Co-Creation and
Viral Learning

Foreword: In the spirit of openness, these papers are designed to be fluid in nature, and evolve over time. With this in mind, we encourage you to leave notes, write response posts, and share this paper.


Defining Co-Creation and Viral Learning

The rise of participatory digital media and online social networking has furthered the blurring of boundaries between production and consumption and formal/informal learning. Participatory media provide an opportunity to reimagine learning through viral and co-created learning experiences. Participatory pedagogies disrupt traditional models of education through encouraging learners to forge their own path through the curriculum in collaboration with others, such as peers or experts/novices in online and offline networks.

At the curriculum-level, rhizomatic models such as Community as Curriculum (Cormier) can be seen as (the ultimate) disruption, in the sense that the curriculum is not just “no-longer-defined-by the ‘expert’”, but emerges through participation and active engagement with others. Less controversially, ‘emergence’ (Mackaness) is a useful concept from which to explore learner and community driven experiences where ideas might spread (Jenkins et al) and learners are empowered/motivated to drive their own learning in collaboration with others through co-creation.

In essence, the ideas in this theme focus on active engagement and empowering learners to drive their own learning and (to some extent) curriculum through participatory pedagogies.

VIRAL LEARNING: Viral learning is participatory, allowing multiple points of entry and degrees of participation in a collaborative learning experience. It enlists aspects of the characteristics of viral spaces, such as; Indirect/undisclosed processes, covert, samizdat, pirate and hacker approaches, playing with insider/wider (host) communities within learning. These learning experiences connect learners through transmedia pedagogies and circulate learning through both physical and virtual spaces.

CO-CREATION, CO-PRODUCTION: Social and mobile technologies allow learners to connect and create across space and time (a culture of global participation). Learners are no longer confined to discrete physical and disciplinary spaces. Co-creation foregrounds the capacity for learners to collaborate across disciplines and levels, working in real-time with peers around the globe and crucially to be the architects and authors of their own learning materials, experiences and processes. Through co-creating resources and artefacts across cultures, learners gain a broader cultural and disciplinary perspective on their chosen fields.


Key Ideas

Although the concept of ‘viral learning’ is often seen as rather nebulous, it does provide a useful umbrella term for learning that is a) participatory (co-created), b) personal (contextualised) and c) powerful (participants have a sense of empowerment to apply what they have learned). ‘Viral’ approaches imply radical, counter-cultural, covert pedagogies, which are often influenced by (hacker culture, flashmobs, hidden and undisclosed processes). Ultimately, ‘viral learning’ is about engagement, active participation, and ideas that spread. In order for ideas to spread, they need to be simple; the challenge in this case is to design learning activities that are uncontrollably spreadable. This, in turn, may require a culture where risk is embraced and participants are not afraid to fail (moving towards a pedagogy of being).

Viral Learning?


(Sources of Inspiration)


  • “See who can get their video removed from YouTube the quickest”
    Active exploration of remix culture, copyright and licensing, YouTube content ID (Helen Keegan)
  • #dudesdoingthebritneypanda —performing the internet (engineers as ballet dancers), prescribed curriculum: micro content, hashtags, cyber bullying, self-harm/hidden curriculum: pedagogy of being i.e. confidence to participate (Helen Keegan)
  • “Dance your PhD” — (John Bohannan)
  • “Lying about the past” — historical hoaxes (George Mason University)

ARGs — Alternative Reality Games

1.2. Discussion and Ideas for Experimentation

The approaches to learning outlined above share common characteristics, including:

  • Active exploration and participation
  • A focus on the hidden curriculum alongside the prescribed curriculum, with strong links into a Pedagogy of Being (and invisible learning)
  • Enactment and performativity
  • Extended experiences

When considering anti-pedagogies and pedagogies of enactment/performance, genuine disruption may depend on disciplinary context. We need to move beyond art/design/media and experiment with these pedagogical strategies in disciplines where the underlying epistemologies may not lend themselves so easily to more ‘creative’ pedagogies, in order to facilitate the development of a more flexible sense of self. This is about encouraging learners to actively embrace chaos, so there is a tension between the need to move learners out of their comfort zones in order to develop growth mindsets (rather than fixed mindsets), and their need for ontological security.

