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Thinkwell

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Thinkwell (website: www.thinkwell.com) offers streaming video-based courses. They're targeting homeschoolers, independent learners who want to supplement their learning with additional resources, and school and college teachers who want an "interactive textbook" to replace their current print textbook. It includes:

  • A structured collection of videos, organized by chapter and section.
  • Notes and exercises associated with each video.

Video attributes

Attribute Value
Length of videos Videos range from 5-20 minutes.
Lecturer shown? Yes, in one part as part of the screen
Format of presentation The screen is divided into rectangular sections, one consolidating main points so far, one showing the instructor talking (and in some cases, writing), and one showing what the instructor has written recently, but in print rather than handwritten form.
Subtitles and closed captioning? Available for most videos in English.
Voice translations? Not available when last checked.
Subjects covered? Wide range of subjects. Mathematics is the most extensively covered. Mathematics coverage includes middle school mathematics, high school mathematics, and lower division undergraduate mathematics. Coverage of other subjects is restricted to Advanced Placement and first college courses. This includes physics, chemistry, biology, economics, public speaking, and American government.
Price Price per course is in the $125-150 range. This price allows people to stream videos for a year after the date of purchase/activation (the amount of instructional video per course is in the 50-100 hour range). People can pay additional money to obtain CDs with the lectures recordeed.

Advantages

  • The videos are done professionally, and the visual aids are quite helpful to mastery.
  • The instructors are all knowledgeable (though not necessarily top experts) in their field: they have generally done Ph.D.s in the subject and taught courses of the same or higher level at colleges for several years. This is in contrast with Khan Academy.
  • The videos also include many jokes and techniques to keep the mood light and fun and keep students engaged (this could also be a disadvantage to people who find it distracting).

Disadvantages

  • The courses are expensive. If you intend to study a subject from start to finish, the cost is not that high (relative to textbooks or personalized instruction). However, if you just intend to watch a video on a specific topic within a subject, it's not cost-effective to buy an entire course for that video.
  • Quality varies by subject. While there is a guarantee that the videos in all subjects will clear a fairly high minimum bar, there is plenty of variation beyond that.
  • In some subjects, instructors may use relatively less conceptual methods to put their point across. Students are thereby not as well-prepared for the future. Note that this is in comparison to the best videos out there, not necessarily in comparison to the most widely used videos. In particular, Thinkwell is almost certainly better than Khan Academy.

Who we think it's most suited for

  • People who don't have a very deep interest in the subject and are learning the material at grade level may find Thinkwell better both compared to free alternatives (such as Khan Academy) and more conceptually sophisticated videos (such as Center of Math) because of the slicker nature of Thinkwell videos and the fact that they clearly and correctly explain material that closely aligns with the curriculum.
  • Highly accelerated very young people who have attention problems (relative to their intellectual level, not necessarily relative to their age) might find Thinkwell more engaging and easy to learn from compared with both free alternatives such as Khan Academy and more conceptually sophisticated videos such as Center of Math.

Alternatives to consider

For Thinkwell's mathematics coverage of middle school and high school, see also Live Online Math for a fairly similar learning experience with a slightly different profile of strengths and weaknesses.