Neuromarketing and Education

Kathy Sierra wrote an interesting post, Marketing should be education, education should be marketing, that suggests what educators really need is more fMRI data. That summary is a bit simplistic, actually – Sierra makes the point that marketers, using neuromarketing tools like fMRI scans, have a better idea of how to persaude an audience to pay attention and to get their point across. Her ideas of how marketers could help teachers include

Marketers know what turns the brain on (currently, not last week). Teachers need that more than ever today.

Marketers have access to fMRIs. Teachers rarely do.

Marketers are dangerously close to finding the Buy Button in the Brain. Think what teachers could do with that research… after all, that Buy Button could be modified into a Learn Button with very little effort.

Marketers know how to motivate someone almost instantly. Teachers could sure use that.

Marketers know how to manipulate someone’s thoughts and feelings about a topic. Teachers could use that to ‘manipulate’ a learner into thinking, say, “math IS cool.”

Marketers know how to get–and keep–attention. I know some teachers who’d give a kidney for that research.

Marketers spend piles of money on improving retention and recall. Teachers–and students need all the help they can get.

I’m a bit more pessimistic about the prospects for serious brain manipulation via neuromarketing – I think the insights marketers will get from brain scans and other data will be helpful in choosing ads, but pushing a magical buy button isn’t going to happen. (Or does that make me optimistic? ;)) Similarly, I’d conclude that the answers won’t be that easy for educators, either. Still, Sierra makes good points – better use of marketing principles WOULD be very beneficial to teachers.

One thing that’s certainly true is that the sophistication of messages bombarding students has increased over the last century. Slick commercials, powerful branding messages, MTV, instantaneous communication and messaging… it’s a different world today. And, if our instructional methods haven’t changed much, they may become increasingly ineffective in the competition for attention of twenty-first century students.

Sierra also makes some good points about how educators could inform marketers – demonstrating honesty in their message, helping “customers” through rough spots, etc.

I do think it would be interesting to do some fMRI comparisons of different teachers using different teaching techniques. Such a study would provide some guidance in developing best practices, although as with marketing it’s likely that individual students will vary greatly and that no single perfect approach will be identified.

One key barrier that will hinder educators from adopting more marketing techniques is that some teachers, at least, believe their job is to present the material and that it’s the student’s job to show up motivated and ready to learn. A marketer starts with the assumption that their potential customers probably have no inherent interest in the product being sold, and that the marketer must create that interest and tie the product to aspects of the customer’s life in some positive and meaningful way. Today, though, it’s my impression that more educators (at least in the U.S.) are thinking that way too, and understand that part of their task is to make their material engaging and relevant. And, at least for those enlightened educators, perhaps a brain scan or two might be helpful.

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— who has written 957 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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2 responses to "Neuromarketing and Education" — Your Turn

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Simon Evans 12. February 2007 at 8:57 am

I tend to agree with your take. I have been following your articles for a few weeks now and enjoy your slant. I agree with you that we are not very close to finding the ‘buy’ button in the brain and that it may never happen. Knowing what parts of the brain ‘light up’ in an fMRI in response to some stimulus and knowing how a person is going to react are two very different things.

In my own world of molecular neurobiology research we have similar problems. Knowing how a brain cell responds to it’s environment and knowing how that response integrates into the brain circuitry are also two very different things. Often we make the mistake of thinking we understand the system well enough to attempt to manipulate it. This is the rational behind drug design. However, when we try to fool nature with our approaches we usually end up doing more harm than good – or at least having an effect we did not anticipate.

Neuromarketing is a very interesting field but still in its infancy. I’m not sure we will ever understand the brain well enough to really predict behavior for individuals – at least I hope we never do.

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Kathy Sierra 12. February 2007 at 10:39 am

“One key barrier that will hinder educators from adopting more marketing techniques is that some teachers, at least, believe their job is to present the material and that its the students job to show up motivated and ready to learn. A marketer starts with the assumption that their potential customers probably have no inherent interest in the product being sold, and that the marketer must create that interest and tie the product to aspects of the customers life in some positive and meaningful way.”

That so perfectly sums it up… wish I’d said that; I could have skipped a lot of other words!

Thanks for adding to the post, and yours is one blog I hope teachers will read : ) I know I’m going to be a regular here from now on.

Cheers

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