Blog Post

Online Course Reviews



Engaging Adult Learners on Emotional Intelligence Through an Online Learning Platform

By Andreyko, Michael, Austin, Dannyelle, Butler Cynthia, and Pickering, Bri


Online learning is becoming increasingly popular with adults.  They want to study a variety of issues, both for personal and professional development.  An online platform is convenient, easy to navigate, usually free, and offers a variety of content to engage the adult learner.  For this critique, the authors decided to analyze a webinar and a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), both of which were focused on Emotional Intelligence.  The webinar was entitled, “Developing Emotional Intelligence:  Rewiring Unproductive Patterns” offered through Capella University. The MOOC was entitled, “Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence” created by Case Western Reserve University.  These courses were selected because the reviewers wanted to analyze courses on the same topic and ones that could be applicable to a wide range of learners. This critique will begin by highlighting strengths and weaknesses of both and end with a comparative analysis of effectiveness and engagement.

Strengths of Online Learning Platforms

MOOC:  Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence

One advantage to participating in a MOOC is that the formalized structure allows students to feel comfortable.  In this particular MOOC, each week had a format many people are familiar with: class lecture supported by readings followed by a quiz for understanding.  The lectures even featured a speaker dressed in “professor attire” (sports jacket and tie) in front of a bookcase.  This gives adults the feel of being in a traditional classroom environment from the comfort and flexibility of creating their own learning space.  

     The incorporation of experiences does not end here.  During the lectures questions are posed which require the learner to draw on past experience, i.e. a relationship with a boss or co-worker, to understand the content.  This effectively pushes the student into Narrative Learning, which is described as using stories to understand experiences (Merriam et al., 2007).  The professor encourages learners to take a moment to reflect on these experiences and to journal them.  There is also a discussion group which allows the class to share and comment on each other’s stories, much like a live classroom discussion.   

     Another advantage to participating in this MOOC is the self paced nature of the course.  A study by Houle in 1988 showed that there are three primary categories of motivation for adult learners including goal-oriented, activity-oriented, and learning-oriented (Merriam et al., 2007).  This means not everyone is going to have the same level of interest, effort, and expectations within the course.  Having all material available in the beginning of the course allows a learner motivated by any of the three orientations to be successful.

     Overall the MOOC offered an effective, yet traditional, way for adults to learn about Emotional Intelligence.  The ease of use, familiar format, and emphasis on using real life experiences make it relatable to even the most novice of adult learners.   

Webinar:  Developing Emotional Intelligence:  Rewire Unproductive Patterns

     Participation in a webinar differs from participation in a MOOC in one significant way: the time commitment.  In this case, the webinar was able to review information on Emotional Intelligence in one 45 minute long session versus hours of videos, readings, and quizzes found in the MOOC.  This is the webinar’s primary advantage.  As stated in Learning in Adulthood, one of the barriers to learning in adulthood is the lack of time and money (Merriam et al., 2007).  This webinar was free and required a minimal time investment while still providing information from a reliable source.

     Webinars are typically packed with information as time is of the essence which can mean a loss of interaction and creativity in favor of “just getting the point across”.  This webinar was an exception. The presenter was engaging, prompted the viewer to answer questions by writing down answers, and used slides with interesting graphics. Like the MOOC, the style incorporated Narrative Learning; using stories are used to understand experiences (Merriam et al., 2007).

             For someone looking to have a high level understanding of how experiences shape emotional intelligence, this webinar is a solid starting point.  The information was paced well, the presenter is passionate about the subject matter, and there is ample time for self-reflection.

Areas of Growth of the Online Learning Platforms

MOOC:  Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence

    While participating in the MOOC, there were several challenges for adult learners that arose.  These included the use of a whole body learning approach, the delivery method of the videos, and also in the feedback and accountability of the course.  

Learning that engages the head, heart, and hands is the key to transformational learning.  To help adults change behavior based on the material, it is important to connect to the learner’s whole body.  Professor Richard Boyatzis makes exceptional use of an effective learning method but missed the opportunity to offer an embodied learning experience for adults participating in the course.    