In terms of implementing anti-pedagogies, cross-faculty/interdisciplinary practice is key here — ‘anti’ pedagogy in one discipline may be more accepted practice in another. In terms of drawing on our expertise ‘in house’, PW has a wealth of experience from his practice in Arts and Media, while HK has situated her work using alt.pedagogies in science and engineering. Such ‘experiments’ may be controversial from both epistemological and staff/student perspectives, but their potential to disrupt and challenge conventional practice could make a significant contribute to DMLL pedagogic research. (See CMU/ETC Improvisational Acting module).

In the case of ARGs, mystery/intrigue are used to make learners deeply curious e.g. see for an example of an ARG-like learning experience using social media. This is really about intrinsic motivation and a hunger to learn more (rather than assessment-driven, extrinsically motivated learning behaviours). When ARG-like principles are applied to learning design, they can result in deep engagement through using game mechanics in order to foster collaboration, collective problem-solving (collective intelligence) and new media literacies (from production to crap detection) — but ultimately mystery and intrigue are the main drivers. These ‘extended experiences’ are influenced by audience/fandom/transmedia engagement research (Jenkins), and tap into learners’ innate curiosity — the hidden curriculum, invisible learning — as opposed to educational logic (aims, objectives, outcomes) which can stifle curiosity and intrinsic motivation through standardisation and metrics, leading to an increasingly instrumental approach to learning.

While ARGs have shown great potential for deeply transformative learning experiences, they are high risk and their reactive nature requires significant, on-going resources to develop, drive and support. As a high risk/high ‘cost’ strategy, ARGs may not be the most efficient use of resource. However, if the Lab can explore strategies behind ARGs and their role in bringing curiosity back into learning (motivated, self-driven), and abstract those principles out into a framework that is (re)usable across disciplines, this could make a significant contribution to the DMLL output. Due to the importance of information-seeking behaviours in ARGs, it may be better to focus on student experience (e.g. induction) rather than subject/discipline-specific approaches.

FRIENDS/ASSOCIATES/FELLOWS (and interesting people)

  • Pete Woodbridge (internal collaborator/instigator)
  • Nic Whitton (MMU)
  • Lucy Atkinson (award-winning independent digital producer)
  • Hugh Garry (Storythings)
  • Henry Jenkins


Key ideas

CO-CREATION, CO-PRODUCTION: Social and mobile technologies allow learners to connect and create across space and time (a culture of global participation). Learners are no longer confined to discrete physical and disciplinary spaces. Co-creation foregrounds the capacity for learners to collaborate across disciplines and levels, working in real-time with peers around the globe and crucially to be the architects and authors of their own learning materials, experiences and processes. Through co-creating resources and artefacts across cultures, learners gain a broader cultural and disciplinary perspective on their chosen fields.

  • International collaboration through social, mobile, networked technologies
  • Co-creation, co-production
  • Multi-disciplinary and multi-level
  • Internationalization ‘at home’
  • Developing awareness of other cultural and disciplinary perspectives
  • Hybrid educational models (organization/accreditation) — open/institutional blend
  • Global course teams
  • Importance of flexibility (staff and students)

2.1. Example Project/Activities

(Sources of inspiration)

Lessons learnt over the past 4 years from 2 on-going collaborations/communities of practice (multi-disciplinary, multi-level) leading to students as partners:

  • iCollab — International Collaborations
  • ELVSS — Entertainment Lab for the Very Small Screen (framed in terms of Students as Partners in this talk from LSE weak start but gets better as it goes on).


