Critical thinking and scientific reasoning are central to higher education in the United States, but many courses (in-person and online) teach students information about science much more than they teach the actual process of science and its associated knowledge and skills. In the online arena specifically, the tools available for course construction exacerbate this problem by making it difficult to build the types of active learning activities that research shows to be the most effective. Here, we present a report on Habitable Worlds, offered by Arizona State University for 12 semesters over the past 6 years. This is a unique online course that uses an array of novel technologies to deliver an active, inquiry-driven learning experience. Learning outcomes and quantitative data from more than 3000 students demonstrate the success of our approach but also identify several remaining challenges. The design and development of this course offers valuable lessons for instructional designers and educators who are interested in fully capitalizing on the capabilities of 21st-century technology to achieve educational goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-99
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • Active learning
  • Astrobiology
  • Online education
  • SETI
  • Teaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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