Building MOOCs & Courses using Qualtrics + EdX/Canvas

Could the “Survey Tool” Qualtrics be better for creating & hosting content than specially designed educational software?

For a long time I categorized Qualtrics as a “survey tool” like Survey Monkey, but through using it for online education I’ve come to believe that once it is combined with a MOOC platform (edX) or LMS (Canvas) it is one of the best existing solutions - both practically, and for research.

While surveys are normally extremely simple, I have realized that a “survey” can actually be repurposed to deliver any content, ask any questions, include any interactive exercises. So an extremely well built software for authoring, delivering and collecting data from “surveys” can be a better tool for creating and hosting modular educational resources for both residential and massive online education, than any of the existing platforms designed for that purpose.

This is because the model guiding LMS software is very much to create “course websites” - and in fact these platforms are still *much better* and necessary to serve as course websites. Qualtrics requires an LMS/MOOC platform to organize and provide an easy way to navigate between “surveys”/lessons/exercises.

That being said, for creating content/exercises that are adaptive, can be A/B tested, and provide quality analytics, Qualtrics has unique advantages: It was started by a marketing professor as a data-first solution, is worth 1 billion + dollars, and the license that every R1 university (and many others) have purchased allows unlimited users & Qualtrics surveys/modules.

Using Qualtrics for delivery of educational content & questions

See and for more details.

Usually survey software is easy to use but disappointingly restrictive. Instead, Qualtrics has both an excellent and intuitive WYSIWG interface, and close to unlimited customization of CSS, HTML, and Javascript, along with the ability to execute external scripts and further send and receive arbitrary information. Many of these advanced features are hidden from beginners using the GUI, but you can read below or online at their (unusually extensive documentation called Qualtrics University) to assure yourself of its capacity.

Playing with Qualtrics is the easiest way to test these claims for yourself, access your free university account or you can open a free account with your Google ID and see its potential.

(1) GUI & Drag-and-Drop Functions

These are all available to students, teachers, designers, researchers, without any programming knowledge.

Course teams, instructors and students who have never programmed can use “out-of-the-box” drag-and-drop objects to do all of the following:

(1) Construct sequences of text, audio, videos (audio & video are hosted on Youtube), as well as questions, which allow essay responses, multiple choice, sliders, file uploads, and even drag-and-drop of items into                             categories. Text and parameters of these items are set using a GUI.

(2) Control timing of content or questions – restricting or forcing movement forward.

(3) Use a tool that automatically scores question responses that involve discrete choices.

(4) Do A/B testing by randomly assigning people to different conditions, randomly select a subset of items or paths, randomly order items. (Like all functions mentioned, this is using a drag-and-drop object).

(5) Use sophisticated IF, OR, and AND logic so that later questions can be changed based on previously set variables, previous answers and their accuracy.

(5) Use “Table of Contents” objects that structure a survey so that a user can choose when to do different items or even entire sequences, navigating between components. A back button also allows for moving back and                 forth in the survey, not only forward.

(6) Use a drag-and-drop object that executes any external script during the survey.

(7) The ability to redirect to any URL upon completion – whether *another* survey, a script, or to any website. This allows unlimited composition of surveys, each of which serves as a modular instructional unit or block                 of questions. It also allows execution of scripts stored externally, which can execute their desired function using information Qualtrics send, and then themselves call another survey and pass information to it.

None of these features requires *any* programming ability.

(2) Extensive customizability using CSS, HTML, Javascript, and interaction with external scripts

On the other hand, people with programming skills and technical expertise can use Qualtrics in many ways:

          (1) Each Qualtrics question has a button allowing insertion of custom HTML and custom Javascript (a question API is available online).

          (2) Variables can be accessed and set as desired during the survey’s execution.

          (3) As mentioned, a drag-and-drop object allows for a call to any external script – during the survey and upon completion. Moreover, surveys can transmit information like variable values externally as well as receive them            – on initiation of a survey, during the survey, and on completion (a REST API is available online).

          (4) A mailer function allows emails to be sent automatically – email addresses and any desired variables/information can be inserted into the email from each participant in the survey.

With this kind of customizability, using Qualtrics is strictly as as good as or better than using a custom system – it can more or less always be integrated into whatever is built from scratch.

Combining EdX with Qualtrics: Implementation of joint Architecture for Exercise/Lesson Version Management, A/B Experimentation, and Personalization of Content

EdX makes an anonymous 32-char unique user id available anywhere that %%USER_ID%% is written on a page or in HTML, which is demonstrated using the “Anonymous ID” question. Therefore, any Qualtrics item (survey, lesson, exercise) that is embedded into EdX via hyperlink or iFrame can link data from the person's interactions in Qualtrics with their USER_ID by appending it to the URL query string.

Moreover, Qualtrics has a "Panel" object which associates a set of variables with a user. Since every Qualtrics survey embedded in EdX can get the USER_ID easily, one can use Qualtrics' "authenticator" protocols to link each survey's responses with the "Panel", and allowing for storing & updating variables.

(more at