MOOCs About Popular Culture Increase Enrollments

Man taking a MOOC

January 14, 2013

Low completion rates have long been a criticism of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and a University of California Irvine course on the AMC hit show "The Walking Dead" was no exception. Some schools might consider an abysmal completion rate a failure, but not UC Irvine. In fact, according to OC Weekly, we should expect more pop culture MOOCs soon.

Of the 65,000 people who enrolled in UC Irvine's free online course,"Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC's 'The Walking Dead,'" just 2,203 actually completed it, reports The Huffington Post. Focusing on this low completion rate might miss the point, however, since, according to a representative from Instructure, the private company that made the online tools used in the course, the course's main goal was to prove pop culture could attract new audiences to MOOCs. According to a survey released by the company, it did: Nine out of 10 students said they had never taken an MOOC before. A full 59 percent said they had never even taken an online class before.

"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,'" Instructure co-founder Brian Whitmer told OC Weekly. "This different audience provided us with new insights that will shape the way we approach designing and developing MOOCs going forward. "

Representatives from UC Irvine seem inclined to agree.

"I was more interested in students walking away with one idea or walking away with one new approach," Melissa Loble, UC Irvine associate dean of online learning and the course's architect, told The Huffington Post. "That was more of what success was to me."

Instructure survey results suggest the course may have given AMC a boost as well: 60 percent said they became even bigger fans of "The Walking Dead" because of the course, and 73 percent said they had more fun watching the show after taking it.

OC Weekly reports that the overall popularity of the course -- and its staggering enrollment -- are a good indication that UC Irvine and other MOOC providers will host future pop culture courses. This does not necessarily mean such courses serve as a gimmick for boosting MOOC enrollments, however. Whitmer suggested to The Huffington Post that such courses have academic value.

"By acting as a springboard for exploring academic ideas in contemporary media," said Whitmer, "this course illustrates the potential for pop culture to serve as a modern-day literature review."

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"The Walking Dead MOOC Feedback,",

"The Walking Dead Online Course at UC Irvine Was Such a Global Hit Expect More to Come,", January 10, 2014, Matt Coker,

"'Walking Dead' Course's Architects Aren't Concerned With The Low Completion Rate,", January 12, 2014, Tyler Kingkade,

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