The challenges of developing a cannabis online course

At Onlea we’re lucky to get to work on MOOCs and courses for different disciplines and subjects. Over the past years, we’ve learned about everything, from Dinosaurs to Software Product Management, from Indigenous History to Black holes to Bugs. This year, we were tasked by our partners at NorQuest College to help them with a course of a different stripe. They were planning on launching a MOOC to help train workers for the nascent Cannabis production industry.

Of course, we said yes. Who wouldn’t want to be at the forefront of learning in a new industry? That course, Cannabis Trimming and Production, launched this summer and we thought this would be a great time to reflect on some of the unique challenges we encountered building a course for a brand new industry; and one that comes with many misconceptions.

The most obvious hurdle for our partners at NorQuest and ourselves when embarking on a training course in a brand new industry is that there was no established curriculum. There weren’t even widely agreed-upon practices beyond the Canadian government legislation and Health Canada regulations, which themselves were only put into effect less than a year ago. Luckily NorQuest was also partnered with producers, retailers and distributors in the Cannabis industry. Subject Matter experts worked with our instructional design team to create a robust, engaging curriculum for the course.

An area essential to the course was the importance of hygiene and cleanliness in the production facility. Cannabis is a highly-regulated industry and producers are subject to strict guidelines both in terms of growing and the quality of the finished products. In addition, licenced producers are battling the preconceptions that their industry is at all similar to the illegal and semi-legal “grey” market that existed in our country for so many years. In all, about seven (7) subject-matter-experts contributed to Cannabis Trimming and Production.

Another big challenge in developing an online course in Bud Trimming for the Cannabis industry was that there is precious little media to work with that could enliven the material and provide demonstrations for the learners. This meant we were going to have to film most of them ourselves.

Filming in a Cannabis production facility presents a few unique logistical challenges. First of all, the production facility where we filmed was new-- newer than new, it was still under construction. When we filmed there, we were among the first non-industry people to have set foot in the facility, making it a learning experience for everyone. Security was understandably tight, and the hygiene standards were stringent.

How stringent? Well, I’ve filmed in operating rooms that were less strict with their requirements for my film crew. First, the equipment was loaded into a receiving area; then the crew went through a separate entrance where we swapped our street clothes for scrubs, complete with hair nets, beard nets, gloves and booties. Next, we went through a series of airlocks to a cleaning room where every single piece of gear was cleaned with isopropyl alcohol. Every, single, piece of gear: cameras, lenses, microphones, lights, tripods, stands, and everything else. Another consideration was that because everything had to be wiped down like this, we couldn’t bring any gear that was soft or made of textured fabric: no reflectors, no flags, no soft-sided camera bags, nothing of that nature.

To our vexation, a state-of-the-art production facility is designed to grow cannabis plants, not entertain film crews. Once inside, the film crew faced challenges, such as very tight spaces, with many people working at their actual jobs. The film crew needed to get the relevant footage without getting in the way of production.

The environments were challenging visually, as well. Extremely brightly-lit grow rooms with noisy air ventilation and proprietary technology at every turn meant the film crew had to frame and record each shot with extreme care. When filming was complete, the producer had to review all the footage and advise us of any footage that we couldn’t use or would have to alter before inserting into the course.

The major hurdle in this phase of the project was incorporating all the accumulated knowledge and media into an engaging, effective and interactive course that would truly prepare learners to work in a production facility. For this, we created many illustrations, diagrams, video clips and interactives in consultation with the subject matter experts and NorQuest. We augmented our footage and photos with these assets to create a course that will let learners familiarize themselves with all the rules, regulations and best practices that one would need to know as Bud Trimmers in a licensed production facility. We also built out activities that familiarize the learner with standard operating procedures in the industry so that they know what to expect on the job.

You can see the results of this collaboration with NorQuest College in their course: Cannabis Trimming and Production, which is available now through NorQuest’s online learning website at:

This course is for anyone interested in this emerging industry, to learn more:

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Jeff Woodward

Jeff Woodward

Creative Director at Onlea