This weekend, I have one thing scheduled: cramming four months’ worth of “Walking Dead” episodes I missed into a single lazy Sunday. Thanks to the advent of DVRs and streaming sites such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, it’s possible to squeeze entire seasons of shows (or entire series, in the case of my last binge, “Band of Brothers”) into short amounts of obsessive, impulsive viewing.
No matter how much we’re told to stop binge watching, the trend isn’t going away. Netflix reported that 2 percent of its 31.7 million subscribers watched all of “House of Cards'” second season in its debut weekend in February, up from 1 percent when the show started in 2013. With another popular original series, “Orange Is the New Black,” slated for a June release, it’s possible the streaming site hasn’t seen the last of its users gobbling up 13 hours of content in a row. In fact, one of its surveys said 73 percent of users thought positively of binge-viewing tactics.
Here’s where that voice of Mom and Dad start echoing in my head: “Isn’t there a more useful way to spend your time than staring at a screen? Your eyes are going to go square!”
As it turns out, psychology experts say our brains are wired to binge. So what if we took that impulsive need to gobble up media as fast as possible and applied it to learning? Maybe we wouldn’t feel so bad about watching six consecutive episodes of “Breaking Bad” with a bag of Funyuns and tankard of Diet Coke.
I’m not the only one taking note of the potentials here. Colleges are already considering their ability to make e-learning courses friendlier to students who want to take all classes at once so they can get on with other classes, activities and actual Netflix marathons. And where higher education goes, sometimes job training follows.
Last year, Umlaut posted an opinion article about how binge learning needs to be the next focus for e-learning developers. Today, MOOC and e-learning vendors have started making it possible for those registered in their courses to finish it in a day or two rather than the usual weeks.
Turning online development programs into binge-friendly ones requires a few modifications. Like TV shows written with the binge-viewer in mind (“Arrested Development’s” trivial inside jokes and visual gags are a key example of a show better watched without breaks), lesson planning has to change, too, and spend less time on recap and more time on retention
Time frames also have to change. Staffing agency Aquent’s MOOC program, Aquent Gymnasium, is one e-learning provider trying to tap into the new binge mindset. Program director Andrew Miller says the company experimented with running courses for set amounts of time before deciding it wasn’t advantageous. Students wanted an extension on course due dates, and the company wanted to curb costs. That’s when it abandoned concrete deadlines, which allowed users to take courses in however much time they wanted.
Now Aquent Gymansium sees some students signing up for classes, which primarily focus on Web design, and finishing them in a day. “We see them signing up in the morning, watching the first videos, posting their assignments every couple of hours and by the evening they’ve taken the final exam and they’re certified,” he said. Next month they plan to introduce a new learning format called “Gym Shorts” that is designed to take less than an hour to complete.
And who knows? Ending a day knowing more about responsive Web design may be more satisfying than ending it wondering what will happen next on “Scandal.”