video role-play

Our newest feature, video role-play training, is currently undergoing beta-testing and we will begin to roll it out to learners within the next couple of days. Besides answering multiple-choice and written work, learners will be able to record video responses on our platform.

This will be especially useful in the context of courses with a focus on greyscale learning in the broad field of communication skills (leadership, sales etc.). Because becoming great requires practice. The ability to record, replay and record again until the learner is satisfied is one aspect that makes video responses such a powerful tool for effective online learning. In addition, sharing video responses in the Learning Journal enables learners to comment on each other’s work, complement each other or point out things that need improvement.

video role-play

Moving Beyond Multiple Choice Using Video Role-Play Training

Video role-play training assignments thus allow us to teach things online that are often thought of as being hard to teach in a digital format. Namely courses on real-life communication skills where there is no dichotomous black or white. Where there are many right and many wrong answers and many different shades of grey in between.

Examples of such courses are those dealing with topics such as sales, leadership or customer care. Consider one example: a course on leadership. This is exactly one of the “soft” or “human” topics that, as it is often argued, can only be taught well in a face-to-face environment. In a traditional elearning format it often is either all theory or a fairly simple “multiple-choice game”. In web-based training one would, for example, watch a video of two people fighting in the hallway and would then have to respond to a couple of questions that offer a few options to choose from. The user has to choose a course of action – that usually results in stating the obvious.

However, knowing what is the right thing to do and actually doing it, are of course two fundamentally different things. The way we envision online education is that after watching the video, students have to use the camera of their device to formulate and record an original response to the characters in the conflict situation in form of a video comment answering the question: “What would you say now? 30 seconds. GO!”

Assignments such as video role-play training allow students to respond to a complex problem in an infinite number of ways and require them to move from multiple choice to infinite choice. Aggregating the user-generated content in the Learning Journal and letting all learners give each other detailed feedback on the basis of sophisticated grading rubrics can take this one step further.

video role-play training

Life Comes in Many Shades of Grey – Online Learning Should Reflect That

In short: with this feature we want to teach learners complex topics such as leadership by moving beyond simple multiple choice formats. We try to encourage them to bring their context and experience to the table. An old person will respond differently than a young person. A woman differently than a man. Yet all of these different answers may well be correct in their own unique way – or not. And that’s for the learners to discuss and work out together. This approach to effective online learning allows them to be creative and to think outside of the box. It also shows learners that a lot of times, there can be many different ways to solve a problem. This truly embodies what we mean by greyscale learning. We believe that video role-play training can help learners to broaden their horizons and to see the bigger picture of complex topics.



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We envision learning on iversity as learning in a social network. Therefore, we created a social experience for our users that enables them to interact with each other in ways that they are already familiar with from social networks.

The messaging feature, for example, allows learners to privately communicate with others on the iversity platform through a convenient messenger system – one on one as well as in groups. Learners can message each other regardless of whether or not they attend the same courses. All they need to do to start a conversation, is to search the user directory.

When searching for another user on our platform, learners can identify other learners who are members of the same organisation. This is a useful feature to help facilitate communication among people belonging to the same company. However, an organisation is not visible to non-members. That way only members of the same company can recognise each other as such. This is how we avoid harassment of our users, for example by headhunters or competition. Another way to ensure the learner privacy in a social network is the possibility to block other users in order to prevent spamming and other annoyances.


Learning in a Social Network – Messaging Feature


The messaging feature also allows for group conversations. Here, learners have the possibility to add new members at any time or leave the conversation if they wish to do so. This allows users to turn to their peers when facing a problem and solve it together as a group. The feature makes it easy to exchange ideas and discuss assignments with more than one person; while keeping the discussion among a select group of peers, instead of the entire course community.  Learners also have the option to name group conversations. This makes it easier for them to distinguish between multiple group chats – because convenience is key.

While the discussions feature is course public and intended solely for exchanging thoughts about the course content, the messaging feature can of course be used for personal chit chat among peers inside our social network.

Community Managers – Facilitators of Learning in a Social Network

A course member can be appointed community manager by the course admin and thus gains access to special messaging functions. He or she can send announcements – email messages that are sent to either all course participants or specific subsets of the group – e.g. in order to draw attention to specific posts that are particularly relevant, helpful or controversial. They can also contribute content of their own in order to provide inspiration or feedback. Through announcements, learners of a course are further encouraged to engage with the course content and to think outside the box. Thus, they help with community management and tutoring. They can provide learners with assistance regarding the substance of the course and help to ensure their successful progress throughout the course, fostering effective online learning in a social network.

