Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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The first distance learning course on visual journalism: lessons learned

What is a distance learning course on visual journalism, and who is it for?

The course was created in cooperation with former AP interactive producer Matt Ford. It is designed for journalists and editors of online media who lack skills in visual journalism. The course is designed so that all participants are trained through the practice of creating visual content for their online media.

When creating the course, we ensured that it incorporated modern features of MOOC. All training materials were informed by projects like, but there was one important difference. Our course was interactive. Each student could ask an instructor for advice directly at any time. Students participated in weekly online video conferences with the instructor, where they discussed the results of the past study week and analyzed their accomplishments via live video communication. They had the opportunity to correspond with other team members and with the instructor. In three weeks, journalists left 232 messages in the "Discussions" section and 182 letters in the "Messages" section of the course platform.

The main conclusions 

  1. We can effectively use new forms and technologies in the educational process.
  2. We can create inexpensive and effective distance learning programs.
  3. We can teach journalists (and others) even when it's difficult to physically reach them.

Furthermore, this pilot course showed that journalists are willing to learn remotely and allocate their time to this endeavor.

Through this pilot, we received answers to many questions. Here are a few of our top lessons learned:

1. A group may consist of up to 50 students. Some of them will disappear, and some will not interact with the instructor or group. Thus, the final group will consist of 27-42 participants. One instructor can manage a group of this size. Participants can also be divided into separate groups and set off in different "streams." This will ease the load on the instructor.

 2. It is very important to maintain the personal motivation of students and involve them throughout the process. This task can be accomplished in several ways: for example, qualitative group selection via a competition for a limited number of places; encouraging active interaction between instructor and students; or granting certificates or prizes for successful graduates. In order to attain maximum student engagement, I recommend requiring payment for this course, as even a small fee will enhance efficiency and attract motivated and active journalists.

3. Provide courses in two formats. The first format, 3-4 weeks long, would include all of the topics on the stated themes. The second format divides the course into modules, and each module would consist of individual training courses that are 7-10 weeks long. Thus, students could choose how they want to study: all topics at once, or short courses depending on their availability and the knowledge they already have.

4. Courses for journalists should be interactive. During the course, we were not only discussing broader issues of visual journalism (i.e. ethics, or the usage of popular tools like Instagram for creation of materials), but I was constantly answering technical questions that arose during the study. These issues were as simple as knowing what button to press. Without the help of an instructor, journalists would quickly stumble and likely leave the course without completing it. In a course based around practical assignments like this one, I am convinced that a MOOC system would not work.

«Introduction to Visual Journalism» Curriculum

-       Module 1. Before you begin.

-       Module 2.  Introduction.

5 video lectures, discussion, group conference, test.

-       Module 3. Audio.

3 video lectures, discussion, group conference, test, practical assignment, group conference.

-       Module 4. Photo.

-       7 video lectures, discussion, group conference, 5 additional materials, test, practical assignment, group conference.

-       Module 5. Data.

6 video lectures, discussion, group conference, 3 additional materials, test, group conference.

-       Module 6. Video.

3 video lectures, discussion, group conference, 5 additional materials, test, practical assignment.

-       Module 7. Multimedia tools.

5 video lectures, discussion, group conference, 8 additional materials.

-       Module 8. Bonus material.

22 additional materials, group conference

-       Module 8. Conclusion.

1 video lectures, group conference, final practical assignment.

 Course design

 The course contained a large amount of material:

  • 8 training modules;
  • 22 video lectures;
  • 31 articles with additional materials;
  • 7 tests and quizzes;
  • 4 practical assignments;
  • 12 online conferences with the group and invited experts; and
  • 10 topics for discussion and debate.

We decided to cover all of this material within a three week period, which would keep the level of engagement high among the students and prevent “slacking.” Since the course was free of charge, it was critical to make the course intense and dynamic so that students would not lose interest.


We gathered a group of journalists to test the usability of LMC and "catch bugs." We also wanted to gather feedback about the course and provide them an opportunity to learn remotely, without leaving their newsrooms. In order to gather a group, we addressed an appeal to our media partners and asked them to identify which of their journalists were interested in participating in the first test run. Through this process, we recruited 23 journalists from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Russia, in addition to two students from the United States.

All students in the course had no prior experience in creating visual content. They ranged in age from 25 to 54 years.


This course was a big question mark for us. We did not know how it would be perceived by journalists, whether it would be suitable for the study, whether participants would immediately apply their knowledge in practice, or whether they would be engaged in the study or drop out after the first lesson. Since the course was completed on July 2, we can answer these and many other questions.

First, some statistics:

  • Of the 23 journalists who signed up for the course, only 3 students didn't begin to explore materials. Students studied 83.7% of educational materials.
  • Participants viewed an average of 432 pages of educational materials per day.
  • Participants spent 3 to 7 minutes on tests.
  • The average score on all tests was 71.3%.
  • Deadlines for practical tasks were met only 19.2% of the time, so many students were chronically late. The final project was only handed in by 27% of participants.
  • Not all students attended debates and discussions. However, according to systems that tracked students’ level of interaction with the course, I saw that all students looked through message boards with discussions, even if they wrote nothing on them.
  • 37% of the students finished the course in passive mode: they studied materials, but did not complete practical tasks and did not attend discussions.
  • The journalists preferred to set aside time for studying during their work day, and were willing to spend from 30 to 60 minutes a day on the course. In fact, many of them spent more than an hour a day studying materials.
  • 63% of participants passed the course completely, turning in all assignments and tasks.

It has been three intense weeks for the students, and for me as an instructor. They studied materials during the day at work, in the evenings at home, and did practical tasks on the weekend to meet deadlines or catch up on late assignments. The target date of completion of the course had to be moved back a few days, as the participants did not have enough time to prepare and submit the final project. I started and ended every day answering questions and going through homework, which came in during the day. For me, as a trainer, it was a joy to see that the course was successful and the participants were really engaged, worrying about homework and persistently reminding me if I hadn't left a comment on the work that they had sent within 20 minutes. Liana (, one of the journalists, wrote on the discussion board: "The course was very interesting, informative and personally I discovered new multimedia tools. Studying modules of the course I did not even notice how 5-6 hours had flown. I'd love to be more deeply engaged in studying all the multimedia tools of visual journalism."  

Now that the course is finished, what we will do next? The next step will be to monitor how students apply their knowledge in practice, and what percentage of journalists will further develop their expertise and use these skills in their daily work. I think we will have the answers to these questions in three to four months. In the meantime, it’s time to gather a second group of students.


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