Large-scale sport events: Opportunities for teaching and learning Faculty Spark - View, reflect and apply

Last updated on 09/10/2019

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Dr Alana Thomson discusses the production of a MOOC that showcases the Griffith University/Gold Coast Commonwealth Games partnership.


The challenge was to create a MOOC showcasing the Griffith University/Commonwealth Games partnership in a short space of time.

The MOOC incorporates articles, discussion exercises, videos/podcasts, polls, theoretical and case study content.


We worked closely with our Griffith Online team to storyboard the course and think about the flow for the learner within the FutureLearn model. The careful supervision of our educational designer Sally Kipling was imperative to ensuring we had the right content, in the right context. 

We learnt very quickly that less is more - FutureLearn doesn’t like blocks of text to be any more than 300 words, which was a challenge when we were dealing with meaty issues of human rights, equality and equity. This process was aided through tough proofing and condensing of materials, identifying key supplementary resources which could be linked to, as well as developing our own for-purpose videos and audio clips. 

Given A/Prof Clare Minahan’s central role in the development and delivery of the GAPS Program, we were able to draw on her insights and connections with program staff to develop video interviews with program staff and the Oceania athletes who participated in the program. The opportunity to develop and include such video clips throughout the MOOC helped bring the MOOC ‘to life’. Instead of just static words created by academics, these videos created a more dynamic and engaging learning experience. In some cases our interview participants captured beautifully what we had already drafted as text, so where relevant, we re-focused on the video content and let our ‘characters’ do the talking.

From a diversity and inclusion perspective this was very important, as it meant that instead of two female academics talking about a program and its participants, we were able to let our ‘characters’ deliver key points through their own words.

From a technology perspective, the FutureLearn platform has a fairly prescriptive framework in terms of how content should look and flow. For instance, there are several different FutureLearn templates which might be used, so content might be put together as an article, a thought piece to generate discussion, a video or audio resource with brief supporting text. FutureLearn has guidelines around the sequence of these different templates to encourage flow and keep their audiences engaged. 



The MOOC was moderated for 2 weeks, with enrolments available 3 weeks before the staging of the Games.

Key Statistics
660 ‘joiners’, of which 390, almost 60%, were classified as ‘active learners’ based on their MOOC activity. 

The top learner archetypes included Hobbyists, Advancers and Preparers, which reflects the interests of those who are passionate about sport, as well as those who are preparing for a career, or wanting to progress their careers in sport and/or events. 

14 Learners opted in to an ‘upgrade’ option, which meant they were able to access a GU certificate of completion for the course. Learners participated from around the world, with a third of enrolments from Australia, another third from Europe , and almost a fifth from North America . Other regions included Asia Pacific, Africa and South America. 

The high Australian proportion of enrolments included approximately 100 Griffith students who were required to complete the MOOC as part of their GC2018 internship coursework and prepare an essay for their assessment. Another GU instructor from the Education group which ran and administered the GC2018 Internship program used the MOOC as a learning resource for students and set an essay questions for them to respond to as part of their course work assessment - demonstrating the multiple uses that a MOOC asset presents. 

Of interest is the proportion of participants from non-Commonwealth countries. The global nature of enrolment certainly reflects some of the perceived strengths of MOOCs in education, with an opening of access and democratisation of learning (Hew & Chang, 2014) and the interactions by learners from all over the world, sharing their insights, experiences and learnings certainly added to the richness of the learning experience. 

Learners discussed an enhanced awareness of the GU/GC2018 partnership and the GAPS program, current GU students were particularly proud of GU’s association with the GAPS program and the outcomes.

"I am extremely impressed with the GAPS program and am proud to be supporting Griffith University knowing that the university is pushing the limits and being innovative. I hope to see the GAPS program expand and that para sport competitions continue to grow” 

Learners discussed increased understanding of the key topics of inclusion/diversity and equity/equality

“The content ...  has assisted me in developing an understanding of inclusivity and diversity in major sporting events. The necessity for equity in helping athletes and para athletes prepare for competition is an interesting concept that can be applied in many other situations. Thus, I believe I have gained much intellectual value from this content.”

“This information was much more informative and interesting than I initially thought it would be. It's opened up my mind to new concepts and behind-the-scenes regarding how athletes train, how para-athletes are classified, how sponsorships are obtained and maintained, how equity, inclusiveness and diversity have been incorporated into the Games over the course of its history, and how partnerships are formed and contribute to legacies.”

“Thanks to you, for this wonderful course, that makes me feel motivated to try to change the things here in Mexico, to try to convince the people of my community that there's a way, to do the right things. thanks foor the sharing, for the knowledge, and for a great and well structure course.”

Enabling Technology

The technology available through the FutureLearn platform.


Key take-aways from this project:

  1. It's important to seek assistance - our educational designer, Sally Kipling, was amazing to work with.  Her knowledge and understanding of the FutureLearn platform and its requirements, and her ability to visualise the end product and keep the development process on track really contributed to the success of this project. 