Recent Activities in a Course

On the dashboard page, learners can see a short preview of recent activities. Like in the picture below, they can see who joined the course, as well as who posted a comment or an entry to the Learning Journal. Much like the newsfeed feature in other social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, the recent activity overview allows users to see at one glance what is happening in a course. This enables them to find recent contributions, active discussions and to connect with other learners – even when they have been absent from the platform for a couple of days. Seeing other users’ activity is a key motivating factor. Instead of learning in isolation you can see what assignment your colleague has been working on yesterday. This can create a healthy form of competition. It also helps to create a sense of belonging where learners feel that they are part of an active community of peers.

Learning in a Social Network – Recent Activity Feed

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peer review

In order to provide qualitative feedback at scale, it is key to use peer review in online education. Our peer evaluation feature allows course participants to evaluate, provide feedback and score each other’s work.

This is how we can provide all learners with qualitative peer feedback on creative assignments – even when there are thousands of learners in a course. At the same time, peer review exercises provide a valuable change of perspectives. By letting them evaluate each other’s work, learners can put themselves in the instructor’s shoes and look at the concepts taught, as well as the learning outcomes with fresh eyes.Peer Review in Online Education – the Assignment

Peer review in online education can either be done anonymously in a double blind peer review, so that no bias comes in their way. Or in a public peer review, where learners provide feedback on each other’s journal posts.

In a blind peer review procedure the learners’ works are distributed in an arbitrary manner among them. Meaning that the work of a young participant of the course could for example be reviewed by a more experienced learner or vice versa. This ensures that the individual assignments are evaluated by people with different views and experiences to help learners take on new perspectives. As pedagogical research shows, averaging anonymous peer evaluation can be as fair and reliable in terms of quality as anonymous professional grading, and in fact more so than individual evaluation because there is less bias. Thus, peer evaluation provides a way for high quality summative assessment to scale.

Public peer review, on the other hand, enables everyone in the course to quickly find the most interesting pieces of work. This is achieved by filtering the Learning Journal. Learners can comment on the individual journal entries, or click on the “heart-button” to acknowledge entries that are outstanding. When learners write posts on controversial topics that invite disagreement and argumentation, public peer review makes the process of negotiating truth visible.

In any case, challenging one’s own perspective by reviewing somebody else’s work is an important tool that encourages an in-depth understanding of the course material.

Peer Review in Online Education – Grading


Fostering Changes of Perspective

Another way of using peer review in order to enhance the advantages of the feature is purposeful heterogenous matching. This principle is based on the matching of participants across different variables such as demographics. After learners take a demographic survey, we match them based on, for example age, gender, race, work experience, level of hierarchy or role. This approach can help learners to see issues from what might be an entirely different perspective. Through heterogenous matching, we try to encourage critical thinking in order for learners to achieve the best possible results for their assignments.

Peer Review in Online Education – Heterogenous Matching


Using Peer Review in Online Education for Essay Competitions

In an essay competition, learners create their own paper which is then evaluated by others through anonymous peer review. The essays are ranked according to the results of this evaluation and the learners can share their work with the course. Formulating an essay is a great way of practicing one’s skills. Not just when it comes to writing, but also in critical thinking. At the same time, it encourages learners to think for themselves and to carefully prepare and outline the topic they want to write about. By reviewing and commenting on other people’s essays, these skills are honed even further. This is because learners need to open themselves up to their peers’ perspectives, ways of arguing and styles of writing. Through peer review, it is possible to scale essay competitions because the work is distributed among the learners themselves. In addition, essay competitions provide a healthy way of competing and thus an effective method of motivating learners to achieve outstanding results and to get inspired by extraordinary work.

Peer Review in Online Education – Essay Contest


All in all, we believe that peer review in online education can be a very powerful tool. Not only because it allows us to deliver feedback at scale, but also because the process of giving feedback as such is a valuable educational exercise. Letting many different people with just as many different perspectives and ideas evaluate each others work encourages learners to think outside of the box. This confrontation with new perspectives can lead to inspiring results.


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Effective Learning Videos

As I explained in previous posts, a good course is a lot more than just effective learning videos. But that’s not to say that high-quality content (such as effective learning videos) is not important. In principle, the course content can be delivered through a great variety of formats such as:

  • Video lessons
  • Audio lessons
  • Texts
  • Images
  • Diagrams
  • Infographics etc.