ELVSS — guest lectures/critical friend

Serendipity: group of educators (UK, 3xNZ, FR, DE) found one another online due to shared interest in mobile phone filmmaking. HK invited to deliver guest lectures to NZ students via Google Hangout (1am-3am) and act as critical friend, giving feedback to students in NZ.

On basis of success of this approach, decision made to get students collaborating the following year.

iCollab — transmedia reports

Level 2 Computing students (UK), MA Education students (ES), Level 1 Web Science students (DE) — created transmedia reports on ‘Social Media in my industry, in my city’. Weaved narrative through multiple online media/platforms — developing digital literacies. Students worked in local teams; each team published their transmedia report online. All students experienced one another’s reports (thereby gaining a broader cultural and disciplinary perspective on the social web), before voting on the best report from each country. Winning team in each country received iTunes vouchers.


ELVSS — Sustainability — collaborative filmmaking

Mobile filmmaking in international teams — 50 students in all from UK, NZ, FR, DE — given 4 weeks to produce collaborative mobile phone films on topic of sustainability (chosen as a topic of global concern). Mixed student-tutor hangouts, all planning open (Google docs) to all (students/tutors). All students given passwords for project YouTube account (trust). Students had to organise themselves across space and time (e.g. google hangouts, multiple timezones), project deliverables (process and products).

Lots of effort put into practicalities of collaboration, films much lower quality (than prior years/local teams) as a result (apart from team who spent their time flirting in hangouts, as they bonded — importance of socialisation). First time we had experimented with video feedback as a playlist — each lecturer made 5–10 feedback video, put on YouTube, created playlist of all feedback and sent ‘show’ to the students — very positively received, and students gained from multiple disciplinary perspectives on their work.

iCollab — Research Projects (group) — building on one another’s knowledge

Due to lack of common semester dates, collaboration/parallel working not possible this year so decision made to try new approach: relay. Students worked in local groups to produce collaborative research reports/presentations on subjects relating to web science and digital culture. Stage One) Students in Ireland spent 4 weeks working on projects, before presenting them online for comment/critique from UK students. Stage Two) UK students, also working in local groups, then picked up projects from Stage One (Ireland) and built on these, following the same process then presenting to students in NZ. Stage Three) Students in NZ picked up projects from Stage Two (UK) and built on these, before presenting back to both groups.


ELVSS — Opera

Due to loss of experimentation/creativity in prior year (sustainability films), decided to push this cohort towards something much more ‘right-brained’. Now joined by University of Bogota — 120 students in total (UK, NZ, FR, CO) from a range of audio/visual disciplines split into 8 international groups. Collaborated on the production of the visual backdrop for an 8-act opera (premiered at the Tete-a-Tete Opera Festival in London), filmed and edited on mobile devices. Each team was given the soundtrack for their act with a 1-word descriptor (e.g. love, science, truth, jazz) and they then had to work together to produce the visual backdrop for their act. Challenge to negotiate abstract thought/representation across time and space. Organisationally problematic — but many lessons learned.

iCollab — Google Maps

Students in UK, IR and NZ placed their (masters-level) research project proposals on a collaborative Google Map. They then explored one another’s work specific to location — idea being that through reading/feeding back on one another’s proposals they would gain a broader, multidisciplinary perspective on research paradigms.

2 students in Ireland moved all place markers to the Arctic Circle. This was the first time we had experienced anarchy in our open collaborations. This was also the first collaboration where we (the tutors) we trolled in a Google hangout. More lessons learned re: trust and openness.


MarmW — Mobile Augmented Reality Movie Workshops

This was the first time we had met/worked together physically. NZ team brought HK over on fellowship to co-deliver a serious of workshops to academic staff in NZ and AU, building on our lessons learnt during our collaborations and experimenting with mobile film/locative media/augmented reality in the ‘classroom’ (across other disciplines). Our colleagues from iCollab and ELVSS joined us each workshop to deliver sessions via Google Hangout. (By this point, we are regular guests in one another’s courses — often speaking at unsociable local hours due to time zone diffs).