    Relevance and depth of content provided in MOOCs are key success factors for learner experience. While Clare and I are content experts in the areas we work in, this can sometimes present bias to what we think is important to include, or not, in terms of content development. Having Sally as a technical expert to question and guide the content we covered off on, or not, or provided as supplementary links-out, certainly played a role in positive student engagement and feedback.
  2. The importance of being prepared to take calculated risks - the GAPS program was such that athletes from the Oceania region flew into the Gold Coast on three occasions over a matter of months, with camp 3 running over the last week of January 2018, coinciding with our timelines to have the content wrapped up and ready to go through approval processes. So, when the suggestion to schedule a day of filming and interviews with GAPS staff and participating athletes, there was some trepidation, knowing that editing and production of videos had the potential to push timelines back. 

    However, we took the risk and spent a day in GU sport facilities asking the staff and athletes some key questions we compiled about their experiences with GAPS. While none of the responses were scripted, the reflections of staff and athletes could not have been more on message for what we were trying to communicate. We ended up with more content than we had hoped for, and the wonderful Sally curated videos and audio throughout our MOOC. In some cases it meant we could cut back on word counts as the videos provided much more legitimacy than our words on the screen.

    Not only did this bring the MOOC to life, it also helped us deliver on an important aspect in terms of diversity and inclusion - rather than two educated Australian women talking about a sport development program - we now the voices of our female para athletes from Vanuatu reflecting on their experiences and discussing how their involvement in the program had not only improved their sporting performance, but how it had contributed to their personal and professional development, and the opportunities they could see opening up for them into the future. If we had prioritised meeting our timeline over running the filming day, we would never have realised the potential of this MOOC.
  3. The importance of thinking through the long-term plan for the roll out, maintenance and development of the asset - At the outset, this project was really pitched as a one-off to be delivered in line with the GU/GC2018 partnership, and short timeframes probably limited our big picture thinking from early on. However, as we have worked through the process, many more opportunities (outlined earlier) have become apparent.

    Given the time and investment our 2 week, or 6 hour MOOC, required, in hindsight, a brainstorm for the forward plan for the asset would have been a worthwhile couple of hours invested. We are certainly putting everything in place to maximise the impact of our asset, but for anyone thinking about embarking on such a project in the future, we would certainly recommend thinking about the whole-of-lifecycle for your MOOC and the potential value-adds or leveraging opportunities you might take advantage of. 

Next Steps

We currently have 3 main aspects to the continued development of our MOOC:

  1. Updating for post-event mode and running the course again - GU’s commitment to FutureLearn is to run each MOOC at least 3 times. As the first run of the course was before the staging of GC2018, it was written from a pre-event perspective, we will now need to update to a post-event perspective to keep content relevant and engaging. We think these updates will only require superficial edits and during the Games we compiled relevant media releases and video clips to provide links out to demonstrable outcomes from the GU/GC2018 partnership and the GAPS program.

    In particular, several athletes that participated in the GAPS program achieved fantastic results at the Games, including taking home medals for their performances. We will now be able to include coverage of these outcomes in the next round of the MOOC.
  2. Investigating opportunities to embed the course into existing course offerings as a micro-credential - we are in discussions with course conveners across our sport and event programs to find a good fit for the MOOC where it can be position as a blended learning asset. 

    Not only does this enable diversity in the learning experience for one or two weeks of content, but also provides students an opportunity for microcredentials, whereby they earn a certificate or ‘badge’ as part of their progress through a degree, rather than only at the culmination of their degree study. There is increased interest in the area of micro credentialing as a means to reward progress and contribute to student retention (Shields & Chugh, 2017).

    It has also been argued that this type of micro credentialing can offer employability benefits, encouraging timely upskilling to meet changes in workplaces (Freitas, Morgan & Gibson, 2015). 
  3. Discussing with industry partners the potential to develop further MOOCs as a series of professional development and knowledge transfer for future events - the transfer of knowledge has become a substantial component in large-scale sport event management, underpinned by the increasing sophistication of event management principles and practices, as well as the increasing pressures on reducing event budgets and expenditure of taxpayer monies (Parent, MacDonald & Goulet, 2014).

    Research has shown that most sport event knowledge sharing and transfer occurs through observation, interfirm collaboration and exchange of documents (Werner, Dickson & Hyde, 2015). However, much knowledge transfer is imperfect, and is often impacted by geographical distances between one host city to the next, pressures of limited timeframes to adapt knowledge to different host city contexts.

    Based on our presentation of our MOOC at a University’s research symposium during GC2018, we have now provided proof of concept for the role that MOOCs may take in providing a formal learning mechanism for policy makers and event organisers in host cities.

    Not only is there the potential to re-run our existing MOOC asset, but we are now also investigating the development of similar offerings by way of professional development opportunities based on industry need.

Griffith Graduate Attributes

The MOOC focuses on developing the following attributes:

4. Socially responsible and engaged in their communities
5. Effective in culturally diverse and international environments

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Preferred Citation

Thomson, A., Minahan, C., and Learning Futures (2019). Large-scale sport events: Opportunities for teaching and learning. Retrieved from