Binge Viewing and Online Courses

Digital lessons about access and flexibility.


August 1, 2013

My latest diversion is the new Netflix original Orange is the New Black.

Based on the memoir by Piper Kerman, this dramedy takes place in a medium security women's federal penitentiary, and chronicles the struggles of a Smith grad and aspiring luxury soap maker to adjust to the realities of prison life. If you liked Weeds (also created by Jenji Kohan) then you will be a fan.

Orange is the New Black is the latest Netflix funded production to release the entire season at one time. House of Cards, the political drama starring Kevin Spacey, ate up most of my non-working / non-sleeping hours when it was released this past February.

Much has been written about how the ability to binge view whole TV seasons may change how we view television.

Are there also parallels and lessons to be learned from between the all-at-once TV season model and how online education is developing?

Availability of the Entire Course:  

In the online program that I work on we make our entire course available at least a week before the class start. Students can look at all the recorded lectures, readings, and assignments. We require that they turn work in during the week that it is due, and stay with the class in discussion and blog conversations. But students are free (and even encouraged) to get a jump on readings and assignments.  

Is this how you handle your online and blended courses?  

I don't think we have any data about the proportion of courses that make everything visible at the beginning, and those that open up modules as time progresses. I'd venture that the trend is towards making everything available, as experience has shown that students appreciate and thrive in environments where they can manage their own workload and take steps to plan ahead.

We also probably don't understand if an all-at-once release vs. a timed release improves or degrades learning.  The paucity of experimental and data driven insights into effective course design is troubling, a shortcoming that many of us hope that MOOCs will address.

My gut feeling is that the all-at-once release is the way to go.  Just as I'm much more likely to form an emotional attachment to a show that I can watch on my schedule, and throw myself into the viewing, I'm also more likely to bond with a course that I can interact with on my schedule.  

Binge learning may be the new binge viewing.

Experiments in Course Structure:

You have to give Netflix credit for being willing to experiment with new ways to deliver a TV show.   Netflix realized that both the revenue model (subscriptions not advertising) and the technology (streaming not DVDs) made the old model of weekly episodes obsolete.   The ability to release an entire season all-at-once means that the creators of House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black can experiment with different narrative forms.   Story lines can jump around.   There is no need to catch the audience up, as the audience has probably been compressing the viewing experience to a matter of weeks (or days) rather than months.   The creative possibilities seem truly endless.

Have we gone as far in experimenting with new models of course delivery in our online programs?  

Are we as locked into the week-by-week / semester model as the legacy networks seem to be wedded to the traditional TV season?  

Can we figure out how to preserve the communication, collaboration and peer interaction in a cohort based course while giving students more options around course timing?  

Should we be creating immersion courses?  Classes that are short but highly intense.  90 hours of classwork in two weeks.    Or maybe students should be able to jump in and out of lots of different courses, completing assignments and participating in discussions as they see fit. 

Why should Netflix be more willing to experiment than we are?

Multi-Platform Participation:

I've been watching Orange Is the New Black on my iPad.  On my iPhone.  On my laptop.   I've been watching in short bursts and in long stretches.   While running on the treadmill and before falling asleep at night.  There is usually a screen close at hand, and wherever I have a screen I can pick up where I left-off.

Netflix works great on mobile devices.  The streaming is smooth and clear.  No need to find my place in the show - Netflix remembers across devices.

Are our online courses as multi-platform and mobile friendly as Netflix?  

Do we provide a learning experience that works equally well on a smartphone and a laptop?  

Do we make it as easy as Netflix to jump right into where we were last in our course, instantly picking up our online conversations, readings, assessments or interaction with course materials?  

Is the gap between learning platforms and entertainment platforms widening?  Does that even matter?

What are you watching?


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