offers the technology needed to learn programming or coding. Typically, programming or coding
requires specific code editors or IDEs but Team Treehouse provides the technology required in their
browser-based application. Even though many IDEs (e.g. Eclipse) or code editors (e.g. Brackets) are free,
Team Treehouse offer a complete online learning package.

Figure 3: Workspaces in Team Treehouse, Team Treehouse, Available: https://teamtreehouse.com [Accessed 18 September
2015]

The real benefit to this technology is not only that inexperienced students and programmers have a
convenient way of programming and storing their previous projects without being forced to install and
comprehend new programs but also that the technology enables users to be very proactive with their
learning and interactive with the instructional videos. The ability to pause videos with coding examples and
experiment in a browser-based editor creates a very interactive learning environment facilitated by two
different technologies.

5.2. Videos as a tool for (online) learning


The other primary tool implemented by Team Treehouse is their large selection of instructional and
interactive videos. The technology itself is very common in the 21st century, but in a learning environment,
instructional videos offer a unique way for the students to grasp advanced or abstract concepts. This is also
called visual learning and there is a significant difference between being a traditional learner (e.g. reading
and writing) and being a visual learner (e.g. videos, imagery and graphic visualization).
As stated by Kirby et al. (1988) the two distinct ways of learning are not necessarily opposites, but more like
different ends of the same spectrum. This aspect of learning is not only relevant for traditional face-to-face
learning but also forces online learning platforms to vary and incorporate different learning styles; in this
case Team Treehouse offers a combination between visual learning (videos) and more traditional teaching
methods (read and write, quizzes and tests).

Figure 4: Explaining the concept of Strings in Java, Team


Treehouse, Available: https://teamtreehouse.com [Accessed 18
September 2015]

The videos typically feature the teacher of the specific course (e.g. Java, HTML, or CSS) explaining different
aspects and elements of the specific programming language or topic. Naturally, the courses start out with
the basics, and then progresses with more advanced topics like an ordinary lecture or course. One of the
key elements of the videos as a technology and the concept of visual learning, concerning Team Treehouse,
is that the platform uses many different graphical visualizations and animations that explains complex ideas
and programming languages in a simplified and easy-to-understand manner. Just like a normal lecturer
would illustrate specific relationships between for example objects and classes, Team Treehouse uses
technology to represent and illustrate important information. An example of this is illustrated in Figure 4,
where animated letters attached to a string explain the concept of Strings in the programming language
Java. As mentioned earlier, this is a very efficient way of using technology to best serve the different
learning styles that students may have.

Another benefit of using videos as a technology when teaching (or learning) is that video represents a
major component of students media experience (Merkt et al., 2011). Translated to the case of Team
Treehouse, the students enrolled in the program will be very familiar with the technology from their leisure
time and other major sites like YouTube or Vimeo. The true benefit of familiarity with the technology itself
seems to be that users (students) are very comfortable using the interactive dimension of the technology
(e.g start/stop/pause). This is very beneficial in an online learning environment because studies suggest
that the interactive dimension of video-technology is superior to traditional learning when users are to
solve specific problems or are trying to acquire declarative knowledge (Merkt et al., 2011). As suggested
by Weigan et al. (2011) students natively use the videos interactively because they have the need of
[matching] the pace of information presentation to their own cognitive needs. If we look at these findings
in lieu of Team Treehouse, the video technology enables the students to pace their own learning in
contrast to an ordinary learning environment where the lecturer or teacher typically sets the pace.
Furthermore, as stated by Merkt et al. (2011) students benefit highly from interaction with videos in a
learning situation; especially when students are asked to perform certain tasks or find certain information.
As most programming students and computer scientists probably know, programming involves a lot of
abstract concepts and learning-by-doing which is why the two aforementioned technologies together
create a productive and interactive learning environment.
5.3. Problem Statement
With a full vision of Team Treehouse and its learning technologies in mind, a possible problem can be
identified.
How can Team Treehouse improve the video technology for better online learning?

6. Using enhanced video for a better learning experience


Enhanced video, also known as interactive video is a type of dynamic visual media that consists of three
main characteristics. One of them is non-linearity, which gives users the freedom to skim through the
video, skip parts, and select their individual learning path, without following any fixed trail. Other
characteristics are the usage of a number of different symbols, and interactivity, which gives users the
opportunity to decide on the what and the how of the information presentation (Stephan Schwan,
2004: 2). All these characteristics are combined with realistic, iconic images. This adds more value to the
video and the learning process, since the user has the freedom to create his own path and choose his or her
individual phase of learning. Thus, increase the user experience and motivation.

