Is Your Course Sticky?

Have you heard of this term stickiness? One definition for Net use is that it is the amount of time spent at a site over a given time period. It's more than just page views and page hits on a counter. It is more a function of number of visits (repeat usage) and time spent per visit (session stickiness).

Then we have sticky content. Generally that refers to content that has the deliberate intention of getting a user to return to that particular website. This is particularly important to sites which want to build a community of returning visitors. That's important to business sites as well as many Web 2.0 sites - and it should be important to colleges that are marketing themselves online.

So what is sticky content that brings people back to a site? Interactive elements like chat, forums, email accounts, storage of user files within an account (blogs, photos etc.) are definitely sticky. Think of the big sites today - Yahoo, YouTube, MSN, Google - and all of them became stickier as they grew.

The tools offered might include customization - games, weather, news - the types of things that make up a My Yahoo page.

I believe this term first appeared in The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He is talking about more than websites including how ideas and behaviors catch on in society.

Any applications to education? Are some courses sticky? Are there course elements and tools that add to that in a course?

For the web, we care about how much time a visitor spends on the site. If they spend more time, they see more ads and your revenue goes up. If you get students to spend more time on coursework, chances are better that learning increases. More content, new content, and findng ways to involve the user with the site is important, and getting students engaged with interesting content is equally important.

Give web users content that they want and allow them to personalize the site. Allow students to have a role in the content. Individualize instruction.

Actually, the distinction between commercial site and courses blurs more when you look at things like online communities in which users post information and have discussion groups. Teachers are using software like Blackboard & Moodle, but also the same tools, like blogs, and Flickr, that students might use outside class. I think a well designed course that is using media, web tools and 2.0 apps (whether it's face to face, totally online or hybrid) is certainly sticky.

I don't want to push the comparison to the extreme though. After all, YouTube is also very sticky because of lowbrow humor and pure mindless entertainment too, and that shouldn't be a large part of any curriculum.

Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath is a book that could also fit in this conversation. It's full of ideas about what makes something stickier - read about the “Velcro theory of memory,” creating “curiosity gaps” and “the Mother Teresa Effect.”

Curious? I'll give you that last one: in 1988, Harvard researchers coined the term ''Mother Teresa effect" to describe how just watching an act of altruism can be good for you. When subjects in an experiment were shown a film of Mother Teresa caring for orphans in Calcutta, researchers found that the viewers' saliva had increases in immunoglobulin A - a substance which defends against the cold virus. Think about the positive effect that exemplary modeling has on student understanding. Just seeing & hearing great work has impact.

And bringing sticky buns and coffee to class for your students on testing days would probably help too.


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