“Tabloids Headlines”: Jumpstarting Learning Interest?

A fantastic discussion on Wired.com, I think they nailed it: yes headlines matter immensely, in marketing, education, or other written content. Highlights:

“The headline is our one chance to reach people who have a million other things that they’re thinking about, and who didn’t wake up in the morning wanting to care about feminism or climate change, or the policy details of the election,” says co-founder Peter Koechley. “The difference between a good headline and a bad headline can be just massive. It’s not a rounding error. When we test headlines we see 20% difference, 50% difference, 500% difference. A really excellent headline can make something go viral.”

“Subject lines matter a ton,” Rospars says. “As campaigns especially, but also organizations and brands more generally, become prolific content producers themselves, they’re paying much more attention… The key is to keep finding new ways to engage people with your content by being playful with the creative and ruthless with the testing.”

Whether it’s headlining material to come or a hook for interest, this is oftentimes the single chance to grab the audience for more. People are increasingly accustomed to saavy headlines, the bar is high… let’s not be boring.

Great examples:

  • “I will be outspent,” “Some scary numbers,” and “Do this for Michelle.”  (President Obama’s presidential campaign)
  • “Who Gives A Crap – toilet paper that builds toilets,” “Ministry of Supply: The Future of Dress Shirts,” “Penny Arcade Sells Out,” “Oculus Rift: Step Into the Game,” and “To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure.” (crowdsourcing campaigns)
  • “Move Over, Barbie — You’re Obsolete,”  (an article at Upworthy, which promoted a construction kit to encourage young girls to become engineers. Upworthy is a news aggregator that makes editors write at least 25 different headlines for each post, then plugs top contenders into alternate versions of of its Facebook page and website to test which one elicits the maximum reaction.

Gamification –> natural dopamine –> learning engagement

From the American Psychological Association:

“…Robinson likes to speculate about crafty real-world manipulation of natural dopamine mechanisms. One idea she has: “Designing classroom activities that may increase dopamine signaling, such as unexpected rewards along the way, may enhance the desire to perform well during and after learning. This could lead to better performance of learned tasks.

Yep. An understanding of dopamine in this context is so interesting. The trick is understanding gamification and learning well enough to design the experience in a way that treads lightly on potentially manipulative behaviorism hacks (hedonic treadmill, anyone?), and instead perhaps leans hard on a healthy injection of cognitivism (hi, intrinsic rewards.)

MOOCs … learner, are you hooked?

Being enrolled in one or two MOOCs at any given time for quite a while now (& even participating here and there! 😉 I can’t help but notice big differences among them in teaching style, design, organization and so on.

Some really stand out, others disappoint. Some are weak or strong on lighting and audio; some need more energy and others don’t; some hook you fairly well while others bore; some are clever yet others feel like a sit-down talking-to … & how does a sit-down talking-to feel as a distance learner? (The answer is that it feels exceptionally lame and boring, and you’d rather claw your eyeballs out and run away screaming.)

Other interesting things include how varying levels of resource utilization such wikis, etc. and communications. Some are exceptional about emailing, in some feel like the teacher is conversational and knows or cares about you.

apple1997As a whole, online, free learning requires an extra motivation boost. Hopefully these courses compel learners to stick with them.

I think we’ll see such courses evolve to be so polished we’ll eventually look back and view these like we now do primitive pages of the internet from the mid 90′s. Does this webpage for Apple lure you in?

Broadly speaking, does it not make sense that educational organizations in the online space will promote as presenter the most polished and engaging teachers? Perhaps other teachers will focus less on presenting and more on mentoring and facilitating community guidance. Will creative content developers, perhaps combined as instructional designers, not be increasingly in demand as co-developers to give the needed pizazz?

TED-Ed may be suited for “basic” material but reflecting on these four MOOCS don’t we all really want learnings more like it, that fascinate and engage us and help us want to come back for more? There must inevitably be an educational free-market drive that will squeeze interesting content and interactivity up the chain even into advanced topics we’d never believe today would be “sexied up”.


Mental barriers & task-shifting education

Last night while teaching a class I solicited thoughts on obstacles to applying what was being taught. It was a complex topic of artificial intelligence and programming in financial markets, so I expected ideas like “overwhelmed” “laziness” “looking for an easier way”. But interestingly one mentioned what I consider an under-discussed elephant in the (class) room: mental health issues. At best, for all our tech glitz, savvy methods, persuasive words and students’ motivation, ambition and work-ethic… how often do we not achieve sufficient learning lift-off because emotional or mental problems obstruct the way?