Another missed opportunity was in the content and delivery, particularly with the online videos used in the MOOC.  In each of the videos, there were little, if any, images, charts, graphs, or visual content to break up the lecture style.  While the reflective practice and narratives helped to maintain the attention of the participants, these techniques were inconsistently utilized, leaving some videos purely just lecture.  The delivery content is likely favorable to a thinking learning style as they tend to prefer lectures and readings but would struggle to engage other learning styles.  As a result, for some adults, the course would be seen as lacking creativity, boring, repetitive, and unengaging.  

Finally, the use of quizzes presented another opportunity for growth in the MOOC.  When an adult learner passes the quiz, they are either able to go back to the previous unit or move on.  However, there is no opportunity to reflect on the responses that were incorrect or to see what the correct answer was, leaving the adult learner lacking clarity and feedback.  Furthermore, there seemed to be a slow response time from the course mentor on the discussion board which is also not helpful to the needs of adult learners.

Webinar:  Developing Emotional Intelligence:  Rewire Unproductive Patterns

    There were also challenges that came up that are typical of pre-recorded webinars.  The style and structure were set up in such a way that there was no opportunity for social interaction or accountability.  Additionally, while reflection was significantly used, there was no opportunity for reflection-in-action exercises either during the webinar or to participants to utilize after the webinar.  While these challenges are significant, they would likely not hinder an adult from participating in the entire webinar.  

    There was one noticeable challenge with the start of the webinar in that the trainer did not introduce the reasons why an adult should participate in this course.  Looking at the assumptions of adult learners, Malcolm Knowles’ concept of andragogy introduces the idea that adults need to know why they should learn something (Merriam et al., 2007).  In the webinar, there was an overview of what would be discussed and even a mention of removing distractions but no commentary about the value in identifying or learning how to rewire unproductive patterns.  This alone might stop an adult learner within the first three minutes, never allowing them to get to the reflective practices or visually appealing presentation.    

Comparative Analysis:  MOOC vs. Webinar

After reflecting on the advantages and disadvantages to a MOOC and a webinar for the adult learner, there are a lot of points and counterpoints to which is better.  A few items seem to not be a factor at all and can be removed from any comparison, such as social interaction.  While the webinar was prerecorded and offered no way to interact with one another, the avenues the MOOC did offer seemed to lag in response time and the group discussion depended solely on who would utilize it at that given time.  Additionally, both courses offered content from seemingly reliable sources, provided additional materials for the adult learner to review, had relative ease of access at no cost, and they each used reflective exercises to gain the learner's attention and interest.  Deciding which is more effective for any one adult learner is critical to that learner’s success with the course and as many similarities as MOOCs and webinars have, there are clear differences to consider.

Overall, participating in the MOOC allows learners to manage a large amount of content in bite-sized pieces, while having variety in the way the content is delivered.  It includes staples of your typical classroom environment: quizzes, exams, group discussion and lectures.  However, the breadth of content and the value of convenience come with a higher price tag and a more intensive time commitment when compared to the webinar.  The webinar, while a larger block of time up front, is all inclusive and therefore saves the learner time in the long run.  Many pre-recorded webinars are lower in cost in comparison to MOOCs, if not free entirely, as was the case with the critiqued webinar.

The value of the host or facilitator of the content is not to be overlooked.  The webinar seems to bring a more intimate feel to the delivery of the information.  The host of the MOOC, however, seemed overly stiff and lacked enthusiasm, which could be due to the presentations being designed to be uniform.  The webinar’s facilitator brought with her more liveliness.  The webinar format is that of a one-shot offering. It is the one and only attempt the host has available to present all the content.  It is not, necessarily, one small chunk of an overall experience, which are how the MOOC presentations are utilized. Due to this, there is a clear passion and connectedness to the material that the host then extends to the audience leading to a more pleasant experience.


With the onslaught of so many MOOC’s, webinars, YouTube videos, and the proliferation of Google, the adult learner expects an online course to be engaging and interesting.  Unfortunately both courses did not measure up to those standards.  They did have a positive environment and at least the MOOC offered opportunities for inter- and intrapersonal reflection and an assessment with a paid enrollment, yet there was a level of disengagement and a lack of innovation with both programs that marred an otherwise very important and interesting topic.  The power of understanding Emotional Intelligence could revolutionize how a person, a family, or a company is managed.  Unfortunately the adult learner of either program might not want to complete the MOOC or finish watching the webinar based solely on the lack of interest garnered by either program.  In conclusion, the critics of these courses would suggest thinking about more creative ways of utilizing technology, engaging the body in the learning process, and incorporating delivery methods that engage adult learners to drive home the importance and application of emotional intelligence in the personal and professional lives of adults.   


