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Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead

Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead

In 2014 The University of California, Irvine staged an eight-week MOOC on the sociological, scientific and ethical questions posed by the zombie apocalypse portrayed in AMC’s The Walking Dead. With the mega-popular TV series as its starting point, the course explored key science and survival themes ranging from understanding social identities to modeling the spread of disease.


A joint production between AMC and the University of California, The MOOC attracted over 65,000 global participants, 90 percent of whom had never taken a MOOC before and 59 percent of whom had not enrolled in any kind of online course before. At the time it was seen as tapping into a new market for pop culture-driven online learning which attracted people who would not normally be seen dead in MOOCs or Moodles. Levels of engagement were off the scale and it was an example of ‘gamification’ in that people were learning almost without realising it.


Topics included:

  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Is survival just about being alive?
  • Social order and structures, from the farm and the prison to Woodbury
  • Social identity, roles, and stereotyping, as shown through leaders like Rick and the Governor
  • The spread of infectious disease and population modeling
  • The role of energy and momentum in damage control: How can you best protect yourself?
  • Nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world: Are squirrels really good for you?


At the end of the course, learners who had been paying attention were able to:

  • Summarize multiple methods for managing stress in disaster situations
  • Describe how infectious diseases—like a zombie epidemic—spread and are managed
  • Apply various models of society and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to existing and emerging societies as a means for understanding human behavior
  • Analyze existing social roles and stereotypes as they exist today and in an emerging world
  • Debate the role of public health organizations in society
  • Describe how mathematical equations for population dynamics can be used to study disease spread and interventions.