Online education… and zombies: AMC turns The Walking Dead into a free online course

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have gotten mixed reviews from academia, but maybe they’ll have an easier time winning over studios and fans of the undead.

Ahead of the new season of its hit TV show The Walking Dead, cable network AMC has partnered with education technology company Instructure and the University of California at Irvine for an online course based on the popular television series.

The eight-week course, titled “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead,’” will include content, video clips and examples from the show, as well as possible participation from the actors.

And it won’t be just about zombies. The companies said the interdisciplinary course will use the show as a lens to examine topics like Maslow’s hierarchy, public health and pandemics and the science of hope.

“Others have focused on specific pedagogical models and approaches… [We wondered] how could we get a course with high numbers of users and engagement?” Instructure co-founder Brian Whitmer said in a briefing ahead of the announcement.  “We decided to see what a pop culture connection does to engagement.”

Unique partnership

Instructure, which has built its business with a learning management system for schools, last year launched its own MOOC service, called Canvas Network.  But, for the most part, its efforts in the MOOC space have been overshadowed by those of its Silicon Valley and Boston-based peers Coursera, Udacity and edX.

Teaming up with a show that draws more than 10 million viewers is a smart way to bring its service to an entirely new audience — especially as it eyes an IPO. For AMC, it’s not going to bring in eyeballs the way other more traditional marketing efforts might, but it’s a creative way to deepen its relationship with the fans the show already has.

“We hope this online course will drive a deep, sustained connection with the show… and provide a legitimate educational experience,” Theresa Beyer, AMC’s vice president of promotions and activation, said in a statement.

Personally, I’d love for this to lead to Mad Men- and Homeland-themed MOOCs. But Whitmer said the company doesn’t have any further entertainment-related plans – yet.