Ballou, A. (2010). Developing Emotional Intelligence: Rewire Unproductive Patterns [Video

webinar]. Retrieved from


Boyatzis, R.(2017). Resonant Leadership and the Neuroscience Behind It (week 1), Inspiring

and Motivating Sustained Development, Growth and Learning (week 4), The Real Self and Learning Agenda - Discoveries in #2, 3, 4 in ICT (week 8).  Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence [MOOC]. Retrieved from


Merriam, S., Caffarella, R., & Baumgartner, L.  (2007).  Learning in adulthood:  A

comprehensive guide (3rd ed.).  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.


A Team’s Exploration of Adult Learning

By Ashley Beideman, Lauren Hoot, Patricia Martin, and Maria-Elena Zertuche (LLG 1)


Searching through youtube videos and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) videos is a daunting experience. So many options, so much to see! Couple this with four busy professionals with different learning styles and you could have quite a conundrum - or not! For our Leadership Learning Group (LLG) group, this assignment was seamless. One of our team members attended an online webcast titled “A Call to Action: Listen!" hosted by Marjorie Derven, Founder, HUDSON Research & Consulting, and we decided that would offer a nice contrast to the MOOC that another team member found titled “Leaders of Learning”, a HarvardX course. Full disclosure - one problem with the webcast surfaced; unless you attended live, you were not able to pose questions of the host. However, we decided the webcast would still be a good sampling, and surged forward!

    The course design of the webcast was strictly powerpoint driven. The presenter, Ms. Derven, was playing a dual role as teacher and mentor. Using colorful slides and interesting graphics helped to keep the viewer engaged. Much of her lecture was her (the presenter) acting as a storyteller.  Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgardner (2007) introduce us to Daloz and Boyd’s theory on transformative learning. This theory identifies the mentor as a “guide, cheerleader, challenger and supporter during the learning process. The teacher/mentor challenges students to formulate new, more developed perspectives.” (Merriam et at, 2007)  For our group, this rang true; some of the information we had heard before, but Ms. Derven presented it in such a way that the ideas were fresh, new and filled with additional facts that we hadn’t considered in the past.  In addition, Derven offered several examples to support her presentation, which enhanced the learning experience. She pointed to a study done by UCLA around how we understand others; we understand 7% of what is said, 38% of how it’s said, and 55% of the non verbal cues. This can be compared to Jarvis’s learning process . Jarvis states that “all learning begins with the five human sensations of  sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch.(Merriam et at, 2007, p 100). If we are to believe this theory while interpreting the way this greeting is stated - I am happy to see you - then sound, sight and touch absolutely play into the perception. Simply saying the words without emotion and without the facial expressions or body language to support the verbiage lets that phrase fall flat. In general, we felt that while this webcast was somewhat interesting, at times it bordered on being boring - not being able to participate live was definitely a disadvantage and may have clouded our experience.

    The “Leaders of Learning” was a different format. This MOOC was presented by HarvardX, a professional institution of higher ed charged with producing online classes that will appeal to the masses. This course in particular was very deep and multi layered. In the beginning, the expectations were clearly presented - there was an outline and an agenda. Individual participants were asked to determine the mode of learning that most fit their profile (hierarchical individual, distributed individual, hierarchical collective or distributed collective) which immediately got the person engaged and listening with purpose. This exercise could be compared to Mezirow’s Psychocritical Approach as explained in Merriam et at (2007). “Mezirow’s theory  concerns how adults make sense of their life experience.  Mezirow defines learning as “the process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or a revised interpretation of the meaning of one's experience in order to guide future actions”  (p 132).  As referenced in the MOOC, the first thing we did was take an assessment to determine our mode of learning as a point of reference for the rest of the class; in the MOOC we were asked to determine our mode of learning. In addition, there were also variety of activities offered- after each segment a question and answer session was available along with a rubric to evaluate your success. You were able to speed up or slow down the audio in order to adjust to the learner's preference. It was a bit more interactive, although hardly any graphics, animations or pictures were used. As in the webcast, the format was mostly just the speaker presenting, however, because of the interactive activities after every mini session, this seemed to appeal more to the adult learner. There was a transcript running alongside of the video, which was listed for note taking purposes. Three of us liked that addition, while one found it distracting. This MOOC was ideal for our team, as it covered both auditory and visual learners!

