March 2017

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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Active Learning

As I have explained in my post on online student engagement, active online learning is key when it comes to motivating learners. What do I mean by active? An online course championing “active online learning” should prompt the learner to participate and contribute. One way of doing this is to inject small tasks into learning videos, another common approach is ordinary multiple choice.

For effective online learning to take place, however, online learning has to move beyond making learners dance to the instructor’s tune. Exercises (which are optional) and assignments (which are mandatory) should challenge learners to think for themselves and to come up with their own creative solutions to open-
ended questions. Not just for a few moments, but often a few hours. Learners write essays, prepare presentations, work on designs, spreadsheet models and programming assignments. The idea is to enable, if not encourage, them to think outside the box. And to come up with their own (often unexpected) solutions.

For example, one student in the course Design 101 came up with a unique and very creative
solution to the following assignment: “Carefully choose a recipe to cook for yourself. 
Today, you cook your chosen recipe and share with us a picture of your starting ingredients. Nothing less, nothing more.” You would expect them to use ingredients and kitchen utensils as suggested, right? But this student decided to give the assignment her very own interpretation. She said I”m going to make pancakes. But my pancakes are going to be a bit different. They will be from felt.” Here you see the “ingredients” she decided to use as starting ingredients.

What this example illustrates is that the course – instead of simply telling people what a good and creative solution looks like – challenged the learner to think outside the box and come up with her own, brilliant solution. Active online learning should allow for precisely this kind of open-ended experimentation. Instead of simply making people regurgitate information and knowledge, learners should apply it in assignments. This leaves them with both the opportunity to fail as well as to succeed beyond expectation.

Making Active Online Learning Social: The Learning Journal

The next step is to embed these kind of assignments in a social context. In order to do this we have created the so-called Learning Journal. The Learning Journal is an individual course blog that learners can use to share their solutions for the various assignments, take notes and discuss their work with the course community. Learners can »follow« the journals of other users to keep track of new content created by those peers they think stand out from the crowd.

Different layers of privacy settings allow learners to share their posts with no one, other participants in the same course or publicly on the internet. Through public sharing, journals can function as  learning portfolios. These serve as public, linkable proof of the things learners have created and accomplished in a course.

Active Online Learning – Learner Contributions in the Learning Journal

The course journal aggregates the journal posts from all users in the course. Learners can “like” each other’s work simply by clicking on the heart. Of course they can also leave more substantial feedback in prose. The hearts as well as the comments can be used to identify quality in quantity. Learners can also sort their posts either by date (starting with the most recent uploads) or by “most liked”. To easily navigate through specific assignments users can also filter by unit or search for the work of a specific learner.

The Process of Active Online Learning Visualised

An example of the process of active online learning in the course “Visual Thinking for Business”

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Video production can be done in many ways – from Hollywood movies to selfie videos. In the following we have collected some of the basics for you.


For professional quality video production, you need a Full-HD Camera with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Also make sure to have enough memory sticks and spare batteries. 
Recommended cameras: Canon EOS, Nikon D, Sony HDR.

Video Format

  • High Quality HD videos
    • 16:9 Format
    • H.264 codec or similar
    • we recommend 1920 x 1080 (1080p or 1080i), or at least 1280 x 720 p
    • supported file format: mp4, m4v, flv, avi, mpg, mov, etc.


In learning video production, capturing quality audio is key. Arguably, this is the single most important technical aspect of creating a good learning video. Here are some guidelines.

  • Using an external microphone is imperative!
  • Before recording, check to make sure the volume is correctly adjusted.
  • Make sample recordings and have someone else give you feedback about the sound quality.
  • If you are recording outside, you should use a microphone that you can attach to your jacket.

Recommended settings for recording: 48kHz and 24 bit


We advise using the standard 3 point lighting in video production. If you prefer to use natural light, keep in mind that the sun moves and your picture therefore changes.

Video Production

3 point lighting: back light, key light, fill light

For more details see:

Three Point Lighting Explained

3 Point Lighting Tutorial (Youtube)


General Tips for Presenting

You should be aware that your voice and body language do not seem the same online as in your classroom.

  • Prepare your message – Write a script. What is it that you really want to say for this particular video? Narrow it down and be sure you know what is most important. Memorise and practice your script (see scripting). You do not have to write out every single word you want to say. If you are more comfortable working with bullet points, feel free to work like this, but try to remember your first and last sentence of a scene, so that a cut feels natural.
  • Relax and smile – An inhale and exhale followed with a soft smile works wonders (NOT one that’s ear to ear). Be sure you’re breathing regularly in the course of taping. Do not hold your breath. Also, blink on occasion. It’s a natural lubricant for your eyes and will help you stay “bright eyed” – you will look less “robotic”.
  • Body language – A little movement is fine; too much movement makes you appear nervous. Use your hands, because hands can enhance decisive statements and support nuance in your speaking dynamics, but don’t overuse them. If you’re standing during your taping, watch the typical rocking back and forth. Try to stand comfortably with your feet about six inches apart, your weight equally distributed and your shoulders relaxed. Don’t stand on the balls of your feet, as you run the risk of losing your balance. When sitting, lean just slightly forward, shoulders down, and then sit as tall as you can but without stiffness.
  • Look directly into the camera – Imagine a person where the camera is and imagine a conversation. Tilt your head slightly and position the camera a little above your eye level.
  • For tablet capture – Imagine you are sitting next to your student, explaining the material.
  • Take some time – Don’t start talking as soon as you push the recording button: give it 2-3 seconds. This will make the post-production easier.
  • It’s a process – Record yourself in front of the camera multiple times, take a look at the content you have produced, and try to identify what works and what doesn’t.

Based on:

Wendy Scharfmann

edX101 – How to Make an edX Course

Commandments of Quality Video Production

There are a few commandments of good filmmaking. Here is a very basic list:

  • Know what you are going to shoot! – Have a plan (storyboard) of what you are going to say and show.
  • The object moves, not the camera! – Try to hold the camera still, as handheld filming usually looks unprofessional. The best way to steady the camera is by using a tripod.
  • Be thrifty with the zoom! – Only use zoom where necessary, otherwise it looks nervous. Zooming can be useful to point out something really important or show details. Remember to try out the zoom of each scene in order not to over- or under-zoom: if you zoom, be on point!
  • Each scene needs some extra meat! – Remember to give each scene three extra seconds before you start the actual scene and after you finish it. In doing so, you make sure to have better cuts in post-production.
  • Every scene needs light! – Never shoot against the light. If you shoot indoors, take care of good lighting.
  • Know who’s talking! – When shooting, ensure absolute silence during the recording. Noises from people not in the picture can be especially annoying.


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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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