Will Binge Learning Become the New Binge Watching?

Online streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu have made it easy for viewers to binge watch television shows for hours on end, significantly altering the television landscape. Could the idea also apply to how your association’s members want to learn online?

My originally scheduled three-day weekend for Martin Luther King Day turned into a four-day one, thanks to a snowstorm that arrived in the DC area Tuesday morning. I took advantage of the extended weekend to catch up on some TV shows that had been sitting on my DVR. But I was also guilty of something else: Binge watching the British TV show Luther. (If you’re not familiar with the term “binge watching,” respondents in a recent Netflix survey defined it as “watching between two and six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.”) Full seasons of House of Cards and Arrested Development were released all at once on Netflix, allowing viewers to indulge their binge-watching habit.

Why not satisfy these preferences with program designs that permit binge-learning?

I will admit I felt a bit guilty after I wrapped up my binge of season one—three episodes—although it didn’t stop me from going back for more the next day. (And I do feel better knowing I’m not alone. The same Netflix survey showed that 73 percent of people have positive feelings about binge watching.)

As I was brainstorming ideas for my blog post this week, the idea of binge watching morphed into the concept of “binge learning.” In other words, would people ever want to take part in a personal online learning marathon of sorts? And if so, how could this change the online learning and education space?

A quick Google search revealed that I’m not alone in my thinking. An article posted on in March 2013 discussed how binge learning is online education’s “killer app.” Author Eli Dourado discussed his learning process after he signed up for an online computer science class through Udacity. He points out that while binging on learning may have had negative connotations in the past (pulling an all-nighter in college before taking a final exam and then quickly forgetting everything you crammed in), in his case—and for many others who sign up for online education through sites like these—he registered for the course to “indulge an interest,” similar to the reason why viewers binge watch TV shows and why members may sign up for your association’s online education.

One sentence in Dourado’s piece really got my attention: “Online education, if we do it right, could be like having an exceptionally well-rounded personal tutor who is willing to indulge any interest at any level of desired intensity.” Imagine if associations could be this “personal tutor” to their members through their online-learning module. It would be a win-win for all involved, keeping members engaged with the organization and potentially serving as a new source of nondues revenue.

Of course, some may worry that increased attention to this type of learning may affect face-to-face learning and meetings or more traditional learning structures. In a blog post on, Susan Gilbert, dean of Mercer University’s business school, cites substantial research showing that adult learners prefer shorter semesters and more-intensive courses—and they perform better with both. “Why not satisfy these preferences with program designs that permit binge learning,” she said, adding, “It may be time for universities to consider ‘on demand’ education.”

Dourado seconded this idea in his piece: “Instead of trying to replicate existing classrooms online, we need to embrace online education’s unique strength—enabling students to let go and learn.”

Do you think binge learning could work in the association online education space? Is it something learning teams should consider as they develop online programs? Share your thoughts in the comments.


What if we learned the same way we watched "House of Cards"? (Netflix press photo)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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