Designing a Course as an Event

Ok I’m totally nerding out over here! I recently found this promotional video for a MOOC out of the University of Applied Science in Potsdam, Germany on The Future of Storytelling.

The energy and style of this video got me really pumped about this class. So I started to analyze why and I think it has to do with the way in which they’ve presented their course. It’s as though you are being invited to participate in a research event. It almost creates a FOMO (Fear of missing out) effect. Although this piece was designed as a marketing tool to drum up participants for a MOOC, I started to wonder what the implications of such a video would be for registered students within a program.  I think it’s a residue that MOOCs are leaving on distributed learning design. People put so much thought into “marketing” a MOOC. Why don’t we do that with all our courses? If I saw this video and then the other elective option was “ENG101” with a boring course description and a readings list you better believe I’d take this. I liked the concept of introducing the “team” of instructors, but also that they really emphasized the role of the student’s interests and how that fits with the class. It’s got me thinking about how we design, market, and facilitate. I think if we create courses that have the excitement of an EVENT like this that we would improve student engagement 100%. For our courses at the University we basically rely on students being enrolled in programs. That’s our audience. They HAVE to take courses to finish a degree. In that way, we’ve never really marketed specific classes to them, because they’re already enrolled in a program. That’s where I think this idea is innovative. Using the same marketing techniques of creating an exciting event for core courses, not as a marketing tool to make them TAKE the course (they have to take the course regardless), but as a way to increase motivation and engagement. To get them excited about being a part of the learning experience that’s been designed. I think this approach really appeals to today’s student. We are bombarded with marketing media all day and have an expectation of some kind of wow factor. The way we deliver and design and market our courses does nothing for these senses.

Interesting Online Designs

I often feel that Instructional Design puts unnecessary shackles on how we present materials. Although I’ve been working with proven template for online modules of instruction for some time I can’t shake the feeling that it’s too strict in it’s form even though it provides the correct function. So to relieve my guilt about being “that” instructional designer I’ve been looking at different online designs from inside and outside the post-secondary world hoping to discover some transferable templates. I’ve discovered a far more exciting (yet far less scalable, maintainable, and duplicate-able) world of lessons. Here’s three of my favorites.

Learn an Hour of Code

The Learn an Hour of Code initiative utilizes videos, notes, and interactive games to deliver you an hour of engaging and sound design.

The course material is delivered through videos which explain the concepts and tools in a logical sequence starting with some motivation from coding gurus like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg. But soon we are greeted by a high-school student who will take us through the instructional material.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 1.46.48 PM

If video isn’t your thing or if you just want to slow it down and really think about what’s being said, there’s a tab at the top of the player which lets you see the scenes with transcribed text.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 1.47.30 PM

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 1.47.53 PM

Once you’ve watched a video you’re given the opportunity to apply the knowledge in increasingly complex games that have you coding using non-threatening drag-and-drop tools from Blockly. You can always look “under the hood” to see the text based code you’re creating.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 1.52.06 PM

As you code your way through the exercises you’re given immediate feedback to assess your understanding and you can return to the video or notes at anytime if you need to review a concept.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 1.48.20 PM

What I really liked about this course was the small chunks of learning, sequenced from the simple to the complex, but also the way everything was just in time. Just-in-time training, I think, has become ubiquitous in our online activities. Pop-up boxes, and roll-overs have become the expectation of the user in how we navigate through the technology which keeps it transparent and allows me to focus my cognitive energy on learning the tasks at hand.


  1. Just-in-time efficiency
  2. High production value
  3. Great sequencing and chunking

Dino 101

Dino 101 is a MOOC from the University of Alberta that is just completing it’s maiden voyage this December. I’ll admit now that I have spent very little time in the MOOC and that like the majority of the registrants I will not likely complete the course, but its a MOOC, soooo….