Image Psychiatrist Vikram Patel, Professor of International Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, describes a process of task-shifting mental health in lower income countries – where often everyday people are not finding relief from debilitating depression and postpartum, anxiety, and so on. Task-shifting is A process of task delegation from doctors to nurses; and from nurses to other less specialized lay health workers. Task shifting improves healthcare coverage by making more efficient use of the human resources. (WHO, Jan 2008). Where mental health workers and medicine are scarce, he describes shifting tasks to lay people who are trained for specific purposes, reducing cost and increasing accessibility. This has improved the rate of mental health interventions in various areas around the world. His service delivery model is called SUNDAR (Hindi for “attractive”):

Simplify the message/communication
UNpack the treatment/service
Deliver it where people are
Affordable and available human resources
Reallocate specialists to train and supervise

Imagine empowering local people – assisted by technology and social communication – to understand core mental health issues, learn the basics of critical treatment strategies and deliver the solutions to their neighbors, while the rare doctor or professional is freed to oversee and train the operation.

How could this delivery model be applied to education with a novel twist on MOOCs and other trends we are observing? (apropos for a year now I myself have yet to finish a Coursera/other MOOC because I am busy, lazy … and at times my coping skills are overwhelmed with something or another that’s serious) And better, could we kill two birds with one stone by incorporating simple social solutions to psychological issues impeding learning?

Codeacademy debuts after-school program to teach programming

Continuing the conversation of free ed tech resources, we’ve seen Codeacademy recently debut an actual after-school program to teach programming. Fascinating!

For the un-initiated, Codeacademy is a web-based programming tutorial designed to teach JavaScript, HTML, CSS, JQuery and Python. For free. And oh so slick. Clean landing page (fascinatingly the designer describes how he created their landing page in one hour here,) interactive coding lessons sent weekly, simple calls to action, excellent social media integration… and Codeacademy nails gamifying and using social game layers. Instructional designersl: drool.

After School Programming Clubs is a packaging innovation more than anything else. It takes the core Codecademy software learning tools and packages them up so that students and teachers can organize after school programming clubs. Your email, your school = they send you a kit. Easy. What a great way to focus after-school group activities on some foundational STEM learning.



Udemy’s getting people paid to teach anything, online

 Udemy.com crossed my radar earlier this year. It’s a slick site that facilitates anybody teaching an online course on anything, and charge for it (or do it free.) Love it.

Interesting is an article from Gigaom today: a quarter of Udemy’s instructors are tracking to make $10K a year. WOW. Udemy seems to have traction in terms of growth too: half a million unique visitors monthly as of last June. Here’s a Top 10 list of their instructors/courses as of May, & an interview with Udemy’s Marketing VP with tons of goodies and stats here.

I’m as fascinated with these guys as I am with MOOCs. I’m curious to see what Udemy does and ushers in.

Monetizing free educational resources

Tech-media-business site gigaom ran an article on “How Coursera may profit from free courses.”, supplying more evidence that the free model is alive and well! It provides teachers (& in this case learner) content and tools, while private firms are only limited by their imagination of how to provide something for free… yet get paid, as Coursera illustrates.

Chris Anderson of Wired was an early-adopter of these ideas and gave a prescient primer back in 2007 here: Chris Anderson of WIRED on tech’s Long Tail. 

Additionally, Eric von Hippel of MIT’s Sloan School of Management defined a user-led innovation model in his book Democratizing Innovation (free ebook on Amazon!) arguing why and when users find it profitable to develop new products and services for themselves, and why it often pays users to reveal their innovations freely for the use of all. He proposes that as innovation becomes more user-centered the information needs to flow freely, in a more democratic way, creating a “rich intellectual commons” and “attacking a major structure of the social division of labor,” which would tie in to educational resources multiplying as a result of volunteerism giving back via “cognitive surplus.”

With the current trend of proliferating free educational resources (even in online education alone such as Coursera as mentioned above, and including others like UniversityNow, Codecademy, 2tor, The Minerva Project, Udacity, Udemy and more) we’d expect the good news of seeing this to continue help both business as well as educators and students.