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Professional Opinion

Universities take online learning to Hollywood

Visual instructional design meets broadcast quality standards
University Business, September 2018
Kim Rocco Shields is a producer and director who has collaborated with more than a dozen colleges and universities to produce engaging online instructional videos on topics ranging from history to biology.
Kim Rocco Shields is a producer and director who has collaborated with more than a dozen colleges and universities to produce engaging online instructional videos on topics ranging from history to biology.

There’s a reason why the movie industry is so profitable. There is simply no other experience like total immersion in a story you love.

Movie studios, distributors, producers and filmmakers have spent decades learning to capture the attention, and win the hearts and minds of viewers around the globe through the unique, immersive experience of visual storytelling.

But great filmmakers know another secret. A good movie doesn’t just make money. It leaves a lasting impression on viewers, who perceive their lives and the world around them a little differently from the moment they step out of the theater.

There is no medium more powerful or impressionable than that of a finely crafted cinematic experience.

Enhancing online courses

What happens when a cinematic engagement model with high production quality is applied to the distance learning experience? What if instructional designers at recognized universities borrowed a page from Hollywood to capture student attention?


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Ninety percent of information transmitted to the human brain is visual, and visual information is processed 60,000 times faster than text, yet teachers are just beginning to incorporate visual methods into their lesson plans.

Using a cinematic formula in classes that have low engagement, or are data heavy, helps bring concepts to life in new and exciting ways.

This approach should be a no-brainer considering we live in a world in which technology governs our lives. News, entertainment, art and our friends are all within arm’s reach—and education is no different.

Over the past 14 years, distance education enrollments have continued to increase, and now online learning is as common as traditional classroom learning, particularly in higher education. More than 30 percent of students enrolled in a college or university take at least one online education course.

Courses that are data heavy or require practical, interpersonal understanding are more difficult to take online. So imagine a world where digesting your online business analytics course could be as entertaining and as easy to recall as your favorite show on Netflix.

Creating content that is engaging and relevant, while enhancing the learning experience so it becomes more practical, is possible.

Filmmakers and professors can work together to create educational media and supporting learning materials, including course guides, lectures, guest speakers, documentaries, case studies, role-playing and historical videos—all within the context of the entertainment industry.

Seeing is ‘understanding’

Imagine if a new generation of social workers could sit in on therapy sessions early in their careers, and learn how to recognize physical and emotional cues that would otherwise be explained on paper handouts.

For a student, there is no other way to witness, for example, how children express themselves when dealing with adverse experiences, or to understand, in a safe environment, how to identify and address the first signs of sociopathic behavior.

“I particularly liked the directness and relaxed nature of the therapist,” says Rick Ager, associate professor at the Tulane University School of Social Work in New Orleans. “This truly brings you into the interview without any sense that these are actors.”

This revolutionary online course experience helps students see class theory in a real-world environment, changing the way students prepare for their industry.

Hollywood is an industry that was built on capturing audiences in new and exciting ways, and education is an industry built on the foundation of changing minds and imparting new lessons to the next generation.

They can come together to create something innovative in both fields—an immersive educational experience.


Kim Rocco Shields is a producer and director who has collaborated with more than a dozen colleges and universities to produce engaging online instructional videos on topics ranging from history to biology. She can be reached at rocco@geniusproduced.com.