    Depending on your learning style, certain aspects of each course appealed to the viewer. Patty is an Experiencing learner. She likes learning situations that are filled with interactions and communications - so the text on the side of the MOOC was very helpful. She takes detailed notes - writing is a way of learning! Graphics, pictures, charts are a big asset to this learning style and the webcast was filled with those. However, the MOOC allowed for post session activities, and immediate feedback and this was beneficial for Patty. The MOOC gave a brief introduction of each professor, narrated by the professor themself. This was very appealing to Patty, as she is a people person and finds learning about others exciting. She felt personally connected to the instructors; this was not the case for the webcast.

    Lauren’s dominant learning style is, initiating. Initiating is composed of active experimentation and concrete experience. Typically she is likely to take information and run with it. She is quick to start a task and get moving. Lauren struggled in the “Listening” webinar feeling limited to just listening in the webinar and more interested in quick application. She found herself not actively listening but planning out who and how she could listen better in her personal and professional interactions. Lauren was more responsive to the “Leaders of Learning” MOOC, she found a greater connection to the topic and was able to see the course mapped out.  As Lauren navigated through the MOOC she was able to be more accommodating and flexible in her personal style to learning, with diversity in videos, articles, simple assessments she was happy to take part in the learning knowing what was to come next.  In both learning experiences Lauren did see that she was able to make plans for moving forward, fulfilling her preference in learning through action.

    The converger learning style is the dominant learning style for Maria.  As a converger that appreciates learning through more abstract conceptualization and active experiment, she appreciated the MOOC a bit more such that there were modules to learn and immediately following most modules, students were able to address corresponding questions relating to how one might apply the information learned and/or questions asking the student to explain their perspective.  She also appreciated that the class began with an assessment to give the students a baseline on what quadrant they scored highest in for with regard to the Modes of Learning Framework.  The lecturer went on to explain that the four quadrants are very fluid and one may end up scoring higher in another quadrant by the end of the class.  Had we been able to take the live Active Listening Webcast live, Maria would have greatly appreciated the ability to ask questions live through chat.

         Like Lauren, Ashley is also an accommodator and has an initiating learning style. She had the opportunity to attend the live session for Ms. Derven’s “A Call to Action: Listen!” webinar, which she found more engaging than the other members of her LLG since she had the ability to chat with participants and form more of a connection, therefore encouraging her to ask questions.  The use of images, thought provoking questions, and live polls made the overall experience interactive, which appealed to Ashley’s learning style. The Harvard MOOC “Leaders of Learning” also appealed to Ashley despite the lack of images and live interaction. The overall structure and delivery of the MOOC was superior to the webinar. The use of short “learning burst” style videos was a key element in maintaining Ashley’s focus throughout the modules. Additionally, Ashley’s action oriented learning style greatly appreciated the feature that increased the speaker’s audio speed. This technique along with captions and printable text transcripts shows that Harvard designs their MOOCs specifically catering to different learning styles. The MOOC contained fill in the blank quizzes and some action assignments at the end of each module that significantly helped Ashley stay engaged and aid in the retention of theories that were discussed.

    In conclusion, it’s clear that all four team members felt a better connection with the “Leaders of Learning” MOOC vs. the webcast. The applied learning component facilitated engagement and allowed for active learning - something that we all liked.  

We appreciated the clear explanation of expectations, outline and agenda - in other words, the participant knew exactly what to expect. When the speakers provided brief introductions, it allowed the participant to make a personal connection with them and reaffirmed their credibility.

If we were to craft our own MOOC, we would most likely mirror many of the facets of the “Leaders of Learning.” We all agreed that the professional presentation and ease of use was most beneficial for adult learners.

