Personal learning campaigns

July 07, 2021

Smokey the Bear forest fire awareness ad

Forest Fire Prevention. Found in Ad Council Transit Ads, 1944-2004, RS 13/2/217.

Advertisers are relentless. They understand human psychology and leverage it to change behavior. As a learner, you can use that same psychology to learn more effectively.

Ad Campaigns

Think about the dozens of public service announcement (PSA) ad campaigns you've seen. Whether it's wearing your seat belt, preventing forest fires, or saying no to drugs, advertisers craft these ad campaigns to change behavior. At this point, I'm sure you're remembering slogans, billboards, and commercials from some of those campaigns.

Effective ad campaigns are consistent and varied. Advertisers need to expose their audience several times to a message before achieving their desired response. The number of exposures is the effective frequency. Exposures to a message before the effective frequency are ineffective. Too much exposure beyond the effective frequency can be frustrating and detrimental.

Personal Learning Campaigns

In the same way advertisers relentlessly share their message to enact change, great learners construct personal learning campaigns. Effective personal learning campaigns share several characteristics with effective ad campaigns that will help you construct your own.

Campaigns Use Repetition

Learning anything meaningful requires multiple interactions before achieving retention. As with the effective frequency for an advertiser, the number of exposures required to learn something will vary on factors like the quality of each interaction, time and rest between each interaction, and the difficulty of the subject.

You can read about the forgetting curve to learn more about memory retention and repetition.

Great learning campaigns are designed to allow for multiple interactions with a subject while providing adequate rest between each interaction.

Campaigns Allow For Rest

Have you ever stayed up all night cramming for a test? Whether or not you did well on the test, did you remember anything the week after? Likely not. To truly learn something, the brain needs time to absorb the information and store it in procedural memory.

Learning campaigns give the brain ample time to rest before engaging with a subject, helping generate procedural memory and long-lasting growth.

Learning methods like spaced-repetition systems use these same principles to help learners build long-term memory through multiple, spaced-out exposures to a topic rather than cramming. Learning campaigns should do the same.

Campaigns Are Varied

Effective ad campaigns use a variety of mediums to spread their message. When creating your own personal learning campaign, use a variety of mediums, methods, and sources. Blog posts, podcasts, videos, and building personal projects are a few mediums to get started with. Methods can be passive or active like reading, studying with flashcards, and practicing a new skill.

Variety will help keep you engaged and motivated. It will also help you identify which methods work best for you. This may evolve over time and with the subject, but by understanding your own learning preferences, you can design more effective learning in the future.

Campaigns Are Simple and Automated

Effective learning campaigns make you engage frequently with a subject. To avoid burnout and improve consistency, each interaction should be simple and bite-sized. Rather than study for 4 hours once a week, it's better to study for 15 minutes every day.

Because you'll be interacting frequently with the material, automating that process will make it much easier to stick with the campaign. This could be something as simple as setting a notification for when you want to study.

Creating Personal Learning Campaigns

Personal learning campaigns are exactly that: personal. When creating one, consider your own learning context and objectives.

Learning CSS: An Example

Below, I'll walk through an example of creating a learning campaign to get better at CSS.

To create a campaign, do the following:

  1. Choose a duration - My campaign will be 8 weeks giving around 4 weeks to study and 4 weeks for a final project, with some overlap.

  2. Compile a list of learning activities - I want to balance studying by reading, watching videos, and practice so I'll study from Learn CSS, watch Keyframers animation videos, recreate popular code pens, and redesign my portfolio site.

  3. Set a schedule - The schedule should spread out the various learning activities over the duration of the campaign. For example, I'll study Learn CSS 15 minutes every other day, recreate a cool code pen for 30 minutes on Thursday and Friday, and work on my website redesign for 1 hour each weekend.

    I personally use Google Calendar to map out what I'm doing each day and for how long. Setting a consistent time and place can also help improve consistency.

  4. Get learning! Follow your schedule and engage repeatedly with the subject.

  5. Evaluate your progress - Throughout the learning campaign, evaluate how you're doing. Make any changes to the schedule or activities if something isn't working right.

  6. Celebrate! After you complete your learning campaign, enjoy the progress you've made. Note what went well and what to improve for your next campaign.

    After this campaign, I may do a deep dive into animation or focus on another skill.

Create Your Own

What are you learning right now? Go through the steps above and try creating your own campaign.

Let me know what your learning goals are and how creating a personal learning campaign worked for you! Send me a message.