More media outlets exist today than ever before. A generation ago, most people got their current events from relatively few sources: periodicals, broadcast news, and, quite literally, the water cooler. These same outlets still exist in the 21st century, but they’ve been joined by a universe of new content sources, including social media and the blogosphere—information reservoirs of unfathomable depth.
Given the 21st century’s endless number of news sources, it seems counterintuitive that the world today could be more aligned on current events than it’s ever been. It’s true, though: not only does our entire culture turn our collective attention to big events, but we also fall into lockstep following relatively small-scale news. Stuff that, when we look back on it later, is far more insignificant than it seemed at the time. Why do people tune in and care about the same things? How does this cultural alignment happen?
This is no media conspiracy. It’s a naturally occurring, macro-scale exhibit of age-old learning principles. The media is nothing but a learning ecosystem that runs on current events. You can use similar practices in your own office, fueling your learning machine with digital skills, leadership training, and employee development, to gain cultural alignment of your own. Here are five learning principles that the media uses to get all of us engaged on the same topics:
Choose affective content. The public cares about news stories that strike an emotional chord. The media knows this; it’s why tragedies and quirky human interest stories often get more attention than “real” news. Your content should strike an emotional chord, too. As we like to say, learning must be emotionally affective before it’s effective.
Align content with context. People care about new information when it harmonizes with their existing base of knowledge. Otherwise, they have no mental coat hook to hang it on. Drive user engagement by thinking like a news editor. Deliver content in a way that relates directly to the recipient’s life.
Make content immersive. When the media gets hold of a good story, they cover it from every angle. Serious journalists report, pundits do takes, late night TV makes fun. Everyone not living under a rock is exposed to the story. L&D, too, can create a kind of immersion by providing 360 degree coverage of a topic from different sources and in different formats.
Go viral. Important news has always traveled quickly by word of mouth. In the era of social media, we see stories “go viral” all the time. Both phenomena speak to a simple truth about the news: people want to consume and relay information that makes them seem smart, valuable, and current. This is the benefit of a culture that values learning: if development becomes socially essential, your learners will strive to teach themselves.
Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. One of the most powerful tools for achieving retention is repetition. The media practices this method by presenting a story not as a single event, but as a trickle of details over time—sometimes weeks. Content sticks better when it has a time dimension. Repetition works.
Go micro. Every one of the learning concepts mentioned is aided by short content. Think of the last big news story you followed: you didn’t read just a few long-form, deeply reported magazine articles about it. You saw small bits of coverage here and there. Each of them held your attention and together, gave you a variety of perspectives. This is the power of micro content. It gets any point across in the fastest way possible.
The goal of using these principles together is to get people to engage with topics they’ve never cared about before, like a company mission or set of values. Take a page out of the media’s usage of great learning tactics, and soon your learners will make your content their own.
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