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It’s Friday night. There’s a great band playing at the local pub. There’s a new movie you’ve been dying to see. And there’s a whole new season of Dark on Netflix. Which one do you choose?

Maybe you choose to go out, or maybe you’re extra ambitious and do all three. But here’s what the data tell us: More and more people are choosing to stay in and stream an entire new season of their favorite show on any one of several media platforms. As in:

“What did you do this weekend?”
“I binged an entire season of Game of Thrones.”

So, if binge-watching is a thing, can binge-learning be a thing too? Probably not – because traditional eLearning is often long, static, linear, and boring. Like a bad date, you might tolerate staying with it to the end (especially if your date is paying), but you won’t be thinking fondly about it afterwards or planning a second one anytime soon.

The same goes with a lot of traditional eLearning. You might tolerate it to the end if you’re being paid, but you won’t think about it later or talk about it with your colleagues afterword.

Is it possible to create modern, addicting eLearning that might even inspire people to binge learn?

Of course it is! People already binge learn by accessing multiple types of learning content to solve a problem in real time. Think about a time when you needed to fix the dishwasher, figure out taxes, or learn about a new product to decide which version you wanted to purchase. You likely found sources, engaged multiple types of media, and constructed the knowledge you needed to solve your problem. Fortunately, there’s a lot we can learn from this type of real-life scenario and from the many binge-worthy TV shows out there today to create addicting learning programs.

It’s time to create binge-able learning by focusing on storytelling.

Edward B. Titchener, a British psychologist from the early 20th century, best known for his role in establishing experimental psychology*, believed people connect to emotionally based stories because, as humans, we instinctively relate to the feelings of others.

In fact, according to the article, “Why We’re Wired to Binge-Watch TV,” published by Psychology Today, Titchener was one of the first to coin the term empathy – all the way back in 1909 – and to focus his studies on cognitive empathy, which examines how humans can also adopt others’ psychological perspectives, including those of fictional characters – like the ones we so commonly binge watch on our flat screens today. The article goes on to state that cognitive empathy is “such a universal emotional state that psychological tests (through the use of puppets, pictures, and videos) have even been developed to study empathy in preschool-age children.

So what does this have to do with learning?

As Sherlock would say: “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.” The takeaway here is that to create binge-worthy eLearning, you need to establish a connection between your learner and your content – and a great way to do this is to harness emotions. Here’s how:

  1. Start by integrating storytelling into your learning curricula. Using stories is a great way to make information memorable because you’re connecting with people’s emotions. Whether incorporating real-life experiences or using fictional characters in your learning, you’ll trigger cognitive empathy about the subject at hand and create relevancy for the learner.
  2. Be strategic about your stories. Make sure you know where your story is going. Remember how exciting Lost was before it became clear that the writers had no idea where the story was going? Yeah, don’t do that with your learners. Lay out your story from start to finish before you build. If you don’t know where your story is going, neither will your learners.
  3. Keep it bite-sized. We’ve said it before – don’t cram everything into one session. Make your learning curricula like a TV show – each “episode” focuses on a different point, lesson, skill, or technique. Less is more – you simply can’t overwhelm your learners. Instead, keep them interested and wanting more.
  4. Create as much drama and suspense as possible in your story. The goal is to heighten the anticipation to ensure learners will be rushing to your LMS when the next episode, module, or whatever is released.
  5. Whenever possible, ensure your characters act and talk like real people. Here’s a hint: Real people make mistakes. Include this where you can to build suspense and drama. Also, people aren’t robots, so don’t make them talk like robots. (Unless it’s super funny, then go ahead. Or, better yet, just use robots.)
  6. And remember, if you don’t believe in your character, neither will your learners. Know what your characters are thinking and feeling so you can pass that on to your learners.

Storytelling has long been one of the most effective ways, if not the most effective way, to get people to remember what you say. The right story can help your people “switch on” their cognitive empathy – and by making a connection to their minds and hearts, you’re drastically increasing the stickiness of the messages you’re working hard to share. Do things right and your learning materials might even become the latest binge-worthy trend and give your people something new to chat about around the water cooler. What could be cooler than that?

Want help developing your very own binge-worthy eLearning initiative? Shoot us an email at If we’re not in binge-mode, we’ll be sure to respond right away.

*Quick explanation, if you’re curious: This is the scientific study of basic psychological processes such as learning, memory, and cognition in humans and animals.



February 27, 2018


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