Monday, March 1, 2010

Using concepts from advertising in education

What is “learning”? According to the dictionary, it is to gain knowledge or skill by study, by experience or being taught, to become aware of through information or observation, to memorize or to realize.

Advertising, irrespective of the medium, aims to tell us something. In most cases it seeks to sell us something or make us part with our money. And it does that in thirty seconds on TV! I am sure there are times when you see the commercial just once and you feel like buying the product or service. You are convinced that you need it and the next time you visit the grocery store, you ask for it by name or look for it on the shelves.

How many times we see a commercial does impact our ability to remember it. However, there are instances when we remember the commercial even after seeing it just once and sometimes we remember advertising that we saw years ago. On the other hand, we have difficulty in remembering at an exam, what we studied the night before! Perhaps there is something that can be borrowed from advertising here.

In preparing a TV commercial, an advertising brief is translated into a 30 sec commercial. A typical brief covers the following aspects:
- An understanding of the consumer, the purchaser, the influencer in terms of demographics and psychographics
- Details about the product or service to be promoted, it’s price, purchase occasion
- The brand image and the direction it is to take
- The call to action- purchase a product/ call a number/ donate money/ join an organization
- A listing of the competitive set which can range within or across category
- The output required and the media to be used

How does all this get translated into a 60 or a 30 sec TV commercial? The creative teams are adept at doing this. They take special care of the executional aspects-the setting, the music, the actors, the dialogue, the colors used. All these work in a synergistic manner to ensure that you remember the brand name and the message about the brand.

How does the advertising work? Advertising messages tell a story in less than 60 seconds, sometimes even 30 seconds. Teaching can be as simple or exciting as telling a story. Teaching science can be a story too- for instance- what scientists originally thought about a phenomenon, how they experimented, how more modern research confirmed or disproved theories on a subject and what are the applications and relevance for today, and where do they expect the subject in study to find applications in future, which organizations or institutions are now working on that particular subject. By providing a more complete picture, learning the subject does not become memorizing a set of answers but rather understanding the subject and it’s relevance to their study and in life.

For an advertising campaign to be effective, the advertising message has to be seen by the potential customer a few times. Traditional theory puts this at a minimum of three exposures. The more recent theory of “recency” relies on the idea that a message will be retained at a time when it’s most relevant- a detergent ad is most remembered when the box in your house is about to get over, you are most likely to notice advertising for cars when you are about to buy one. In such situations, the impact of the most recent exposure will be the highest. Schools, libraries, websites, museums and science centers must use this idea and tailor the promotions and activities in accordance with the school syllabus.

Advertising messages that are liked, that are enjoyable are remembered most easily. That means if we are able to make learning experiences more enjoyable, more relevant, they will be more memorable. The converse is true as well-advertising that does not offer a pleasant experience will have a negative impact on the brand. Similarly, learning that is not pleasant or that is being forced on a student who is not interested is bound to go waste. (Was I happy when I could opt out of Physics at senior college!)

Just as an advertiser keeps you interested in his brand over a number of years, the teacher/ school/ website has to find ways to sustain a student’s interest in a subject over a number of years. To maintain continuity and sustain interest, we should treat knowledge as building blocks, adding one block at a time, moving from the know to unknown. Identify concepts which are key, finding applications in the future years of education or work and pay special attention to them, reminding about them at periodic intervals.

Call to action - The advertiser expects the commercial to have some impact on you- in most situations; the expectation is that you rush out to buy the product. Similarly, what should the student do after learning something on a particular subject? Forget it just after the exams are over? If the education offers a call to action, say a real life project, where the concepts learnt in the classroom are applied, not only will the retention be better but its relevance will also be appreciated. Special attention should be given to those students who are ahead of the curve and want to know more about that subject. The teacher must be able to advise where the student can go to learn more on a particular topic.

Media multiplier effect- How can we use that in education?
What is media multiplier effect? Media multiplier works in two ways-

- When more than one medium is used in advertising communication, it helps increase reach as there will be people who will be reached by only one of those media
- When the same audience is reached by the same message in different media, it has an incremental effect- those people will have a stronger retention of the brand name and the message and would be more likely to have a positive inclination in purchasing the product or service

How can we use this effect in teaching?

Integrate classroom learning with what students learn from various educational websites, TV channels, Educational DVDs and VCDs, Museums, Science centers, Libraries.
With repeated “exposures” across media, the retention of the message will be stronger. Some media agencies treat the different media as “touchpoints” and ensure that the potential consumer is reached via every possible touchpoint.

As all students will not have opportunities to be exposed to all these media, the net reach among this audience will be higher.

The key thing is timing. These exposures across media should be about the same time for the multimedia effect to work.

We should explore borrowing such concepts into school education and measure the impact as the advertising industry measures the return on advertising investment.

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