That said, the time I did spend with my 5 year old son learning about dinosaurs from some of the best Canadian minds in the field was a real pleasure. Again, the main delivery mode for the content was video. And, like in the Learn to Code example the production quality was impressive, which made watching far more enjoyable than a lecture captured class. Locations for the videos utilized green screen and chroma key technology, on location in dig sights, and locations in around the University of Alberta’s dinosaur collections and museums.

Like with the Learn to Code project, the Dino 101 course offers the transcribed scripts for these video lectures as well for those who want to slow down or just prefer learning by reading the text.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 2.37.30 PM

Through-out the videos there interactive opportunities to test your knowledge and learn more. Again the quality of production here is excellent. Although I’m not quite sure what program was used to create these interactions (camtasia?) they added a lot and helped to break up the content nicely. There were some puzzle type games and a few other interactions which never did load properly for me so I can’t comment of their design other than to say that they didn’t load.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 2.38.55 PM

Sequencing and chunking was also well thought out in this course. As this is a University level course there is a lot of content to get through, but the videos are well thought out with no one video over about 12 min. and on average more like around 6-8 min. with usually around 3-5 in each module.

Quizzes and a collaborative wiki for notes round out a great experience. Again, the production value tends to win you over right from the start, but the design and thoughtfulness for objectives and assessments,  sequencing and chunking are obvious and fulfill all the requirements my template ask for, but in an engaging and less “stuffy” kinda way.


  1. High production value
  2. Great sequencing and chunking
  3. Variety of technologies and tools

Method of Action

This third one I can’t say too much about yet as it has yet to be launched, but I’m anxious to get inside and have a look around. I still dabble in video production (an obsession from a previous career) and have recently started getting deeper into exploring the world of Colour Grading. As a result of dipping my toe into the waters of the colourist, I received an email with a link to Method of Action and an upcoming course on Design. The interesting thing here is it seems it was designed for those with a Programmers analytic and logical mind. Currently available are three “games” that allow you to learn a bit about Kern Type, Shape Type, and Color properties and harmonies. Unlike the other two examples, this game intends to teach you about color theory simply by doing it. Now, as I say, the course itself is not up yet, so I can’t comment on what other supporting materials go along with this game, but it’s pretty cool. Try it out.Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 3.03.18 PMScreen Shot 2013-12-16 at 3.03.44 PM


  1. Abstract ways of knowing
  2. Not really sure yet….

Killing birds and saving stones

I’ve been meaning to do a lot of things…
Two of those things are:
1. Spend more quality time with my oldest son, Elliott
2. Join and complete a MOOC

That’s why I’m so stoked to have found the University of Alberta’s DINO101. I love multi-tasking my to-do lists. Hahahahah
I’m going to blog more about this experience, because I’m also interested in how a 5 year old does in a University level course. Elliott is insane crazy about dinosaurs and is often found cross-referencing information about them in his many apps, books, videos, and online resources (where he gets this academic brain from I don’t know. That was sooo not me at that age). So I’m very curious how engaged he will be with a course that leads him through weekly materials to see if he sticks with it (at least longer than me). Follow the Dino 101 tag on this blog to see where it goes.

Oh, and go sign up for this MOOC too, it looks really amazing!

A great down-to-earth conversation between Ed Tech Futurist, Bryan Alexander, and Howard Rheingold about the state and future of MOOCs. Bryan outlines a possible model for the future of the MOOC where in smaller colleges and even large institutions can harness the power and curriculum of existing quality MOOC content along with other open resources and in turn provide the framework and support systems of facilitation and first contact for their own students. A return to the c-MOOC in a lot of ways. Interesting stuff.

Video was originally sourced from‘s MOOCs, Hype, and the Precarious State of Higher Ed: Futurist Bryan Alexander


Jonathan Haber has taken on a really interesting challenge of completing the equivilant of a Liberal Arts BA from freely available MOOCS. The kicker? He plans to do this typical four year experience in 12 months. Jonathan has graciously decided to let us in on the journey thru his blog degree of freedom. Follow his journey to learn a lot about the MOOC experience. Image