MoCo360 — moving towards an open course

We wanted to move away from ELVSS and tutor-defined projects. Also, we felt that with ELVSS, although everything was open, we were essentially using open platforms to perform the same functions as a VLE. We moved towards hashtag aggregation #moco360, platform agnostic, learner-driven projects. Over 6 weeks, through getting 200+ students (UK, FR, NZ, CO) to tag everything they created with #moco360 then constantly displaying this via tagboards so they could see what one another were doing, we went from #moco360 being an alien concept in week 1, to ambient awareness of #moco360 by weeks 3–4, to active desire to collaborate by week 6 — DRIVEN BY STUDENTS. Holy Grail.


Obviously there are conceptual overlaps with OIL. However, whereas OIL is driven from the top-down and institutionally structured, these collaborations are unfunded and driven by communities of interest.

Would like to bring in collaborators (see below) and have met with Daniel to discuss our approaches and the idea of combining the two (so basically trying something more freeform and co-created under the OIL umbrella).

HOWEVER, in terms of disruption, I’m keen to reify practice in terms of what it means to be a global, open educator. We made mistakes — there have been many lessons learnt. I think a ‘how-to’ guide (almost a parallel to JW’s Connected Course WP template) could be useful. Further, I would like to develop this practice/research into new working practices (time implications etc.) and hybrid educational models (although could be issues re: IP as this crosses over into my PhD). Need to discuss/clarify.

(and interesting people)

  • Thom Cochrane (Auckland University of Technology, NZ)
  • Laurent Antonzcak (University of Strasbourg, FR)
  • Max Schleser (Massey University, NZ)
  • Felipe Cardona (University of Bogota, CO)

re: general contribution to the lab



January 2015

During my first week in the lab, I thought my ‘themes’ could be Co-Creation and Viral Learning — both aligned with the business plan and would build on my prior experiences. It’s been a great first week, but through spending time in the lab on a daily basis and further reflecting on this initiative I’m now leaning towards something rather more ‘meta’. So, DISRUPTION:

What are we disrupting?

What do people believe?

Why are we doing what we’re doing?

These are questions we should be asking ourselves regularly. If we don’t keep focused on the purpose of the lab, there’s a danger of it becoming just like any other learning development unit in a UK HE. This is a fixed term project where we should be pushing boundaries and taking risks; questioning, challenging, and ‘breaking’ — always holding a critical lens up to our own practice.

Are we disrupting because it’s an exciting word?

Are we disrupting because “education is ‘broken’”?

Are we disrupting because “the industrial model of education is outdated”?

We should always be mindful of the WHY

See this thought-provoking presentation from Mike Wesch:

Perhaps we should keep trying the ‘5 Whys’ approach?

This might involve asking difficult questions, or arriving at undesirable answers. But hopefully, this will lead to deeper integrity and the confidence to through on-going reflection (and interrogation) as a condition of reflexive modernity (Giddens etc).

So, back to ‘what are we disrupting and why?’ — what are we willing to ‘break’?






All interdependent/inter-related, so is it possible to ‘disrupt’ in one area without impacting on the others? What might this mean for the DMLL, funded by — and yet operating within — and institution?

As part of our on-going reflexivity we need to be thinking about the bigger picture.

How can we embed (or even embody) disruption in the physical space? How can we make the Lab a space where people feel like they’re coming somewhere special, a place where things can happen? We have a huge whiteboard — but we’re using it for admin/organisation (which is great, btw). If the biggest board/info/writing in the space is purely administrative, might this reinforce entrenched ways of being and doing?

Can we get another, equally impactful (if not more so) sandpit area board/space where we’ll able to flesh out the bigger issues/thoughts around disruption? A live workspace that jumps out at anybody who comes to the Lab. A tool for supporting/interrogating/defining our focus, collectively developing our identity and ethos?

