Zentangle: Live class or books?

I was just thinking about the difference between learning the Zentangle® Method through books or a real class. I feel that books are great for advanced design and technique -- for someone who has taken one or a few ZT classes and wants to explore more on their own -- however, although many books are able to capture the essential steps of the Zentangle method, only the figure of the TEACHER — who acts as a guide — is able to make the whole experience complete.  

Only the live class with a teacher can pass on the joy of the PROCESS itself. It's like trying to do meditation alone for the first time: you can do it, sure, but it's going to be much more profound if your first experiences are done with someone experienced to guide you through it. 

I couldn’t help but feeling this is a debate I had heard before, and sure enough, it is! I dug up an article I wrote back in February 3, 2009 (see below), targeted to the jewelry-making community. Interestingly, the conclusion I came today about this is the same as I did back then: books are great for more self-taught, self-paced advanced students, while live classes are better for someone who is just starting.  

Here is the article integrally as it was published on Jewelrylessons.com back in 2009, with a few minor typo corrections: 

Online tutorial learning versus live class learning

Of course, it goes without saying that these two types of learning processes couldn’t be more different. However, understanding in detail the exact differences between one and the other can help Teachers to become better at online teaching and also at selecting proper projects for online tutorials.  

Voice and style 

This is probably one of the most powerful advantages live classes have over online learning. An engaging and well spoken teacher can be a pleasure to watch and usually becomes an instant friend. While online teachers also develop bonds with their students, the connection is much less personal at first and can take some time to become solid. 

Watching the Teacher do it: Visuals 

Another great advantage of a live class: students can see the teacher working on the item and see exact positioning of fingers and hands. This is perfect for students who have not developed yet the confidence in a specific technique, or are working with a new medium for the first time. Online tutorials many times only show the final results of a step, which can be fine for more intermediate or advanced users who are used to the quirks of medium and tools. However, online lessons have the advantage of showing close-ups which can be evaluated at length, which a group of people in a live class would not have access to.  

Control over pace 

This is where online learning has a clear advantage over a live class. In a group of 10 to 20 people, there are always fast and slower learners mixed together. The fast learners can get frustrated with the slow pace of the class, while slow learners might suffer from anxiety while attempting to catch up. Online lessons allow each student to work at their own pace.    

Structured projects versus organic techniques 

Live classes have a slight upper hand in this case: a live class may offer either a structured lessons or teach an organic technique, with equal amounts of success. However, in an advanced unstructured class, where organic technique is taught more than a specific defined project, students may have such a wide variety of levels it may be difficult for the teacher to produce a satisfactory experience to all. Structured projects offer an important psychological benefit for students which is to come out of the class with a FINAL ready piece, independent of their level. 

Online lessons and especially tutorials, are perfect for specific, well structured projects, however, do not do well with organic techniques which depend on the artistry of the teacher.  


In a live class, advanced students might suffer from boredom, especially when the teacher insists in conducting a more structured class. A class offering a loose or organic technique might be too undefined for beginners, and a structured class might be too boring for the advanced student. An online tutorial offers, then, a slight advantage: since most online learners work independently, they can experiment many times with the same project and adapt it to their own personal style. 

Keep in mind that, once again, this applies to slightly more advanced users who is more adaptable at trying new things.  


Online learning requires, without a doubt, a great deal of self motivation.  Students must be willing to tackle a project on their own, without any hand holding. A live class is more suitable for a person who goes with the flow – the pressure of the other students and of the teacher usually helps them to get the project done.  

Cost and Time 

This is probably the biggest advantage online learning has over any other type of learning. Online tutorials and ebooks range from $5 to $20, which is only a fraction of the cost of a live class, especially when a reputable teacher is involved. The cost of alive class can go beyond teacher’s fees: travel and lodging are usually required, along with taking time from one’s schedule. Another advantage of online lessons is the delivery time: an avid student can download a lesson in 5 minutes and get instant gratification on learning a new technique.   

Bonding and Fun  

Arguably one of the greatest advantages of a live class: bonding with other students, comparing and sharing results, and in many cases, just plain hanging out after class. Conferences are the best example of why people take live classes, where they can mingle among friends and hangout with their favorite artists. Online lessons also allow for bonding, such as posting results into favorite website galleries or groups, but it is more of a day to day routine compared to the live class, which can be a “special event”. 

Online bonding takes longer, but is many times as solid as with live classroom friends.   


What can we conclude from this list? Live classes, broadly and generally speaking, are clearly suitable for beginners, where a lot of hand holding, motivation and demonstration is required. Beginner students may benefit from a structured class where they leave with a project they produced and are more likely to RETURN if the piece produced is beautiful to them.   

Advanced students may suffer from a bit of frustration with the slow pace of a live class, even in advanced projects, but might enjoy the bonding andthe feeling of participating in an event. However, when it comes tolearning or acquiring a new technique quickly, online learning allows students fast access and the possibility to attempt variations on their own, without the pressure of having to follow exact steps with other students. 

Of course, this is a very broad generalization, however, it comes as no surprise that the most sought out online tutorials are those which offer a unique and perhaps advanced structured projects or techniques.   

Copyright 2009 Eni Oken