Binge-learning content. Really?
Mention ’binging’ and most of us will think back guiltily to the last time we over-indulged on food, drink, TV, or even social media. Even if you binge on something worthwhile, like learning, it seems logical that ‘you can have ‘too much of a good thing’.
Binging, defined as 'consecutive consumption of content’, has been raised to a fine art by companies like Netflix. How many times have you sat down to watch ‘just one episode’, and hours later, found yourself halfway through the series? There’s the obligatory cliff-hanger at the end of the episode, the next instalment is cued up automatically - and it’s much easier to commit to 40 minutes of viewing compared with a 2 hour movie.
But do these concepts apply to learning? If we think back to our days as students, most of us will remember the caffeine-fuelled all-nighters spent cramming for a big exam. But we’d be hard-pressed to recall any of that information today. Learning professionals now know that people need to learn small chunks at a time, apply what they’ve learned, and practice frequently (think spaced repetition) to improve long term retention. So instinctively, the idea of binge-learning seems wrong.
Studies now show that binge-learning improves results!
Well, new Wharton research by Eric Bradlow, Joy Lu and J. Wesly Hutchinson has looked into binge-consumption in the online education sector through a study on the Coursera platform. The team set out to find out whether binge-consuming learning content means that you learn better. And what they found was that people actually do!
'How's that?' is probably one of the first reactions that come to mind. The research team defined two key take-aways:
- Firstly, there is a real difference between ‘content binging’ (on a particular topic) and ‘temporal bingeing’ (spending a long time on the platform, not necessarily on the same topic). In the first instance, someone has a clearer goal in mind of obtaining specific knowledge in a certain sequence. In the other instance it's more like setting time aside to spend watching or listening but not being very discriminatory about what's consumed. Deciding that you're going to watch whatever's on TV for an hour in the evening, constant scrolling to read the next post on Facebook or Instagram would be good examples of the latter and should be easy to relate to!
- Secondly, the study found that 'bingers' perform better AND they tend to stay on the learning platform longer. But not only do they stay longer, they are more likely to consume content across other content verticals. So if you started studying a course on marketing and then continued with a finance course, you'd also be more likely to then study a course on accounting f.ex.
The underlying phenomenon that seems to explain the above, is what the authors refer to as the 'goal gradient', which is the notion that the closer you get to the finishing line, the more likely it is that you will engage. So by just starting one lesson with the other four lessons in clear reach without obstacles could provide the mental incentive to finish them all. Just as you see athletes put in a last push with the goal line in sight!
Implications of binge-learning for microlearning
Of course the implications for learning are wide-reaching. Think of content scheduling, for example. Netflix encourages viewers to binge by releasing entire seasons at a time, rather than episode by episode. And many Coursera providers now make all material for a course available upfront, allowing learners to binge if they wish. And as long as your individual learning ‘episodes’ are bite-sized and engaging, this is perfectly compatible with a micro-learning approach.
A classic dilemma and one we've faced numerous times, is whether or not you should space the learning content over time and release learning content sequentially or release it all in one go. These findings suggest that you should front-load your learning content and make it possible for your learners to consume as much as they want. Not only will they stay on the platform longer and learn more, they’ll learn better too.
Our own findings show that users were completing an average of three EduMe microlessons of 3-5 minutes at a time, so we adapted our learning design to this behaviour. We've made it even easier to continue learning once you've finished a lesson so the next one starts playing automatically, and our algorithms will also match up more content that the learner has indicated an interested in.
What are the next steps?
There are still unanswered questions from this research, specifically on information retention. Fine, you learn better by binging. But will you remember what you've learnt over time? This is naturally at the heart of any serious learning attempt and we take it upon ourselves to research this further on our own data so that we can follow up with a post on our findings.
If you are interested in trying what binging content would look like in a microlearning context, please engage with us either by clicking the button below for a trial or send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The EduMe Team