September 7, 2021

Life@CS101: Get to Know Senior Learning Designer Shaun Thompson


In our Life@CS101 Series, we’ll meet the brains behind our bespoke computer science program, CS101 and get to know them a little better! The new accelerated program, powered by OpenLearning, is designed by industry and for industry, bringing together leading technology companies, computer scientists and learning designers to create a one-of-a-kind online program that makes computer science accessible to everyone.

Meet Shaun Thompson, OpenLearning’s Senior Learning Designer for CS101. With over 15 years of experience within his field, Shaun loves to get creative in engaging learners with various forms of content and activities.

This week, we sat down with Shaun and had a candid chat on all things CS101 and his journey so far:

Tell me about your role at CS101. What do you do?

I am the Learning Designer Lead for the CS101 program, in other words, I am basically here to think about the learner’s experience from beginning to end. To define what I do, I’ll start with defining what I don’t do. [Laughs] To be clear, I am not an expert in Computer Science, but we do have experts in Computer Science in the team, which I do heavily rely on. With their help, my role is to map out an awesome journey for the learners throughout the course. This includes creating fun and engaging activities in various formats that are best suited for the learner experience.

What led you to build CS101?

Well, OpenLearning picked me to work on the project, so I like to think I am the Chosen One. But seriously, there's a good reason I am on the project. I've worked on a number of CS projects at OpenLearning, including Python and Java, and these were a huge success. And I have worked on several projects with David Collien, the Subject Matter Expert and essentially the brains behind CS101, and we always have a lot of fun. So it just made sense to become a part of this new program of his.

What’s your favourite thing about working on CS101 so far?

Since we’ve kickstarted the CS101 project earlier this year in May, one of my favourite things about working on the program so far is having the opportunity to have a bit of fun with the course, like having a play with the course’s graphics - we’re making it look quirky, and we like to think we’re creating our own visual memes. We believe that the more we have fun with creating the course, the higher the chance that the learners will have fun going through the course themselves. The graphics that we are creating are serious in a way but they’re often a delight to see, as there’s a level of humour to them.

What made you choose your career?

To some extent, it was a trajectory from where I had started from the get-go. I was completing a PhD in Mathematics at the University of Newcastle, and while I was completing it I began teaching as a tutor. By the end, as I finally wrapped up my thesis, I found that what I loved was to teach. From there, those were the sorts of roles I navigated towards. And with a bit of luck, I went into the online learning space where I started my career in Learning Design in 2005, and only recently joined OpenLearning as of May 2019.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

The best career advice I’ve ever received was when I was in my mid-20s, I was wrapping up my PhD and as any young adult would do, exploring what to do next with my credentials. Since I hadn’t experienced much of the outside world apart from what I had known during my time at university,  my initial instinct was to go for jobs that were, in retrospect, quite basic. My supervisor thought I was underselling myself and then encouraged me to face job applications that were deemed to be more challenging. That changed my perspective when it came to applying for new roles. Looking back, I’m so glad that I followed his advice. If I hadn’t I could imagine myself on a different path, a much easier but far less rewarding career than where I am now.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to upskill or reskill in Computer Science?

For someone who is looking to upskill or reskill in Computer Science, advice I would give is that there is a world of information, support and community out there. For example, there’s this site called StackOverflow which has a “meme” attitude around it, it's almost like a cheat sheet for programmers where most searchable questions already have an answer to; and another Reddit page I’ve recently become a huge fan of is Programming Humour where there’s a real community for those within the Computer Science realm that are there to assist and share information that may be of interest and value to others. So essentially, if you’re looking to head down the road of Computer Science, rest assured that there is a real online community that is willing to help you.

Connect with Shaun on LinkedIn.

For the latest blogs and news on Computer Science, subscribe to our mailing list to learn more: