The Sticking Point

The Sticking Point

Category : Art is everywhere

Sesame Street
picture from WQPT TV, a PBS Affiliate

Communication requires retention. When presenting new ideas to students, how much information is retained can often influence the success or failure of the idea. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point – How Little Things Can make a Big Difference, he points to 3 things that make for effective communications: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor (Retention), and the Power of Context. In both visual communication and education, the Stickiness Factor (making a message memorable) is probably the most important. Advertisers want their messages to be remembered (buy my product!) and Educators want their lessons to be remembered (pass my test!). The book details the level of research that went into giving Sesame Street the Stickiness Factor. In the new field of computer-based learning or E-Learning, there is convergence between visual communication and education. Gladwell’s ground-breaking ideas can help guide the artists who develop E-learning modules.

According to Gladwell, Critics of Television argue that:

…what’s dangerous about TV is that it is addictive, that children and even adults watch it like zombies… [It is the] violence, bright lights, loud, and funny noises, quick editing cuts, zooming in and out, [and] exaggerated action… that hold our attention.

Gladwell p100

Some of the same criticism has been leveled at E-learning. People do not absorb the information displayed by technology; they only watch mindlessly and uncritically because of its flashiness. Contradicting this view, the primary finding which guided the development of Sesame Street is that children tune out when a TV program is confusing and tune in when it makes sense. “Flash and dash” is not the only reason they watch. Extrapolating from this finding it is not just the flashiness of a presentation that engages learners, it is whether learners can make sense of the presentation. Fancy graphics are not sufficient for teaching; the fancy parts must be combined with a narrative that makes sense.

Unlike TV, computer based-learning has the potential to be more interactive; imagine if Big Bird or Oscar stopped what they were doing when they saw a little girl or boy could not understand. This would be impossible to do with TV but quite possible to do with an interactive computer program. The potential for innovation is great. The tipping point for effective learning involves skillful use of both graphics and narrative, a blend which shows once again that Art is everywhere.


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