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The Impact of Binging on Education Content

impact of binging on education

Binge-watching leads to poorer sleep, less family time in front of the TV and even less enjoyment of the content. But at the same time could it also generate better learning outcomes and higher completion rates? That's the question toyed with in "Binge Consumption of Online Content," a research project that took place at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Researcher Eric Bradlaw, a professor of marketing at Wharton, is no stranger to research on binge behaviors. A couple of years ago he researched the impact for marketers of customer "clumping" behavior — extended periods of inactivity punctuated with short, intense buying bursts. This time, he teamed up with another professor of marketing, J. Wesley Hutchinson, and doctoral candidate Joy Lu, to analyze online learning data. The goal: to understand the connection between content consumption and the "long-run accumulation of knowledge."

The data being examined related to the behavior of people taking two courses offered by Wharton Online through Coursera in 2015 and 2016: "Introduction to Marketing" and "Introduction to Operations Management." The enrollment information was filtered to focus on those individuals who took both courses simultaneously and were committed enough to pay a fee for course certifications. Out of 108,000 initial enrollees, 508 fit the criteria.

Each course is offered multiple times during the year, and each "section" spans five weeks, with four to seven hours of lecture videos and quizzes. For the first year, content was released sequentially, one week's content at a time. For the second year it was made available simultaneously; all lessons were available starting on the first day of the course.

Bradlaw and his associates identified two forms of binging behavior: "temporal binging," where the individual consumes multiple lectures in a single sitting rather than spreading them out over time and they might switch between the two courses (marketing, operations, marketing, operations); and "content binging," where they consume lectures from the same course in succession with few switches between courses (marketing, marketing, marketing, the operations, operations...).

According to an interview with Bradlaw on Knowledge@Wharton, overall, "people who binge tend to do better. They also tend to stay on the platform longer."

The impact influenced the outcomes for both courses, almost, it appears, by virtue of momentum. For example, individuals doing content binging when content was available in the simultaneous model might complete their goal for one of the courses — watching all the content available — and then turn their attention to the other course until new content was made available in a subsequent week (or the course ended). In that case, binging in one content area promoted participation with the other content area as well by its availability.

When simultaneous release of content was available, people binged even more (because they had access to more content), and they tended to get higher test scores.

Next up for the researchers is to examine "forward-lookingness" — to understand whether bingers are consuming the content just for the pleasure of today or because they're thinking about the future. Binging is a subject, said Bradlaw, "that I think we'll be looking at for years to come."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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