TOS Crew Review: Zane Education

It's no secret that education has moved into the multi-media age. That is probably a post on its own, but for today's review, we'll be taking a look at how one company has utilized online videos to help parents with the daunting task of reaching kids who may be more technically savvy than they are!

Company Information: Zane Education

Zane Education is a full collection of 2500 online educational videos in 11 different subjects and 260+ curriculum topics. These are arranged into lesson plans that include review questions, key glossary terms and extension activities that you can discuss and research with your children. Most of the videos also have online quizzes that helps you to determine how well your kids have understood the material. The company provides excellent guides to help you get started and use the site to its fullest capacity. You can find these guides here.

The benefits of learning via video at home are diverse. It provides an option for visual learners as well as those who thrive on auditory learning.  If a concept is difficult or if you are taking notes, you can pause the video or rewind it (ha! I'm showing my age!) and listen again. You can watch them at any time from your home computer, or even (like we did) on vacation from a laptop!

However, according to the website, what makes these videos unique from others is what they call "The Missing Piece": closed-captions or subtitling that accompanies each video. No matter how well-done a documentary is, much of it can be lost on children who either have hearing problems, learning disabilities or literacy struggles. Zane includes a page on their site that documents the benefits not only for special needs children but for all kids.

The website offers a different full length video every day so you can check it out. Be forewarned: these videos are not necessarily Christian in worldview. Some of the science videos do have evolutionary slants to them. Just wanted to let you know if this is an issue for you.

Product Reviewed: 12 month Gold membership. Included with this membership were The Christian Learning Guide and The Zane Education Learning Video Catalogue. There are other membership options available, including a free one that gives you access to demo versions of the videos, interactive curriculum quizzes, and other benefits. You can also choose all videos for a particular age/grade or subject.

Price: $17.99 per month, $197.89 per year for Gold membership. Check the membership page for other package prices. The best deal is any 12-month option, as it is like getting one month free plus the guides (worth $49.95 each) mentioned above.

Age Range: Elementary through high school/adult

Parental Preparation:

Being the eager beaver I was, after I registered, I immediately jumped to the video page. There are so many that it is easy to get overwhelmed. Art history to geography to science to literature...the list goes on. Where should I even start? It was like being a kid in the candy store!

Now, looking back, I would recommend having an idea of: 1) what role you want videos to play in your educational program, and 2) what subjects or topics you are planning to cover this year. If you are just checking out the program, I would suggest going to this page and explore the various topics that are available. You can utilize the categories on the left side bar to look up topics by subject or age. I went through and made a list of the ones that would apply to my high school daughter and my 6th grade son.

If you purchase a 12-month subscription, I would highly recommend carving out some time to read the Christian Home Learning Guide's introduction. I found this section an excellent preface and worth the time (about 30-45 minutes) to read. After that, I read the specific chapters that related to each subject I was looking at with my kids.

Although this is a little extra work on my part, I found it worth the time because it helped me to frame our studies and give me a sense of direction and perspective to help me guide my children. (That's why we homeschool right?)

How We Used It:

I used the videos in three ways.

1. As supplement and reinforcement.

For my daughter, I found videos for her British literature and American Government studies. As she is already using other curriculum, is an excellent reader and is midway through her coursework, I did not want to add anything too burdensome for her. So we watched several videos. As she had already done extensive research on the Victorian era, we watched the video as a supplement and reinforcement of the ideas that she had already learned. Both of us learned something new! We also watched the video on the development of the English novel, which was new for both of us. We watched the videos together and would pause to discuss it along the way. We plan to utilize the American Government videos in pretty much the same way. As this subject has been difficult for her, I hope that it will give her a different explanation and viewpoint.

2. As a unit study starter.

This year for my son, I wanted to focus on science, but I wanted to let Matthew pick. His learning style is so different from his sister's. He is not as strong a reader and his attention span is considerably shorter. I knew right away that the captions would help him, as he often turns them on when he watches DVDs on his own.