Works Cited

Davidson, C. N. (2011). Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform

Schools and Business for the 21st Century. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Derven, M. (2017, March 27). A Call to Action: Listen! Retrieved April 1, 2017, from

Association for Talent Development:

Elmore, R. (2016). Leaders of Learning MOOC. (edX & ConnectEd) Retrieved from Leaders of


Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood (Third

Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Waldrop, M. M. (2013, March 13). Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, Transform

Higher Education and Science. Scientific American.



In this paper, you will see our team evaluations of two MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) and how we identified them with adult learning theories.  We enrolled in “Rethinking Teaching, Redesigning Learning” created and delivered by OpenLearning and taught by Mohamed Amin Embi. This class focuses on revisiting traditional conception of teaching and exploring new ways to redesign learning so it is relevant to students in the 21st century education. The course was broken into twelve modules all focusing on different aspects of learning styles, however we chose to focus on Module 1 (Revisiting/Redefining Teaching) and Module 7 (Tools for Creating Engaging Screencasts).

           The second class was “Inclusive Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication,” created by Catalyst and taught by Alixandra Pollack, Dnika J. Travis and Jeff Bath. Unlike the above class this course was focused on communication skills. The instructors discussed topics like; inspiring others, positioning yourself as a leader through inclusive conversation and making sure the message you (the leader) are trying to send is being received the appropriate way.  Both these classes were self-paced which enabled all of us to attend and absorb the class work at our own pace without time restrictions due to our other classes and full time jobs.


Having completed a few modules on two different MOOC trainings gave our team great perspective on all the positive aspects of virtual learning. The first MOOC of Inclusive Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication and Rethinking Teaching, Redesigning Learning showed our team many positive themes. Overall this first training was the more intuitive and clear of the two. It provided clear text messaging in title pages that broke up the talking of the trainers during the course, which made you focus in on what the takeaway message was for that specific training. We also noted that the multiple choice quizzes students had to take as you went on with the trainings served as good reflective practice, as well as a point of engagement with the course leader. Towards the end of each module, the course took it an extra step further by also including a take home checklist on a Google doc that allowed for students to engage outside of the virtual world and focus on how you could take what you learned to apply it on a day to day basis. Some of our team noted that the social media interaction on Facebook was lucrative to getting people to step out of their comfort zone and put a face to a comment, while others thought it was too intrusive attaching a personal profile to the commentary.

Our second MOOC training was Rethinking Teaching, Redesigning Learning. Although this course seemed to lack in a few areas in comparison to the first course, we did enjoy the integration of multiple video sources to show different perspectives on the topic. It was a more enjoyable experience in comparison to just watching two people talking to the camera or even the written scenarios as in the first training. The instant messenger interaction was impressive use of an engagement tool that was easy to use and easily accessible. Lastly, this MOOC asked students to put something into practice at the end of the modules, which was another helpful tool in getting some hands on training.  


With every pro there is a con; the two trainings Inclusive Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication and Rethinking Teaching, Redesigning Learning, although rather informative had some minor imperfections. The running facilitation script during the Inclusive Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication was distracting. As the facilitators spoke, the text was bolded and highlighted leading to overall attention blindness. This feature should have the option to be turned on or off at the preference of the learner. Furthermore, the facilitators spoke rather informally and with their hands, which also led to attention blindness.

Rethinking Teaching, Redesigning Learning was a true self-paced training in the aspect that it was not as intuitive as the Inclusive Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication training. The learner had to click on every link and utilize the “back button” to return to the module screen to resume the training. Both trainings were holistically set up the same, with videos followed by discussion topics. In the Inclusive Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication, facilitators encouraged learners to share discussion post answers/general interactions in a Facebook group. This could be viewed as a pro or a con dependent on the industry in which the learner works. Learners working in an industry in which posting to public facing websites could pose as a security threat, hinders the success and overall experience of the training. Finally, the open-ended scenarios in the Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication training proved to be confusing to the learner as there was not clear guidance on whether or not the learner successfully handled the scenario.


