They’re Everywhere Else: Can Zombies Find A Home In eLearning?

Zombies In Higher Ed

Much has been written about the Massive Open Online Course from the Canvas Network which features scenes from television’s “The Walking Dead”, and uses the Zombie Apocalypse as a mechanism to teach concepts derived from social science, mathematics and physics.

So what’s up with the zombie obsession? To Clemson University professor Sarah Lauro, the phenomenon “isn’t harmful or a random fad, but part of a historical trend that mirrors a level of cultural dissatisfaction and economic upheaval”.

Stanford literary scholar Angela Becerra Vidergar found that the events of the 20th century, "along with movements to increase environmental awareness," have caused a lot of doubt about the consequences of our development as modernized societies, and "instead we are left with this cultural fixation on fictionalizing our own death, very specifically mass-scale destruction."

There’s no question that dissatisfaction and upheaval are all around us – and if zombies represent a metaphor for the feelings of powerlessness that accompany tough times – it makes sense that they’re everywhere. In addition, if we see ourselves as participants in their defeat – we become heroes; and who wouldn’t enjoy that?

University educators have already noticed the trend, and have leveraged it in their classrooms to the extent that is it the topic of a 2013 book, Zombies in the Academy.  This begs the question – why should they have all the fun?

What about eLearning – Let’s Get Those Zombies Working on Our Behalf

  1. Step One: Know Your Audience (And Your Sponsor)
    If you are producing eLearning for an audience that would find the zombie metaphor fun, you’re in luck.That won’t be true in all cases. After all, if you are producing eLearning for an organization that is traditional and conservative – you might not make much headway pitching the idea to use zombies as the primary mechanism to explain regulatory compliance, or financial audit procedures. In addition, there are certain topics where eLearning humor is will never be a good fit for the content.
    Nevertheless, that certainly doesn’t apply to all eLearning topics, and sooner or later you may come across a project where a zombie or two is the perfect way to be creative and liven things up. Even if they don’t lend themselves well to introducing your actual content, you may find that they are perfect for reinforcement exercises. For example, you could incorporate an interesting eLearning game at the end of the course where your learners answer questions correctly to avoid being overrun by the zombie hoards. Or, you could construct a branching exercise where the correct paths lead to a problem solved and the incorrect paths lead to – you guessed it – attack by zombies.
  2. Step Two: Decide How the Zombies Should Look
    Another factor that will determine whether or not zombies will be suitable in your eLearning course is the way they are pictorially represented. You may find that a photo-realistic, putrefying head shot is not the way to go. However, most of the stock photography sites offer illustrations that capture the idea, without the gore. Another option is to start out with a photograph and use on of the many black-and-white line art filters to change the Technicolor ickiness into something less offensive. (Do a Google search – there are quite a few filters that are free, as well as links to many tutorials that explain the steps to create this effect in Photoshop or Gimp, which is free.)
    If you happen to have a very supportive sponsor for your eLearning project, and the folks in the organization have a good sense of eLearning humor, you might be able to get certain recognizable people in leadership roles to put on some zombie makeup and be photographed for the course – that’s certain to get the learner’s attention.And, if all else fails, you can upload your own picture to “makemezombie.com” and enter the fray yourself.

At the end of the day, we may never solve the mystery of why zombies seem to be everywhere. Are they really the byproduct of our economic woes and existential angst? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Let’s just accept that they are here, at least for now – and look for the quirky fun that they can provide to our eLearning projects.

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