Educational products for the busy, overwhelmed, and distracted
Do you know what an average mobile YouTube watch session is?
If you had asked me to guess, I’d say something like 3 minutes. I mean, people are super busy, easily distracted, and are said to have an attention span of a goldfish.
That’s why the actual number surprised me so much: It’s 40 minutes! (source)
When you dig into the numbers and how they’ve changed in the recent years, you can see that people are moving from bite-sized content to longer videos. And it’s not just the 2020 events that started the trend, it has started much earlier.
So, why is that? Did anything happen to the human ability to control our attention and resist distractions in the past 5 years?
Well, not exactly.
What happened is that we have finally understood that the modern world’s challenges aren’t going anywhere, and if we want to do what’s in our human nature — learn, create, and connect with others — it’s better to work with these obstacles rather than fighting against them.
“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”
Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is the Way
Learning from the best: YouTube mini case study
Let’s get back to YouTube and how people use it — and what it means for the online education industry:
Why is YouTube relevant? It’s because it’s the first place the majority of people use for online education (here’s the related data), so when talking about YouTube videos, a huge part of it is educational content. It’s a bit of a simplification, but it does tell us a lot about how people, in general, want to consume this kind of content.
So, the way the YouTube business model works now is that users can choose between the free subscription and the paid plan, YouTube Premium.
Now, the difference isn’t in the content itself. With the free subscription, you can watch the same stuff as with the paid one, BUT:
- You have to watch ads.
- You can’t use it offline.
- On mobile, you can’t run YouTube in the background. You need to have the video on your screen, which means that you can’t access other apps or lock the device.
The third point is important, because it tells us something about the way people watch videos nowadays: The thing is, they don’t.
YouTube invests a lot of money into getting to know their users, and they know that most of the time, most of us don’t sit in front of the device and watch the video as if it was a Ryan Gosling movie.
We want to play the video on the background so we can listen to it while taking notes (on the same device), googling the stuff they are talking about, or — okay, let’s be honest — googling other stuff, browsing other social media, and chatting with friends.
We want to lock the device and put it in the pocket so we can listen to the video while walking the dogs, hiking, shopping, or commuting. That’s how we also find so much time to “watch” videos: It’s not an extra 40 minutes dedicated to learning. It’s 40 minutes that we already have — to do chores, travel, exercise, or just goof off.
You may say that this is not how you use YouTube, but I know I do, and I also know that if I were the only one, YouTube Premium wouldn’t work the way it does. (And podcasts and audiobooks wouldn’t be growing in popularity.)
YouTube monetizes our inability to single-task, and as an online educator, you can do the same.
“Background” education and multitasking
The idea of multitasking in order to get more things done is considered outdated, ineffective, and even dangerous (here are 13 reasons).
Besides, it’s based on the productivity bias that forces you to believe you need to be doing something useful 24/7, because when you aren’t, you’re failing as a person. And even if you are, it’s never enough, so you’re failing either way.
So, why am I talking about this kind of education, anyway?
It’s because I believe there’s an ethical, effective way to make it happen.
I believe that when you set the right intention when developing your “background” product or content, it can help your people be more mindful, dive deeper into their learning, and enjoy it even more.
I’ll show you exactly what I mean below.
The thing is, the “background,” “on-the-go,” or “stolen-moments” education isn’t something you do to bully yourself (or your client) into being a better, more productive person.
It’s about taking into account the challenges of the modern world, like the fast lifestyle, constant distractions, and digital overwhelm, and turning them into opportunities to learn, create, and connect.
When you set the right intention, your “background” product or content can help people be more mindful, dive deeper into their learning, and enjoy it even more.
Educational products for the busy, overwhelmed, and distracted students
Here are a few types of products and content that can be seamlessly incorporated into the things people already do, hijack the things they have already made time for, or fit into the time they already have — so you can sneak learning into their lives the easiest way possible:
Learning in the background
By this I mean learning, usually in the form of listening to educational content, while doing something else at the same time: Cooking, folding clothes, exercising, drawing, coloring, eating alone, and so on.
Connecting learning with another activity that is low-focus or monotonous can make the other activity less boring (or, in case you like it, even more fun).