Our group determined that the two MOOCs utilized the cognitive and social cognitive adult learning theories. The cognitive learning theory focuses on how material is learned, specifically how it is processed, stored, and later retrieved. In addition, cognitive learning theorists believe the learner’s prior knowledge is a component to the learning process. Specifically with the Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication, the facilitators continued build upon the student’s prior knowledge as each module concluded with a quiz and reflected back to material learned in the previous module. Rethinking Teaching, Redesigning Learning, incorporated the cognitive learning theory by progressing their modules from predominantly “minds on” to “hand on” and expected participants to do and demonstrate what they were learning.   

Social cognitive focuses on the learning environment, or the social setting in which learning occurs. Learning is thought to happen through observations in one’s immediate environment. This theory focuses on the importance of the social context and the processes of modeling and mentoring. Rethinking Teaching, Redesigning Learning, really utilized social cognitive learning. Every component to the module included a discussion board, and nearly all the participation within this course was done on the discussion boards. Leadership Training: Leading with Effective Communication, also provided a social environment as the course offered individuals opportunities to participate through discussions, Facebook, and a collaborative wiki. Neither course allowed for much observable learning, with the exception of video clips, but these clips don’t truly follow the modeling behavior social cognitive theorists would expect.


In conclusion, you can see how our group identified certain aspects that made the class a positive and negative learning experience. A main point of focus for us was structure. When taking a MOOC class, it should follow an organized curriculum like you would in the classroom. When you enter the course, you shouldn’t have to figure out where the start button is or ask a fellow student, “am I in the right place?” That one sentence alone should make our point how organization/structure should be the first thing a MOOC class develops. If the student(s) need to ask if they are in the right place it doesn’t give a positive outlook to the content the instructor is giving.  A class should be easy to navigate so the student spends more time reading and learning then worrying about how to get to the next page.

Our group did notice some positives. We noted that the quizzes at the end of sections gave us a platform to acknowledge that we were learning in the correct way and enjoyed how the course also gave us additional resources to follow-up on our learning experience.  Both classes were primarily heavy with video presentations, however it was apparent that one class spent more time making sure the video/audio was at a high quality while the other seemed like a more set a camera up and just talk.

We then looked over our course material and found that cognitive and social cognitive adult learning theories were represented in our MOOC courses. These two theories were identified based on their focus on the importance of social context and the process of modeling and mentoring.  

Next time when picking a MOOC class make sure to take the time to focus on how the course is structured, organized and how adult theories relate to the learning experience to ensure a positive learning experience.  


Merriam, Susan B., Caffarella, Rosemary S. & Baumgartner, Lisa M. Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass  


A Brief Report and Critique of Various Learning Courses

Timothy Bingham, Trevor Osborne, Timothy Moore, Alexander Lopuchin, Jacqueline Freeman

Saint Joseph’s University








A group of five Saint Joseph's University students gives an in-depth review of two different online training classes.  The online training classes incorporated various adult learning principles and appealed to different learning styles. The MOOC resembled an institutional style class which included the use of PowerPoint with sections of a speaker engaging the audience. The MOOC provided specific steps that could be followed by the learner to help them create an engaging speech that incorporated personal stories. The design and learner engagement was overall effective and there were portions that would engage Kolb’s four major learning styles: concrete experience learner, active experimentation learner, abstract conceptualization learner, and reflective observer learner. A Ted Talk is the second online training class that we evaluated. It was a very engaging speaker that discussed a topic that was very intriguing. The speaker executed many of the tactics that were described in the MOOC pertaining to delivering a great speech. The Ted Talk also catered to various learning styles except for an abstract conceptualization learner.

Keywords:  Course, Model, Research, Critique




A Brief Report and Critique of Various Learning Courses


There are thousands of learning opportunities for children and adults. With the evolution of technology, there are endless ways to increase your knowledge without leaving your home if you have a computer and internet service.  As indicated by Merriam, “What one needs or wants to learn, what opportunities are available, the way one learns – all are to large extent determined by the society in which one lives.” (Merriam, 2007)  As colleagues within this course we selected to online educational classes that appealed to us both personally and professionally. We will share the effects of design, learner engagement, and the overall effectiveness of the learning designs of the two educational classes that we completed. One was a MOOC and the second was a Ted Talk.