Currently, we have a wonderful space and everything is brilliantly managed/organised. Project proposals are coming in, there’s a very strong team in place to support these projects — but is there really a sense of disruption?

PROBLEM: Formal education — do students want their education/learning to be disrupted? They’re used to a world where knowledge is siloed into disciplines, education makes things neat, sense has been made and this sense (knowledge) is passed on to them. We operate in a culture of standardisation, benchmarking, categorising, ranking and mitigation of risk. This is the system that our students have been conditioned into — leading them to develop assessment-driven approaches to learning, focusing on the ‘right’ answers and final grade rather than learning to learn, loving the PROCESS of learning. There’s a lack of genuine curiosity at the expense of getting the right answers/higher grades. (Relating to this — my initial focus on viral learning and ARGs. Hugely resource-intensive as they’re reactive. ARGs are just one approach. Perhaps we’d be better focusing on CURIOUSITY, and bringing curiosity back into the curriculum. Psychology of motivation, the unknown — ROY?)

DO OUR LEARNERS NEED TO UNLEARN? Learners as active agents — how do we get our learners out of this assessment-driven mindset?

Why would we want to do that?…
Why would they want to do that?

Perhaps we could trial a 1–2 week induction boot camp focused on ‘unlearning’ — encouraging learners to question their assumptions about education. Re-learning, moving towards active discovery and taking risks.

ACTIVE DISCOVERY: Instead of the standard ‘fundamentals of’ or ‘introduction to’ modules in 1st year undergrad (many of which largely repeat A-level content), which are pre-organised/defined by the lecturer, how about we try flipping this? Give them the title of the module and what they should know/be able to do by the end of it (aims and objectives if we want to play safe). Their task is then to design and build the module themselves. They’d have to identify the main topics, what needs to be covered/understood and WHY, and design the assessment(s). Currently, we structure their learning. What happens when the learners do it for themselves? Their final grade would be based on the quality of their final output (module) — in order to do well (writing the materials, designing the assessment) they would have to understand the content/subject on a very deep level.

Lichtwoche’ by: Schenk & Schüler | Licensed under CC BY 2.0


What might new educational models mean for time and working practices?

What happens to time and workload in open education?

When we disrupt the status quo of the organisation/educational culture through genuinely being open and networked educators, how do we negotiate time?


  • JW comes to the lab early in the morning in order to finish slightly earlier so that he can go home and be online ‘in the US’ (Phonar Nation). As an educator who is truly global AND local, he has to negotiate time(zones), responsibilities and expectations on a daily basis.
  • HK teaches ‘hybrid’ courses alongside lecturers in New Zealand, Colombia and France — sharing ‘teaching’ responsibilities/curriculum/assignments, and delivering online sessions to one another’s students. This means that she’ll deliver sessions from 1am-3am UK time, as she’s constrained by PHYSICAL class time in NZ. She will then go to work for 9am in the UK. Would she be willing to do this in her home institution? Probably not.

Being an open and networked educator usually necessitates working across time(zones) and space. This disrupts conventional academic infrastructure in many ways — now what about the students?

Some keen students are willing to attend at unconventional hours, but on the whole, students expect their classes to run between 9am and 6pm. Most of them don’t WANT the disruption of having to attend ‘out of hours’. These aren’t MOOC aficionados. These are students who want and need to work together physically, sometimes with specialist equipment.

The issue of TIME in open, networked, global education could be a topic for exploration in the DMLL.

What does disruption mean for working practices?

About the author: Helen Keegan is principal project lead for Viral and Co-Created Learning in the Disruptive Media Learning Lab at Coventry University, England.

About the Lab: The DMLL is a semi-autonomous cross-University experimental unit whose remit is specifically to drive innovation of teaching, learning and practice forward (in the ‘Google model’: to break and remake existing ways of doing higher education) so that the University can re-model its own practices. For more information, please visit

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