Education vs. Entertainment

Who is currently winning this daily battle for attention?

Yes, it's true, both education and entertainment are on a daily battle for our attention, especially now that education has moved more and more to the digital realm.  

When you compare organizations in each of these fields with respect to their conscious design towards engagement and usability, one truly pales compared to the other.

Entertainment organizations are incredibly conscious of who they are competing with for their audience’s time. They are aware that time is a limited resource and as such, they need to be able to grab and hold your attention for as long as they can.

To this end, they have developed a various mechanics to keep you engaged for as long as possible.  It’s not happenstance that the concept of binge-watching was popularized by Netflix when they realized that streaming full seasons of a TV show will keep you hooked to Netflix for long periods of time, to the exclusion of everything else.

So who is Netflix competing with? The obvious answers are AppleTV, Crave, Disney+ etc.

Some less obvious answers are cable TV, books, even DVDs, as similar forms of entertainment.

But it doesn’t stop there, Netflix is also competing with video games and social media. They are fully aware that if you are not watching Netflix your time will go into other forms of entertainment equally well designed to keep you hooked to them.

What is often not mentioned as a competitor yet? Education.

Yes, it’s easy to see that education is not a competitor for entertainment. It is common sense to say that education and entertainment are two separate realms. Netflix has nothing to worry about trying to compete with your academic institution.

And it’s true, Netflix has no reason to worry. That said, the opposite might not be true.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, we have experienced education and entertainment on the same devices. Everything is virtual, from education, to work, exercise programs, and yes, entertainment. From kids to adults, most of us were locked to a screen to complete key daily activities.

This created an almost level playing field across multiple activities in terms of platform, but not in terms of engagement.

I remember having to keep an eye on my nine-year-old daughter during her online lessons. It was easy to see that in a contest between her teacher and YouTube, the latter would forever win. And why not, YouTube, similar to Netflix, is heavily designed to make sure that you are prompted to watch video after video after video…

books vs. video games?

Now let’s face it, even as we return to classrooms, entertainment will continue to be a direct competitor to the education sector. We can not hide our heads in the sand and pretend that is not true.

Classes might be online or in-person, but the screens and digital content will remain. And on those screens, you will be given a variety of choices competing for your attention.

Which leaves the question: as educators what can we do? What should we do?

To me, there is no single silver bullet. The key ideas that keep coming to the forefront as we collaborate with educators across different sectors and disciplines are:

  • Learning how to learn is extremely important in our early years. And a key part of learning how to learn is learning to derive enjoyment from learning new skills.
  • Making education, especially assessments, a chore is an antithesis to deriving enjoyment from education. Learning new skills should be challenging, but not stressful to the point of killing the joy.
  • Creating hooks that keep your learners engaged, will create a more levelled playing field with other distractions. Hooks in this context are those prompts that remind you of why you want to keep learning. They can be stories, reflective questions, etc. One of our previous blog posts talked about engagement loops in the context of education.
  • Reducing cognitive load during learning sessions to keep the learner’s attention focused where it really matters. That means reducing the distractions on the material itself that take you away from learning and keeping the focus on the learning outcomes. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, here is an Onlea webinar with additional insights.

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Adriana Lopez Forero

Adriana Lopez Forero