SignSchool is a relatively new platform that offers American Sign Language (ASL (opens in new tab)) lessons aimed at people at different stages of their learning journey.
The platform was created by three friends - Colin, Evan, and Jack. According to the SignSchool website (opens in new tab), when the trio met they formed an instant friendship, but as Colin is Deaf and uses American Sign Language, they had to communicate via written messages. Frustrated by this, and driven by the difficulty of learning ASL online, SignSchool was born, aiming to create an easy way to bridge this communication gap between ASL and English.
Through video lessons, lessons, grammar modules, and interactive exercises, SignSchool aims to promote ASL learning in the hearing community and create a straightforward way to improve communication between Deaf and hearing people - but how well does it live up to this aim?
If this platform isn't for you, we've reviewed others in our guide to the best online ASL courses (opens in new tab).
SignSchool review: Teaching format
SignSchool's lessons follow a format similar to many other courses: students watch a video of a short conversation which is then broken down into smaller components for you to sign along to. Similar to Lingvano (opens in new tab), the course also includes a useful webcam feature in each lesson; after learning each sign, you can turn on your webcam and sign along with an instructor, which allows you to see how your signs would come across to another person.
As well as the videos and signing practice, each module includes a multiple-choice quiz to test what you've just learned, and each lesson ends with a review that briefly covers the lesson content again. Overall, you're learning via a multitude of avenues, meaning whatever your learning style, there's the possibility to learn in a way that suits you best.
SignSchool review: Course content
SignSchool splits its course into three proficiency levels (Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced) and you can start the course at the level that best suits your ASL proficiency. This is in contrast to many other platforms that assume only beginners or those with only a basic language knowledge will be accessing their course, such as Gallaudet (opens in new tab).
The course can be taken in a linear way, moving from one lesson to the next, or you can select a topic most suited to the context in which you'll use ASL. For example, the course has options for those using ASL in a family setting to communicate with a relative in a home setting or for those communicating with a colleague or friend. If you're learning ASL for a particular context or because you want to communicate with a particular person, this is extremely useful as you can skip over some of the content you might not need.
As well as the general lessons, SignSchool has other sections on its platform to expand your ASL knowledge. The Grammar section includes a range of modules focusing on ASL grammar and includes a dictionary that splits signs up by topic. The platform also has tools and games aimed at improving your ASL reception skills and vocabulary, so there's plenty of options for your learning goals - whether that's building up a knowledge of ASL from scratch or just brushing up on some grammar or vocab.
SignSchool is currently in beta, so while its concept and structure work well in theory, it doesn't quite yet present itself as a finished product. It seems some lessons either aren't yet finished or don't link correctly as they lead to 'error 404' messages. There also aren't a huge amount of lessons per difficulty level yet, meaning the jump from one to the next can seem substantial. Presumably, these gaps in course content and problems with site navigation will improve as the platform develops, but for now, it means Signschool perhaps would only work as a complement to your ASL learning and not as the main source.
SignSchool review: Cost
For now, access to the platform is free as it's still in development, but fees may be applied in the future as the platform grows.
SignSchool: Ease of use
The platform has a dashboard that allows you to switch easily between different difficulty levels, sections, and modules, although it might be useful to have the menu presented in such a way that allows you to see an overall view of the topics in each course. Currently, you have to switch between difficulty levels and then click through again to see the topics covered in each lesson, which can leave you going back and forth a lot if you haven't quite decided what you need to be learning. A quiz that assesses your current knowledge level of ASL would be useful as well, so you can start the course in an area best suited to your experience.
Confusingly, a huge amount of topics are covered in the 'Dictionary' section rather than as part of the main lesson content - this took a while to figure out as it feels hidden away from the main course content and might mean students are missing out on key topics.
Although SignSchool is a beta platform, the site navigation issues feel especially unprofessional and the platform would do best to make sure every lesson actually clicks through to the intended place - or at least includes a message saying it's 'coming soon' for any lessons still in development.
Should I use SignSchool?
SignSchool as a platform shows a lot of promise, especially in the way it's structured; allowing students to filter lessons via difficulty, topic or grammatical concept allows for a more personalized experience than other platforms that take a one-size-fits-all approach.
However, the platform is relatively new and hasn't quite managed to nail the more comprehensive lesson content and streamlined navigation of some of its competitors. For now, it'd be best to use the platform as a complement to your ASL learning elsewhere, but it could be one to watch once it clears up a few teething problems.