Effects of Design

The MOOC our group watched took a detailed look at the essentials of public speaking.  Josh Withrow, the MOOC’s creator, presented to the audience the basic steps to giving a speech to an audience and how to make it successful.  His open was: “How to engage and intrigue your audiences right from the beginning of any speech” (Withrow, Public Speaking Essentials).  The whole was presented, primarily, in PowerPoint format, outlining the various steps one should adhere too to make a great speech.  Withrow also appeared in a couple of two minute segments to discuss the material that had been covered so far and provide a summary before moving to the next section. 

One of the key points of the presentation was how things were broken down.  Withrow did everything in groups of five, with one or two extra points for each main point.  Perhaps the most informative portion was what Withrow called “Being in the Know.” He went on to explain the five “knows” that someone needs to consider when writing a speech.  According to Withrow, they are Purpose, Constraints, Audience, Desired Outcome, and Story.  Along with the five “knows,” one aspect that resonated with the group was, keep the speech both entertaining as well as informative.  An entertaining speech is always more memorable for the audience and it make them feel connected to the speaker.  Oddly enough, this kind of approach was not seen in the PowerPoint itself.  To his credit, Withrow maintained a consistent mood throughout the entire MOOC light and informative, along with giving personal examples of certain speech practices, and interacted directly with the audience.  It was not a “death by PowerPoint” session with plain slides and the narrator simply reading off them.  Withrow made sure the slides were tastefully designed and easy to read.  According to Illeris’s three-dimensional learning model (Merriam, 2007), the MOOC allowed the learners to imitate and follow the directions provided to give a great speech. The other learning classes that we watched, meanwhile, was much more engaging.

Ted Talk Design1

The second learning class was a filmed speech by Ricardo Semler, a Brazilian CEO who come up with an interesting concept: How to run a company with (almost) no rules.  We believe Ricardo demonstrated the key concepts of transformational learning: life experiences, critical reflection, and the connection between transformational learning and development. (Merriam, 2007)   Mr. Semler’s premise was something he called “corporate democracy,” which basically rewarded the wisdom of his workers and gave them a better insight into the balance between work and life. His delivery was passionate and inspiring. Semler’s speech showed that a PowerPoint was not needed, since his words painted a clear picture in his audience’s minds.  

The speech was more effective because the speaker was also the innovator of the topic of said speech.  Several members of our group were personally intrigued by the Senor Semler’s idea. I think we all agree that the concept he created could never work properly in the United States or some of our Western allies, but the fact that it is working is quite astonishing.  Semler’s approach to business is controversial, granted, but he is so impassioned when he speaks, the audience soaks it up.  Semler exemplifies many of the points from Withrow’s MOOC about giving a speech: he told a good story, kept his audience entertained, and left them with a resounding message.

Learner Engagement.

The learner engagement for the MOOC and Ted Talk had some similarities and differences. The MOOC was designed to help the participants become stronger public speakers and incorporate stories into their speech. While the Ted Talk was a great example of an individual giving, an engaging presentation using stories. They both incorporated narrative learning as described by Merriam (Merriam, 2007) because the MOOC gave instructions on how to build stories to incorporate in your speech and the Ted Talk speaker shared several stories in his speech.

The MOOC incorporate various tactics to help engage the learner.  For example, providing the instructions in groups of five then discussing each one in detail engaged the learner by giving them simple and clear instructions.  One of the recommendations was to select a picture and write down all the details of the events. Then go back to the story and focus on the main points of the event and use them to write a story like an action movie and include emotions in your story. This was a good way to engage the learner in a specific process. This tactic is especially effective for learners with active experimentation, and concrete experience as their primary learning styles. 

The MOOC also engaged the learner by switching between an individual speaking to the learners and a PowerPoint presentation with a presenter that discussed the information on each slide. As identified in the article by Lu, an online discussion format would be preferred by a concrete experience learner, online reading of electronic documents preferred by abstract conceptualization learner, flash animation preferred by active experimentation learner, and online observations of onscreen activities of other subjects preferred by a reflective observer (Lu, 2007).  The MOOC designed created the best learning engagement for a conceptualization learner based on the ability to read the PowerPoint slides.

