Finding the Best Online Learning Format in the Binge-Watching Era

In the age of Netflix, Hulu, and other content streaming, binging — or watching several episodes in a group, instead of spacing them out over weeks and months — has become something of a national pastime.

New research by Tong (Joy) Lu, Assistant Professor of Marketing, and her co-authors examines how binge patterns affect the ability of people to expand their knowledge using online learning platforms.

In “Binge Consumption of Online Content: A Boundedly Rational Model of Goal Progress and Knowledge Accumulation,” Lu distinguishes between two different types of binging: watching multiple episodes of a single show (or online course) is called “temporal binging,” while spacing out viewing but watching nothing but that show or course is termed “content binging.” The question she sought to answer was: Which is better for retaining information?

To find out, Lu studied how users watched lectures in business courses according to different viewing patterns and took quizzes to measure how well they learned the content. The authors found that people who watch a lot of material all at once — in other words, temporal bingers — had higher course completion rates, but lower average quiz scores despite cramming.

By designing courses to include intermediate assignments and quizzes, content providers could discourage people from cramming at the last minute, which also hampered their ability to learn.

Lu pointed out that while sequential learning is better for building knowledge, releasing all lectures to an on-demand platform — which encourages binging — is better than not engaging at all.

The research also seeks to predict variations in test scores based on the person’s consumption habits, which may one day guide the design of future online learning platforms.  ―