What does it mean to make a course “sticky”?

This is the second post inspired by my reading of Malcolm Gladstone’s The Tipping Point.

According to Gladstone,

The stickiness factor says there are specific ways of making a contagious message sticky; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes.

A course is more than information, and making a course sticky is likely more than a question of whether or not to use powerpoint (i.e. how the instructor presents the information). I suspect a sticky course (or class session) is compelling. Students feel compelled to engage with the material. This may involve including playful elements in the course.

Suggesting that a course be compelling is different from the old canard that teaching needs to be entertaining. Attending the Faculty Academy is compelling, but I wouldn’t describe it primarily as entertaining. Calling it “entertaining” is to trivialize powerful teaching.

Compelling, intriguing, enticing, playful, inspiring. These are words I associate with sticky courses.

A sticky course, then, draws the student in, makes the student want to participate and contribute to the learning experience. How does an instructor craft a course to make it this way? There are probably as many ways as instructors. Anyone care to provide some suggestions.

Can one do this for forty-two consecutive class sessions? Not likely, but then I couldn’t attend the Faculty Academy for forty-two consecutive days, either. It would be too much stimulation with not enough time for reflection and assimilation. This suggests to me that while one couldn’t realistically construct a course with every session sticky, one should be able to build a regular rhythm of this into a course.

How would you do this? If you’re a student, what makes a course session compelling to you? If you’re a teacher, what have you found to do this?

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4 Responses to What does it mean to make a course “sticky”?

  1. Gardner says:

    Emotional Design has made me think hard about course design, and the need to appeal on the visceral, behavioral, and reflective layers.The latter is particularly important, as it’s where the user makes the thing his or her own.

    On the other hand, I think a sense of urgency and wonder go a long ways toward making the experience count….

  2. Isaac says:

    I think that it will depend on the student’s goals. If a student is really here just so they can make good money later on, something that is compelling is something that they believe will give them that edge (of course if the efficient markets hypothesis holds in the realm of the market for information, learning something cutting edge now will not help such a student later on).

    Personally, I find courses compelling if they are either a) relevant to my broader interests (human behavior in its many forms and manifestations) or b) broaden my horizon as I search for the meaning of life (somewhat tongue in cheek, but not exaggeration). I think a distant c) would be: if the course deals with the history of thought, because that helps me found my knowledge on something other than so much theoretic vapor.

    Clearly, if I am skeptical, the teacher MUST demonstrate to me that the course falls under a) or b). It MUST apply to the world without having to stretch the boundaries of believability. I will provide the open mind if the professor will provide valuable content.

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