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After the evolvement of advanced computer systems, different ways of presenting information on the
internet has emerged. One of these new technologies is enhanced video and the lack thereof poses one
the problems with the platform. Because as stated by Schwan & Riempp (2004): Interactive media enable
the user to adapt the presentation to her or his individual cognitive needs by actively deciding about the
what and the how of a given presentation.
Interactive media give up the strict working division between author and user (Schwan & Riempp, 2004:
page 296) which would be an improvement to the online platform. The philosophy of Team Treehouse is to
let the users learn on their own terms and in their own time which makes enhanced video a viable
solution. Typical features in enhanced video could be different sections and important points of the video
illustrated via timeline, embedded questions or an interactive interface as illustrated in figure 5.

Figure 5: Enhanced video, Merkt et al., 2011

When users are to be responsible for their own learning, it is important to take advantage of current
technologies that involves the user as much as possible. One such technology is enhanced video, as this
interactive technology can have a positive impact on the users skill acquisition. When the technology
delivers a simple and interactive way of organizing, sorting and noting relevant and important information,
the users can reduce the number of required mental processing steps (Schwan & Riempp, 2004: page 296)
and thus improve their learning.
As shown in the study by Schwan & Riempp (2004), when viewers of a particular video clip have to solve
specific problems based on the instructions from the video, they systematically use the interface of the

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video to [distribute] their attention and cognitive resources unevenly across the whole video
demonstration. In the case of Team Treehouse and their coding courses, users have a common interface
available and while this is useful for sorting through the information in the video, enhanced video could
be an even better solution. Enhanced video helps the users note important information and memorize
certain concepts even better than standard video. When introduced to enhanced video, users develop
epistemic actions (Schwan & Riempp, 2004: page 296) that could improve the users learning ability.
Epistemic actions are actions where the user changes his environment in order to find solutions to a given
problem. A comparison can be made to the game of Tetris, where highly skilled players develop epistemic
strategies in order to make the relevant features of the tiles perceptually more salient. In the case of
memorizing and learning difficult material or concepts, the interactivity of enhanced video could prove
useful in helping the users organize and sort relevant information. Students will be able to adjust their
speed and highlight certain information in enhanced videos just like they do with their textbook.

6.1. An example of enhanced video technology applied to online learning


Udacity is an organization that offers free and premium online courses. It already uses enhanced video
technology for all its classes and courses. Figure 6 shows an example of enhanced video in use with the
purpose of teaching and learning.

Figure 6: Exercise embedded in a video on Udacity, Udacity, Available: https://www.udacity.com [Accessed 23 September 2015]

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The video stops and the students are asked to perform some actions in order to continue the video.
Answering in the right way will unlock the rest of the video. This method allows the students to
immediately test what they have learned, consolidate it and prepare them to the next part of the video.
Splitting a video in to several parts helps the students to focus only on small part of content, step by step.

Figure 7: Feedback sidebar, Udacity, Available: https://www.udacity.com [Accessed 23 September 2015]

Another feature used in videos from Udacity, is the feedback sidebar. In figure 7 it is possible to see an
example of this. Through this option students always know in which part of the video the currently are. This
feature offers also students a useful overview of the content in the specific video. Clicking on the
completed video section will bring students back to a specific part of the video, and allows users to easily
revise certain areas that they do not understand.

7. Conclusion
Online learning becomes more and more involved in peoples lives. Online learning is used in corporations,
in the academic sphere, and in our everyday life. Team Treehouse offers a combination between visual
learning (videos) and more traditional teaching methods (read and write, quizzes and tests).
The main technologies used by the platform are instructional and interactive videos and browser-based
code editor and workspace. In regards to visual learning, the platform uses standard video. However, the
platform does not offer users interaction with the video material. The platform lack the technology called
enhanced video and it is assessed that this type of video could improve the services that Team Treehouse

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offers. The main reason are the benefits the technology offers and the increased involvement of the user in
the learning process. Furthermore, this type of video help the users to note important information and
memorize difficult material.
Research shows that users reduce the required mental processing steps when interacting with a
technology that offers simple and interactive way of organizing, sorting and noting relevant and important
information. Enhanced video enables the user to set his individual pace of learning and to interact with the
interface, which is used systematically when dealing with problems based on the video. This improves the
learning ability and skills of the users. This technology is seen as a tool that Team Treehouse could
implement, in order to bring higher value and better experience of the users.

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