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We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

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Online Learning: What Works.

June 17, 2011, 12:27 PM

As we enter a new era of online education it is crucial to determine what types of tools engage students in this environment. More specifically, what is the most effective way to teach short, actionable business lessons online? What sources of insight do people trust most?


Big Think posed a series of questions to 350 university-educated online users, with the goal of understanding the best way to deliver brief online learning experiences. Our survey uncovered four key findings:

1. Online learners prefer video to text.
Given a choice between text and video of equal length on the same learning topic, more than twice as many online users chose video over text.

2. Video is more engaging than text.
Those who chose video were more likely to find the content insightful and actionable—and more likely to say they would watch a similar video again in the future.

3. Real-world leaders are the most trusted source of business insights.
When asked to rank what source they trusted most for business insights, more than 50% chose “recognized industry leader.”

4. Peer knowledge matters. Following industry leaders, respondents were most likely to trust their peers.

Respondents were asked to imagine they were business leaders working to create a dynamic corporate culture. Given two minutes to consume actionable advice on the topic, would they rather a) watch a video featuring a current CEO or b) read a text excerpt from a book?

70% chose the video, demonstrating a marked preference for this format over written text.

After watching the video or reading the excerpt, respondents were asked to agree or disagree that the material was "insightful," and whether they would be willing to view or read similar material again.

89% of video learners found the clip (featuring Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com) insightful, and 93% would repeat the experience. Meanwhile, only 65% of the excerpt readers chose "agree” or “strongly agree,” and 69% would choose to read a similar text again.

In short, video learners had a significantly more satisfying experience than did those who chose text-based learning.

Finally, respondents were asked to rank seven sources of business insights––Family, University, Peer, Industry Leader, Recruiters, Media, and Internet Search––in order of reliability. 54% ranked Industry Leader in the top slot––more than all of the other choices combined. At 15%, Peer was the next highest-ranked source.

The results are clear. For brief, actionable learning experiences, students and professionals prefer video. They want to hear relevant ideas from sources they trust: industry leaders and peers.

Increasingly, online courses are the choice of busy adults seeking career advice and professional development. The feedback from this survey should prove invaluable to anyone designing online learning experiences.

See Full Survey Results Here. 



Online Learning: What Works.

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