Because video is the format about which we receive the most questions, and which typically consumes most of a course’s budget, we will focus on it in this post.

Unit Video With A Video as a Main Resource e.g. iversity – Visual Thinking for Business

Unit Video With A Video as a Main Resource e.g. iversity – Visual Thinking for Business

First of all: good online courses are not just lectures on tape! They offer much more for both sides, in terms of possibilities for the instructor as well as in terms of the result for learners. Effective learning videos differ from traditional lectures in many ways. Creating a video is completely different from preparing a lecture. The difference is similar to that of performing a play and filming a movie.

Giving a lecture is a one-time event. It takes place in a specific location (a classroom or a lecture hall) at a specific time each week. Once you have given the lecture, it is over and done with, and you will never see it again.

In contrast, you can produce effective learning videos in random order, over a long period of time, and in multiple locations. You are no longer tied to the lecture hall or a blackboard. You can curate multiple instructors. And if you take a field trip, you can bring all of your learners along with you.

There is also a difference in scale. When delivering a lecture to 400 students, a lecturer is inclined to address the entire room all at once. When delivering a video lecture, you are creating a one-on-one relationship with the learner. You are teaching several thousand people, but one at a time. The instructor is everyone’s private tutor.

Finally, you can edit a video in post-production. Once you give a lecture, you can’t change it any more. But when you make a video, you can edit out small mistakes, awkward silences, and stitch different pieces together. Also, you can add animations and visual metaphors to facilitate comprehension and retention.

Six Different Types of Effective Learning Videos

There are a few different types of capturing video material for video lectures:

  • Story-based Instruction
  • Documentary Style
  • Studio Production
  • Improvised / Low-budget
  • Tablet Capture
  • Animation

The best and most compelling online courses combine different video production techniques. Methodological diversity brings about refreshing variation. Keep in mind that not every style works for everyone. Even the most engaging classroom lecturer can come off as wooden and staged when faced with only a camera. On the other hand, it’s not always within budget to create visually appealing animations. Remember: in online learning, budget doesn’t equal effectiveness. It is important to play to your strengths and to keep your audience in mind!

Let’s look at the different options in a bit more detail:

Story-based Instruction

Creating a story around the course content places the learner in a fictional context. Working through the learning material becomes not just a cognitive challenge, but an emotional experience. This approach is particularly well-suited to building the intrinsic motivation necessary to engage with a course when learners are very busy and have no immediate extrinsic motivation to complete it (e.g. an exam).

Story-based Instruction e.g. Agile Management on iversity

Story-based Instruction e.g. Agile Management on iversity

Pro & Cons

+ High emotional engagement sparks learners’ curiosity

+ The narrative underlines the importance and relevance of the topic at hand

– Writing a full script for a compelling story is a lot of work

– Working with different actors is a complex and expensive undertaking

Difficult to shoot additional material later


Documentary Style

In some situations, it can be very powerful to film on-site – either inside or outside – much like is being done in documentary filmmaking. The setting of a scene sets a certain kind of tone.


Effective Learning Videos: Outside e.g. "Social Innovation" on iversity

Outside e.g. “Social Innovation” on iversity


Effective Learning Videos: Inside e.g. "Predictive Analytics" on iversity

Inside e.g. “Predictive Analytics” on iversity

Pro & Cons

+ It can be very authentic to explain something right there “where the magic happens”

+ Visiting multiple experts in different locations offers learners multiple perspectives on an issue – something that simply could not be done easily in an on-site seminar

– Expensive (travel, permits etc.)

– Requires sophisticated cameras, lighting, and an experienced crew

– Difficult to shoot additional material later


Studio Production

Studio production gives you a lot more control over your shots. Furthermore, you work in a professional environment, so your video generally looks a lot more polished. This mode works particularly well if you work with one instructor who is an excellent public speaker, and knows how to draw learners in through intonation, body language, and gestures.

