Love him or hate him, you might actually learn something about engagement from Donald Trump: At least, if you work in market research. A Ph.D. student recently used Trump as fodder for measuring brain activity during certain stimulus. After hooking up participants to brain scan monitors, Sam Barnett of Northwestern University showed subjects clips of a recent Republican debate and measured brain activity throughout. The results? When Trump was speaking, there was a notable spike in brain activity.
Here’s the thing: This type of neurological testing can be extremely subjective. It proves that someone like Trump causes a spike in engagement, but doesn’t tell us why. In fact, an on-screen puppy might be just as engaging. Still, it’s a valuable exercise in measuring the way the brain responds to certain stimulus, and can actually help those in the eLearning industry plan better, more engaging content.
Using Market Research for eLearning
The market research industry has been measuring neurological engagement for years. Using EEG and MRI technologies to see how the brain reacts to say, a commercial, provides valuable insight into how a customer might react in a real-life scenario, which is the base for neuromarketing. This allows market researchers to tweak and perfect a product or information source to better predict how consumers will react.
Now, compare that idea to learning: We all want our learning to engage users and capture attention. The same type of market research that tells us that Trump is engaging could be the secret to planning better eLearning as well.
It’s not a perfect science and it might be difficult to put into everyday practice. Naturally, it depends on your access to the technology and tools to actually measure brain activity, as well as other factors that could affect your results, such as:
- Demographics. In Trump test, most of the subjects were older Americans (although the testing sample was made up of both Democrats and Republicans). If the same test were repeated with, say, females only, or younger voters, the response may have been different. Market research tactics require testing and retesting to get a better sample.
- Negative emotional response. One thing you can’t see on an EEG is whether the subject was having a positive or negative emotional response. Sure, Trump caused engagement areas of the brain to light up, but was that because subjects agreed or disagreed with his politics? As it turns out, negative and positive emotions register either way, so it’s impossible to know what the subject is actually thinking unless you poll them directly. In eLearning, you might be able to see if users are engaged, but can’t know why they’re engaged.
- Choice of words and stimulus. Trump is a master of engagement; that much is clear. The way that he talks, chooses his words, and even uses his hand motions while talking is all designed to captured attention and create a response in the audience–for better or worse. The way content is presented to eLearners–the choice of words; the delivery method–can drastically change the way their brain responds.
Market research is definitely a trending topic in eLearning (even if it hasn’t reached #Trump levels just yet). While you may not have access to brain scans, it’s worth taking the time to test and retest content and delivery systems to see how potential learners react. By researching the impact eLearning has on your subjects, you could save yourself from costly mistakes while maximizing engagement rates.
Market research for your learning campaigns? In the words of The Donald, “It’s gonna be huge.”