Monday, March 9, 2015

Visual Learning (Schoolhouse Review)

Over the past month, Emily has been using Visual Learning Systems’ online video course, Digital Science Online: Secondary Edition (Grades 6-12) as a supplement to her biology text.  Digital Science Online includes a wide variety of online videos in all science content areas. Both Elementary (Grades K-5) and secondary versions are available, but we only used the secondary edition. The homeschool subscription costs $99 for up to 8 students.Visual Learning Systems Review
The heart of the Digital Science Online program is the video collection. The middle/high school topics include:
  • Physical
  • Earth
  • Life
  • Integrated
  • Health
  • Biology

Within each topic are 8 to 30 video lessons that are each approximately 20 minutes long. Emily found the videos to be interesting and easy to follow. The narration was accompanied by beautiful video footage of nature, animals, and illustrations of concepts.image

While a student could learn a lot simply by watching videos, complete teacher material is available to accompany each lesson. Many lessons include animations as well as videos.  Each lesson begins with a pre-video activity. For example, in the Gymnosperms and Angiosperms lesson, the teacher shows the students a flower and a pine cone and initiates a discussion about what type of plant each comes from and the reproductive differences in those types of plants.

Next, a Preliminary Assessment is given so that the student sees what he already knows and gets an idea about what will be covered in the video lesson. A video review page is filled out while watching the video. Multiple worksheets can be printed for each topic. These vary from lesson to lesson, but include vocabulary, hands-on activities, reading comprehension/critical thinking passages with questions, followed by a Post Assessment. Learning objectives and a complete video script are also included in the teacher materials.


We found that completing one video lesson a week was a comfortable pace. Emily could have easily done two lessons if she hadn’t been simultaneously keeping up with her regular textbook as well. She did the preliminary assessment and video on the first day, then spent a couple more days working through the worksheets and post assessment. Sometimes I didn’t assign her to do all of the worksheets, but just picked one or two that focused on what I thought were the most important topics.

In the Reptiles and Amphibians topic, Emily classified various amphibians and reptiles by order and did some research to learn about habitat, reproduction, number of species, and general characteristics. She did a compare/contrast activity for reptiles and amphibians and designed her own fictitious reptile. Each of the topics we used included an unscrambling/matching vocabulary task, which Emily hated. I eventually just printed off a list of the vocabulary for her to match, eliminating the unscrambling words part of the activity. Her favorite parts of the program were the video and and the video review page that she completed as she watched. She says the other pages were “just work.”  (They weren’t busywork—I felt that they were worthwhile, but she didn’t find them especially fun!)


I thought that the lessons Emily did were a bit on the easy side for high school level, but they were still a worthwhile supplement to her regular biology lessons. The range of biology topics wasn’t as complete as I would have liked. While there are many videos about plants and the human body, there were none about invertebrates, and few about cells or single celled organisms. I do think that Digital Science Online could be considered as a complete science curriculum for younger students, but it is best used as a supplement for high school aged students. (Visual Learning doesn’t claim that it is a complete curriculum). We have enjoyed using Digital Science Online and will continue to use it as a science supplement.

Visual Learning Systems Review

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

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