It also helps people focus on listening for a longer period of time than if they were just listening — which allows you to create longer, deeper content.
Another benefit of audio content is that it happens off-screen (and sometimes also offline), so, instead of making them spend even more time in front of their computers, you help your clients reduce screen time and possibly also eliminate online distractions.
Product and content ideas:
Creating a podcast is a great alternative to blogging when you want to give your people something they can regularly listen to in the background.
If people don’t have the time or attention to read your book, you can help them by turning it into an audiobook they can listen to while doing something they’ve already made time for.
✦ Audio workbook
An audio workbook is different from an audiobook in the level of engagement: In an audio workbook, you encourage people to do something (repeat after you, answer questions or prompts, summarize or recall what they’ve learned, and similar), not just listen.
✦ Guided practice
Depending on the subject you teach, you can also come up with a way to guide people to do something (write a story, create a marketing plan, …) based on your audio instructions. Alternatively, you can create guided meditations or exercises to help them relax or focus — and therefore learn better.
Learning on the go
Research shows that walking helps us to focus and learn better than if we sit still. It improves brain function, reduces the “brain fog”, and boosts our memory and creativity.
These are all good reasons to create things people can take with them outside, on their walks, hiking trips, and similar.
Just as teaching in the background, teaching on the go may allow you to create longer content, so you can dive as deep into your subject and get as nerdy as you, and your dream clients, like.
Apart from the product ideas listed in the previous section, you may also consider:
✦ Audio course
If your teaching subject or your methodology don’t require visuals, or if you can find a creative way around it, an audio course is something that can set you apart in the oversaturated market of online courses that are mostly video-based.
✦ Audio coaching
Imagine walking with your dream client in nature, asking them thought-provoking questions, helping them find solutions and new ideas, or reframe their self-limiting beliefs. Maybe you can’t do it in person, but you can create an audio coaching package — a “universal” one (good for all your potential clients), or a customized one for a specific client.
✦ Travel audio guide
If you teach a language to people who learn it because they want to travel to a specific place, you can create an audio travel guide for that place, so they can take your voice on their (real or imaginary) trip.
And if you teach something else, maybe you can build on this idea and find a way to make it work for you.
Learning in small pockets of time
Pockets of time are the short-ish periods of time that we all have, but usually they just tend to disappear into nowhere. Depending on your clients’ lifestyle, this can be anything from commute time, children’s naptime, Starbucks lines, baking wait time, or even sitting on the toilet (for real — check out English on the Toilet by Martin Johnston).
Some product ideas:
Think a SkillShare-type class: The videos (or audios) are short and all the classes give you a small, practical skill — a quick, easy win.
✦ Quick-read book
Not all books require long periods of silent, focused reading. Think short chapters and digestible chunks of learning that your clients can consume one stolen moment at a time.
✦ Activity book or workbook
Who doesn’t like a good adult activity book or workbook for offline use? They’re easier to create and consume than full-length books, and people can carry them in their bags or have them on their desks to do an exercise or two when they have a moment to spare.
✦ App or game
People use apps and play games when killing time, anyway, so why not help them learn while they do so?
Creating an app or a game seems like it requires a lot of time and tech skills, but it can in fact be something as easy as a flashcard deck created just for your clients that you can upload to an already existing app (like Anki).
Learning in “micro-moments”
The term “micro-moment” was coined by Google, and it describes it as “an intent-rich moment when a person turns to a device to act on a need.” This need may be to know, do, or buy something, or go somewhere.
In these moments, people are looking for quick solutions to their problems, not deep-dives. Then again, your short how-to video can be the first thing they discover about you, before they get to know your other content.
What works best:
✦ YouTube channel
Because YouTube is the second most popular search engine and the first place to go for online learning, it makes sense to place your content there to be discovered by people who are already looking for the thing you teach.
If your clients struggle with finding the time and focus for learning, developing a “Trojan horse” product or content that sneaks learning into their lifestyle, without them having to make any big changes, might be a good idea to try.
This may also work great for free content and intro mini-products, used to build trust before your clients are ready to invest more time and focused attention.