After looking through the list of science topics for middle schoolers, he settled on birds, specifically on the two-video program on ostriches through guinea fowl. I printed out the lesson plan sheet to start. Then we looked over the questions, and he tried to answer what he could and tried to figure out the glossary terms using the learning tools glossary. I asked him to take note of the birds he was particularly interested in and to jot down any questions or thoughts he'd like to explore more in depth.

After watching both videos, we attempted the test but didn't do very well on it. I think we watched something that is a little beyond his level. We checked out some of the elementary videos but they were too simple for him. He liked the content of the middle school videos as it went into the depth and detail he really was interested in.

Using the lesson plans, we set ourselves some special projects, with plans to watch the videos again, specifically in the section on eagles. Though the discussion question dealt with penguins, we found it simple enough to use that same assignment but for eagles instead. In fact, we altered each of the discussion, debate, research, activity and essay assignments to fit his particular interest.

3. As a crash course for me.

As a homeschooling mom, I would love to teach a lot of different subjects that I have absolutely no background in (nor do I have the time to do a lot of research!) So for me, I designed a course for myself and am working through art history, as this is a subject this math-and-science mom has no previous understanding in. It is a lot faster than trying to read up and research on art history on my own. Like being in a lecture, I took notes and gained a solid understanding of basic terms and periods in art history.

What We Liked:

  • As a parent, I appreciated the care for parents that Zane has given so that we can provide the best education for their kids. This is evident in their user guides and helps throughout the site. They even have a Facebook page that I have really enjoyed that's not just all ads. If nothing else, "like" their page for some encouragement!
  • Incredible diversity in the way that we could utilize the videos. Depending on the learner, I was able to use the same videos in different ways for each person and for different purposes.
  • The videos themselves were well done. In the British literature and Victorian era videos, the narrator had a British accent and utilized different voices to give them variety.
  • In the science videos the captions were very helpful, especially as my son was trying to figure out how to spell the Order and the Family names of the different birds! He could pause and copy them down for the notebook page we are creating.
  • The sheer volume of videos will keep us busy for days to come. Even if we are not "in school" the kids have access to excellent programs that will enrich them academically. Who knows what rabbit trail it will lead us to?
  • Very portable: we were able to watch videos from a laptop while visiting at my parents' home! We didn't have to lug books with us...just log in and watch! (I wonder how this will work when we travel to China?)

Other Thoughts:

  • It would be nice to have some way to document the videos we watched, as well as quiz scores, like in a summary page that we can print out and put into our records. As it is, I just made my own so I could document what we had done.
  • I did have a hard time with figuring out where to find definitions of the words I was looking for during the videos. While the glossary, dictionary and other learning tools were available, I had to play around to figure out where to find the information I was looking for.
  • This is probably more a caveat than a suggestion. As I had mentioned before, be prepared to discuss the science videos with your kids. I would not recommend just setting your kids in front of these videos unsupervised. I look at these as conversation starters as well as help in the teaching work. They are not substitutes for your involvement.
  • If you are looking for flash and entertainment, this is not it. These are meaty, educational videos.

Overall Summary:

I was very impressed with the quality of the videos and supplementary materials. You may need to do a little work on your end to create a study program and plan out lessons each day, but it is well worth the effort. It is a bit pricey if you're wanting just entertainment. But as I am sure that most of you reading this is not looking for this, it is a solid investment for your family.

The best deal, I would say, is to get a 12-month subscription in any plan level because you also get the additional guides with it. To determine which is the best plan, look through the video list and determine which child/ren will use the program or best benefit from it. If you already have curriculum that you plan to use and want to supplement your studies, you can probably get away with a smaller plan or purchase it for the month you need it. But if you have a struggling learner or one with special needs that could benefit from subtitled learning like this, it may be worth it to invest in the Gold Membership and fill out your studies with other books from the library. 

The good news is that through the end of August 2012, Zane Education is offering a 35% discount off the purchase of any annual 12-month Gold, Silver or Bronze Membership subscription. Enter the code: ZE753HSM when you check out.

Disclaimer: I received a one year Gold Membership from Zane Education in exchange for my honest opinion.

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