The Walking Dead Online Course Attracted 65,000 Participants

How do you get people interested in furthering their education? The answer appears to be to offer [...]

Walking Dead Course

How do you get people interested in furthering their education? The answer appears to be to offer a course based on AMC's hit TV show The Walking Dead. Instructure has revealed some key findings from their massive open online course based on The Walking Dead, which was a joint production with AMC and the University of California, Irvine. Titled "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC's The Walking Dead," the MOOC was offered for free on Instructure's MOOC platform, Canvas Network, and explored a wide range of scholarly topics through the lens of a hypothetical zombie apocalypse. The course attracted more than 65,000 users around the world over its eight-week run. A survey of the participants, which attracted more than 12,000 responses, revealed some very interesting findings. Demonstrating the value of the course, 80% of participants agreed that the course increased their chances of surviving a zombie apocalypse. The course was remarkable successful in attracting new users to online learning. Nearly nine in 10 of the survey respondents had never taken a MOOC before and 59 percent of respondents had never enrolled in an online course. "This initiative was an experiment to determine whether a pop-culture MOOC in a multidisciplinary format would create a compelling academic experience. The answer — an unequivocal 'yes,'" said Instructure co-founder Brian Whitmer. "This different audience provided us with new insights that will shape the way we approach designing and developing MOOCs going forward. By acting as a springboard for exploring academic ideas in contemporary media, this course illustrates the potential for pop culture to serve as a modern-day literature review." Other findings included: -90 percent of respondents learned something they would have not otherwise considered studying. -55 percent reported interest in possibly taking other multidisciplinary courses on Canvas Network in the future as opposed to standard, single topic courses. -Four in five respondents reported spending more than one hour each week on the course, diving deep into academic content connected with pop culture. This statistic reveals that participants actually spent more time in the course than they did watching the show. -After taking the course, 60 percent of survey respondents said they became a bigger fan of The Walking Dead, and 73 percent said they had more fun watching the show, indicating a strong endorsement for blending education and entertainment. "As an accomplished academic and an adult learner, it was exciting to see how popular culture provided a unique context for teaching and learning. It was clear to me that physics can be fun when engaging with zombies," said Janice Koch, Ph.D., professor emerita at Hofstra University and a course participant. "The best part of this format is that it made watching television an active experience, one that was both intellectual and worthwhile." The MOOC was taught by a multidisciplinary team of UC Irvine faculty: Zuzana Bic, public health; Joanne Christopherson, social sciences; Michael Dennin, physics; and Sarah Eichhorn, mathematics. UC Irvine plans to conduct academic research around the course. "As a faculty member, this course presented a fun challenge to recast traditional academic content in the framework of a pop culture show," said Sarah Eichhorn, assistant chair for undergraduate studies in mathematics at UC Irvine and one of the MOOC's instructors. "UC Irvine has a rich tradition of involvement in open education, and this course represented a unique opportunity for us to bring academic content to a new population, who without 'The Walking Dead' as a teaching resource might not have sought out such a learning experience."