Studio with green-screen and post-production

Effective Learning Videos: Studio with green-screen and post-production e.g. “Visual Thinking” on iversity 

Studio with green-screen and post-production e.g. “Visual Thinking” on iversity

Writing on plexiglass

Effective Learning Videos: Writing on Plexiglass e.g. Prof. Frank Slomka on Youtube

Writing on plexiglass e.g. Prof. Frank Slomka on Youtube

Drawing on real paper

Effective Learning Videos: Drawing on real paper e.g. “Visual Thinking” on iversity 

Drawing on real paper e.g. “Visual Thinking” on iversity

Pro & Cons

+ Premium look and feel

+ Many possibilities to modify the footage in post-production

+ Controlled environment with professional staff

– Potentially sterile 

– Relatively expensive

– Difficult to shoot additional material later


Improvised / Low-budget

This is in many ways the very opposite of the other approaches, which require detailed planning and often significant resources. In a sense, this is the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach to the production of effective learning videos. The fact that it is cheap, however, does not mean that it cannot be effective. This mode of instruction is particularly suitable if you need to produce content ad-hoc or on a shoestring budget.

Text annotation on wallpaper

Effective Learning Videos: Text annotation on wallpaper e.g. literary analysis on Youtube

Text annotation on wallpaper e.g. literary analysis on Youtube

Socratic Dialogue in front of whiteboard

Effective Learning Videos: Socratic Dialogue in front of flipboard e.g. SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday 

Socratic Dialogue in front of flipboard e.g. SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday


Effective Learning Videos: Selfie-video e.g. Corporate Digital Learning on iversity 

Selfie-video e.g. “Corporate Digital Learning” on iversity


Effective Learning Videos: Skype-interview e.g. “Social Innovation” on iversity

Skype-interview e.g. “Social Innovation” on iversity

Pro & Cons

+ Fast and easy to produce

+ Low production cost

+ Easy to shoot additional material later

+ Highly authentic

– Potentially issues with quality (lighting, sound etc.)



A popular way of presenting material in order to create effective learning videos is by using a tablet capture device. All you need is a computer, a tablet, a head-mounted microphone, a mouse and a keyboard. A tablet can be used not only for writing on a blank page, but also for annotation, drawing or sketching on a powerpoint slide, a picture or even a video. This way of presenting is particularly suitable if the material needs to be explained in great detail.

Tablet capture colour on black

Effective Learning Videos: Tablet capture colour on black e.g. Khan Academy

Tablet capture colour on black e.g. Khan Academy

Tablet capture black on fake paper

Effective Learning Videos: Tablet capture black on fake paper e.g. Jörn Loviscach’s Maths videos on Youtube 

Tablet capture black on fake paper e.g. Jörn Loviscach’s Maths videos on Youtube

Tablet capture with superimposed fake hand

Effective Learning Videos: Tablet capture with superimposed fake hand e.g. "How to Build a Start-Up" on Udacity

Tablet capture with superimposed fake hand e.g. “How to Build a Start-Up” on Udacity

Pro & Cons

+ Easy, fast, and excellent for conveying complex concepts (e.g. maths)

+ Has a ‘one-on-one’ feel where the instructor becomes the learner’s personal tutor

+ Because the speaker is not visible, these videos can be heavily and easily edited, so you can start and stop multiple times

+ Relatively easy to shoot additional material later

– Direct engagement of learners only via voice

– Many people’s handwriting is difficult to read



Animation is probably the most challenging video format from a production perspective. Two things are a must: exceptional creativity as well as artistic and technical skills. On the plus side, however, everything is possible in animation! High quality animated video can therefore help to really condense a lecture by combining the audio and visual tracks to maximum effect, e.g. in a trailer.

Pre-drawn cut-outs

Effective Learning Videos: Pre-drawn cut-outs e.g. simpleshow 

Pre-drawn cut-outs e.g. simpleshow

Timelapse comic illustration

Effective Learning Videos: Timelapse comic illustration e.g. RSA Animate 

Timelapse comic illustration e.g. RSA Animate

Digital animation

Effective Learning Videos: Digital animation e.g. Sofatutor 

Digital animation e.g. Sofatutor

Kinetic text

Effective Learning Videos: Kinetic text e.g. IDEO for Hackfwd

Kinetic text e.g. IDEO for Hackfwd

Pro & Cons

+ If done well, animated videos can be very engaging, dense and compelling

+ Helps to break down complex concepts using a combination of text and visuals

+ Because the speaker is not visible, these videos can be heavily and easily edited

– Very time-consuming and expensive

– Requires a lot of technical and artistic skills

To sum up: there are numerous different approaches to creating effective learning videos, all of which can be successful depending on the context. When choosing an approach, course designers have to balance a number of different factors: experience of the instructor, budget, timeline, target audience… Also, as explained at the beginning of this post, a healthy mix of different styles will often go a long way.


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