Membership Content & Value

I’m trying to decide if a paid membership with CE is right for me and have a few questions…

  • Is the entire project catalog listed on the main page? Not counting the “Starting” project, I see 5 projects that each have 5-7 lessons, is that everything for “projects”? I ask because I saw a reference to a project on the store page called, “BenchBudEE”, but don’t see it listed on the main page.

  • The listed lessons on each project, what do they include?

It would be nice if the main page included more transparency about what potential members are paying for. Like a detailed TOC per module/lesson that mentions what videos/content are included. Is it one video per lesson/module?

With the available content listed on the main page, it’s hard for me personally to see how it’s possible to break it into 3 tiers of value. For example, is the only benefit of the Journeyman tier getting access to the “Power Swap” project? It’s the only content I noticed that requires a membership above Apprentice.

Thanks!

I signed up for the three-month “journeyman” deal recently, so maybe I can answer this at least a little.

As far as I can tell, the projects that are available are: Shine On You Crazy Kicad (public), Getting To Blinky (public), CE Header (private: about 17 videos), Current Sink Or Swim (private: about 44 videos) and Power Swap (private: about 34 videos). There are also skills videos. So far I’ve worked through everything up to and including CE Header. I believe that this is something like the third incarnation of Contextual Electronics, and the BenchBudEE project you mentioned was from an earlier version of the course. (I’m not sure about the access to projects based on different levels.)

The lessons tend to be a mixture of explanation and “watch over the shoulder” as Chris works on the projects. I think it’s an interesting and pretty effective way of teaching something like PCB layout. Don’t expect a hyper-polished “Do A, then do B” kind of presentation. This is much more like the way you really work with tools like KiCad for real: you make mistakes, you backtrack, you try things. You sometimes have to watch closely, but it’s very useful to watch someone experienced doing the same things that you’re trying to do.

I hope Chris won’t mind me saying this, because it’s basically just repeating what he said on the Embedded.fm podcast recently, but it seems as though Contextual Electronics is pretty much “on hold” in terms of new development. The GitHub repositories associated with the projects haven’t seen any updates for some time, and I get the impression that there isn’t any new material in the pipeline.

I’m guessing that compared to consulting, running an online course like Contextual Electronics is a lot of work for relatively little reward. I can completely understand that Chris would rather be generating free videos about KiCad visible to everyone on YouTube than working on material that’s only available to a relatively small number of paying customers here.

It’s a shame that the economics work against something like this, because I think the kind of project-driven approach that Chris takes here is really good, and has a huge amount of potential as a scheme for teaching electronics, which is this weird mixture of complicated theory (which needs explanation) and “craft” elements (which need demonstration). I have no regrets about signing up for 3 months, even if the course content isn’t as wide-ranging as I’d hoped. If nothing else, paying for something helps to ensure that you do work on it! (Also, there seem to be a lot of very knowledgeable and helpful people on the CE Forum.)

I’m not sure that a subscription-based model works so well for something where the content is basically fixed and nothing new is being added, so I don’t know if I’ll continue after the 3 months are up, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying it a lot, and learning a lot.

One warning: if you’re not in the US and you want to sign up for the Analog Discovery 2 bundle, check carefully the cost for shipping, customs and handling. I live in Austria and those charges absorbed pretty much all of the price reduction from the bundling.

When I subscribed, the Bench Buddy project had just been wrapped up and the new version of the course was yet to be starting. There was no table of contents at that time, as there was simply no content! But still I subscribed.

There could well have been (and certainly now) plenty of free content out there. For me, it was a question of learning styles. I considered paying the subscription was akin to paying for an evening class where I am more likely to attend and knuckle down and do the assignments because I have a additional commitment. The projects themselves were not as important the demonstration of the design, testing and trouble shooting approaches. I found this a key point. The videos don’t work through some contrived example step by step. The piece to be built is new and so there are problems along the way and they are solved. I could understand that this is not everyone’s cup of tea but it worked for me. The exchange between other members is also a valuable resource.

I found that once I had the confidence and understanding to start a project and get it to completion I did not really need the subscription. I am very happy that I took that rout. I don’t know if I would have come so far with just random YouTube content.