Desirable Difficulties in Think101

The instructors and designers in Think101 have created an online course that takes advantage of desirable difficulties.

Distributed Practice

Self-paced: The content has been spaced over 12 episodes. Each episode contains the content and activities. Learners can self-pace through the course. It is easy to bookmark a page but the course tracks where you are up to and opens at that page.

Structured activities: each episode has a quiz that test the knowledge of that episode and the previous ones. Each week has a discussion forum at the end.

Every week is shot in a different location and context using different experts.

Retrieval Practice

Discussion forums allow student an opportunity to link things up with what we already know and everyday life. Your understanding of concepts is also tested. Staff will provide feedback to discussion questions.

Quizzes test your retrieval methods of what has been covered in the episode and in previous episodes. The quizzes can be saved and submitted later. They also provide instant feedback once submitted.

Everyday examples are provided to discuss content or ‘test’ content outside of the course (with family, friends etc).


The distribution of learning one subject and then another does not seem to have been done as well in this course apart from the weekly quizzes. The course has a clear structure moving from concepts to scientific methods to application of those methods.

I have been moving through the course using this established structure. Students are able to move freely between episodes. As this is a free, online, self-paced course that has balanced the learning principles with high production video and expertise interviews – perhaps it can be said that students can do their own interleaving.

Certainly the interleaving occurs by interviewing lots of experts who provide different perspectives.

Students do have the opportunity at the end of each episode to ‘Learn more’, ‘Learn even more’ and ‘Learn lots’ which provides them with links to a variety of mediums for learning more.


Critical observations

Although I think overall the Think101 learning experience has been great. Here are a few things that I have observed that would be worth considering when re-designing the course or when designing a course in general:

  • All content is presented as a video interview – there is very little other mediums except those found at the end of each episode – Learn more etc – references to relevant work
  • All interviews and experts are dominated by males – the two teachers and 18 experts are male whilst only 4 women are interviewed (there might be a perfectly good reason for this but it would be worthwhile for the instructors to point this out)
  • Every week is similar – content (videos) > quiz > discussion forum:
    • content could be presented in different ways
    • weekly quizzes are very valuable and should always be used but need thoughtful questions
    • discussion forums are too big (too many entries) so that instead of ‘discussion’ you might just put up a post without discussing others – I have a problem with their use as they are not really discussions due to the asynchronous nature.
  • All experts basically identify that learning and changing your mind is hard work, something that you need to do. If you are unwilling to do this no matter how well the course is designed you will not learn or be able to change your mind.


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