Netflix fans seem to have no problem devoting several days to watching an entire series (or several series) with few breaks. The series is so compelling and engaging that we immerse ourselves completely in the experience. The creators of the series are extremely skillful at grabbing our attention and carefully embedding elements that will keep us watching: fascinating characters, multiple plots, cliff-hangers, intrigues. Could these strategies be useful to increase engagement in online courses, in particular MOOCs that still fail to retain the vast majority of those who sign up for a course?
This is the topic of an interesting article, Going over the Cliff: MOOC Dropout Behavior at Chapter Transition, by Chen Chen, Gerhard Sonnert, Philip Sadler, Dimitar Sasselov, Colin Fredericks, and David Malana, contained in new publication The MOOC is dead—long live MOOC 2.0! They have looked at how MOOC participants tend to drop out at the end of modules and suggest the use of a storyline with cliffhanger elements as a way of maintaining curiosity about what is to come in future modules.
One of these strategies is cliff-hangers, which is a widely used strategy for retaining viewer attention in the field of broadcasting, such as radio and television. Common examples include ending an episode with suspense or stopping for a commercial break just before the replay of a critical score or decision in a sport. This article suggests that there is merit in the adoption of this strategy in MOOCs where learners are expected to assume greater responsibility for their learning with minimal guidance and support. The effective use of this strategy in educational settings, however, will require teachers to act as architects or designers of independent student learning experiences, and not simply deliverers of the subject matter content (see also Naidu, 2016).Just as many courses have benefited from elements of gamification to raise engagement levels, maybe a greater sense of drama and story could also contribute to higher completion rates. This doesn't mean trivialising education but rather adapting elements from drama, film and entertainment to enhance intrinsic motivation. It also requires new skills for a course development team.
Could we ever see cases of binge learning, where people happily spend their waking hours immersed in a learning experience? Why not?