The Ted Talk title of “How to Run a Company with (almost) No Rules” immediately caught your attention which created learner engagement. It is catchy and peeks a learner’s curiosity.  Ted Talks tend to engage learners very well because they are short in length and the topics are interesting.  Ricardo, the speaker of the Ted Talk was Brazilian and had an interesting philosophy on life and rules. His culture and social experiences contributed to the learning experience. He incorporated stories into his presentation that were engaging for the learner. For example, he shared a story of how he burned all the books and articles that he had written so his children would be unaware of his accomplishments and avoid pressure to follow his life path. You could relate to his stories even if you didn’t agree with the tactics. Many of the recommendations that were shared in the MOOC on presentation skills were demonstrated in the Ted Talk.

An additional way that the Ted Talk engaged the learner was through a brief interview of Ricardo at the end of the talk. He was asked a few questions and it was an opportunity for the learner to gain more insight into his philosophy and the impact on his organization and school system. The reflective observer learner may have the best engagement experience with the Ted Talk.

One difference between the MOOC and Ted Talk pertaining to learner engagement was the look and feel of the two learning classes. The MOOC had a classroom look and feel, while the Ted Talk had more of an entertainment look and feel. This engages the learners differently because the MOOC provided specific instructions on how to become a better presenter, while the Ted Talk made you think about how you live your life. 

The effectiveness of online learning design.

The effectiveness of learner design in respect to these two unique experiences differs in various ways.  Jarvis’s learning model begins with considering an adult’s experience (Merriam, 2007). When developing educational programs, considering the person’s life experiences, age, and the overall level of education will drive the effectiveness of the learner’s experience. The learning classes that we observed would appeal to individuals that want to become stronger public speakers and those that want to be risky business leaders. 

During the Ted Talk, Ricardo was unique in how he engaged the learners. His ability to be personable, to relate his stories to the real world, to be open and not be “dry” significantly increased the lesson he was passing to the learners. The pure architecture of Ricardo’s talk lead to a what we believe is better engagement. Capturing the audience and keeping them interested by keeping the stories and lessons viable to their own success is what drove him to be successful. The Ted Talk will appeal more to active experimentation and reflective observer learners vs. an abstract conceptualization learner, because they enjoy reading documents in an online setting (Lu, 2007).

As for the MOOC, the design is as important if not more important than the content of any learning experience. This is because you must know the audience that you will speak to. The MOOCs design of being a cross between PowerPoint and lecture is the right balance that can capture the audience and retain the audience as a client of whatever is being sold. We believe this design specifically spoke to various learning styles. If you are someone that learns by PowerPoint this lesson covered you, or if you are someone that learns by verbal communication then this method also speaks out to you. The ability to design the lesson and frame it around multiple different audiences is what makes the MOOC appealing.

Overall the effectiveness of learner engagement and design of the courses are intertwined. The design could have been one of the hundreds of ways to instruct, but these were carefully designed to engage multiple types of learners. The effectiveness of having learners being engaged means that the individuals themselves are diving deeper into the educational experience. By engineering the design to allow for learners to be engaged the engineer gave the individuals a reason to pay attention and a way to absorb the knowledge and material. Being engaged as we saw in these two examples yields a higher chance of success in the courses. Design ultimately will drive how much the learners are engaged, which makes it one of the most important and challenging aspects of learning.


Each learner in our group took something different away from each of their experiences. However, you can see there is a similarity in reception by how one decides to present and teach the information.  According to one of Knowles Andragogy of adult learning principles; adults accumulate a reservoir of experience, which is a rich resource for learning (Merriam, 2007) we believe the MOOC and Ted Talk incorporated this principle.  These classes provided information that can complement a learner’s experience of public speaking and leadership skills, helping them become a stronger public speaker and leader.

The design, learner engagement, and overall effectiveness of online design appealed to different learning styles. During the Ted Talk we saw that Ricardo was being open and personable which made it easy to relate and open ones’ mind up to the conversation. The MOOC hybrid design between power point and lecture makes it a little more ideal for the learner to be involved and engaged.  It seems that there isn’t a “silver bullet” if you will, to present or deliver a message but rather a mix of all the best education delivery methods.




Lu, H. J.-H. (2007). The Relationship of Kolb Learning Styles, Online Learning Behaviors and Learning Outcomes. Learning Outcomes Educational Technology & Science, pp. 187-196.

Merriam, S. B. (2007). Learning in Adulthood, A Comprehensive Guide. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.