Pop-up Learning at Northeastern

Designing a pop-up course

What is a “pop-up”?

The term “pop-up” has been popping up a lot lately at Northeastern and in the world to describe anything from an event, to a store, to a learning experience. What these diverse happenings share are a short duration and a responsiveness to an immediate need.

At Northeastern, pop-up learning experiences may be either credit-bearing or non-credit-bearing. This resource describes recommendations and considerations for credit-bearing pop-ups.


What is a pop-up course at Northeastern?

A pop-up course at Northeastern is a type of special topics course that offers students immersive, interactive learning experiences in a one- or two-credit format in a period of time that is shorter than a typical course. The shorter duration and emergent nature of these courses makes it possible for educators to teach content and skills in exciting new ways that do not easily fit within traditional course formats.

The first pop-up course at Northeastern was a one-credit, interdisciplinary experience titled “Midterm Mayhem: Making Sense of the 2018 Elections.” Offered by CSSH and the School of Journalism in Fall 2018, this short course was designed to introduce students to multiple disciplinary perspectives for understanding midterm elections. “DocuDay” (CAMD), “Rafiki” (CSSH), and “Brexit and Europe: Scenarios for 2030” (NCH and CSSH), all offered in Spring 2019, are other examples of pop-up courses offered at Northeastern.


Northeastern examples of pop-up courses

Midterm Mayhem (CSSH and CAMD)DocuDay (CAMD)
In this pop-up, students…

  • Attended:
    • Two seven-hour Saturday sessions
    • One two-hour panel discussion
    • One two-hour seminar
  • Gained hands-on practice with digital tools
In this pop-up, students…

  • Traveled to DocuDay event in Los Angeles
  • Analyzed films
  • Networked with films’ subjects, producers, directors, and other industry professionals

For additional examples, explore our CATLR Pop-up Magazine.


Why offer a pop-up course?

Some Northeastern educators who have offered pop-up courses have found they offer a variety of benefits for both educators and learners:

  • Quick Turnaround – A faster course approval process, shorter course duration, and format flexibility enable educators to produce timely learning opportunities to address current events, trends, needs, and interests to complement the regular curriculum.
  • Student Motivation and Engagement – Focusing on high-visibility topics, skills, or real-world events that students care about can generate a high level of student motivation and engagement.
  • Educator Creativity – The short duration and openness of the format can inspire out-of-the-box thinking in uses of faculty-student collaborations, interdisciplinary partnerships, unique field experiences, off-campus spaces, technology, and hands-on practice.



Pop-up courses at Northeastern typically have experiential learning at their core, with narrowly defined learning outcomes, significant educator engagement, and thoughtful student-generated products as key features.

These courses may take place online, in-person, and/or through field experiences. A pop-up’s creator determines the format based on the nature of the topic and the learning outcomes.


Requirements and considerations

Draft requirements and recommendations for pop-up courses, developed by an interdisciplinary, cross-functional working group at Northeastern are listed below.

  • A pop-up course is a unique, standalone experience and should be worth one or two credits. The registrar assigns pop-up courses a variable credit special topics course code.
  • The guidelines for the number of hours of in-class instruction and the hours of homework per credit-hour that apply to regular courses also apply to pop-up courses. The specific numbers are dependent upon the length of the course and number of credits.
  • Pop-up courses should be announced on the usual registration timeline or as soon thereafter as possible.
  • If registration is made available after the beginning of the semester, effort should be made to avoid established class sequences. Scheduling conflicts require an override.


Pop-up course design tips

As you envision your pop-up course, keep in mind these strategies for designing the learning experience:

  • Begin by identifying a timely event or topic on which to base the pop-up.
  • Articulate a narrow, in-depth, learner-centered goal that describes what students should gain, beginning with, “After engaging in this pop-up, students should be able to…”
  • Plan in detail the reflective and/or other hands-on activities and feedback opportunities that will facilitate integration and students’ learning and achievement of the pop-up’s goal.
  • Plan the pop-up collaboratively with students, faculty, staff, and/or administrators, which can offer diverse perspectives during design and as a result can be more engaging and thought-provoking for enrolled students.
  • Incorporate opportunities for student-generated, real-world products as evidence of learning and to increase students’ perceived value of the pop-up.
  • Clearly communicate all goals and activities of the pop-up to students.


Related references

National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (expanded edition). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (expanded 2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.