How Things Catch On: Marketing Your Lesson’s Message

4281814950_7feffddb9d_mI took a great course from Wharton through my favorite online learning site- Coursera. The course was called, “Contagious: How Things Catch On” (currently called “Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content”) and I loved learning something new. However, while it is a marketing course, I think it has applications in education, especially for teachers who are trying to teach lessons and concepts- which is all of us!

One of the questions Professor Berger posed in the course is Why do some messages stick and others don’t? As teachers we can edit this to read, Why do some lessons, topic, concepts stick while others don’t?

There are six principles of “stickiness” that make up the acronym SUCCESs:

1.Simple– “Less is more”

We can apply this idea to our lessons. What is the one idea (maybe two or three max) that you want your students to walk away with today? Use analogies to help relate or compare the idea or concept to something your students already know and understand. Find the core then pull your students in, leave them wanting more tomorrow. Simple opens up a “curiosity gap”.

2. Unexpected– Novel or surprising

We need to make our messages novel or surprising. We need to hold our students’ attention so that they want to find out what happens. If they think they already know what is going to happen, their minds may wander. Add something unexpected to keep their attention and interest. “This is not about doing something crazy, it is about violating expectations.” (Berger, Week 1)

A few years ago we had Judy Willis -educator and neurologist come to speak about brain-based teaching and learning techniques. The principle of making our messages novel, unexpected, or surprising is a brain-based methodology. Information and stimuli need to be selected and accepted by the Reticular Activating System. To get through the RAS, information must be novel, changed or different. If information is not selected by our RAS, it will not reach consciousness and not be retained. To sustain the attention we can use Discrepant Events. D.E. are novel or unexpected so the RAS will let them in; they’re predictive because you already are thinking one way then you throw in a discrepant event and people are curious.

“Once you have their attention, you empower your students to become engaged in their learning process. Using wonder (discrepant events), humor, movement, change, advertising, and provoking curiosity capture students’ attention. They will be ready to focus on the sensory input (information) in the lesson . . . ” Judy Willis

3. Concrete– “Show, don’t tell”

As teachers we can apply this principle of concreteness to our practice. We can use vivid language & images that help students imagine/visualize/see the message we are trying to make stick. The question we should keep in mind is, Can you see it?

4. Credible– Use statistics and information in a WOW way

Just like we can use analogy to help students understand new concepts by comparing them to things they already know and understand, we can share statistical information with our students in comparison to things they already know. For example, we can make a numerical analogy to give large numbers a context, California is larger than the 12 states that make up New England and the Middle States or 20 of Rhode Island (source).

5. Emotional “How can we get people to care about what we are saying?” (Berger Week 1)

The principle of using emotions to help messages stick incorporates concreteness as well. Concrete ideas generate more emotion. The more something pulls us in, the more likely we are to remember it. The more we are able to evoke emotions in our students with the concept or idea we are teaching, the more likely the students will care about and remember what we are saying. So we can do this in many ways. In social studies and history, we can utilize personal accounts, reenactments, experiential learning, and historical fiction  so that we can pull our students into that time in history. If we think about the emotion we want our students to feel then we can design the lesson’s message to evoke that emotion and make the message of the lesson stick.

6. Stories

It is much more interesting to listen a story than to just a list of facts and figures. It also helps with memory because stories often trigger emotions, allow the listener to create images in their head, and make connections to things they already know. Additionally, “stories are easy to retell.” (Fahey)

For some highlights from the course, you can check out my Storify.

How will you use SUCCESs to make your content stick?

photo credit: beautiful bun (Shannon 139/365) via photopin (license)


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