Impulsive learning?

Don’t buy those chocolates!..No!…Oh, too late!…Yummy!…You deserve it!

You know how it goes. You carefully made a supermarket shopping list and followed it to a “t”. You avoided the aisle that had the cookies and all those yummy snacks. Gotta work on that diet! Good girl! You bought some extra vegetables, more salads are good for you. With a shopping cart full of healthy choices, it is now time to check out. You get in line at the cash register. Someone is ahead of you. You look around. Hmmm, look at those chocolates! Hmmm, your favorite ones! OK, just one little one. It’s a reward! You aren’t buying a big bag of chocolates! It’s OK! One is not going to hurt nothing! And what about one of those tabloid newspapers… Charlie Sheen said what?!!!

Gottha again! Yes, that’s impulse buying. They knew they’d get you. It was all part of a plan. Paco Underhill, author of “Why We Buy”, said that the American economy would collapse if everyone just bought what was on their shopping list. That is the power of impulse.

Here is how one bank is using the impulse hot-button, literally a big red button, to get people to save more:

Behavioral Economics: “I want to save right now!”
Watch the video from the bank:
MIT TechReview on Ideo’s role in this:

Can we use this power as teachers? Can we push the impulse hot-button of our students and get them to study English more?

Here is an idea that I would like to work on. My students in China are connected to everyone by QQ, a chat program similar to Skype or MSN chat. It is almost a fact that being Chinese = being a QQ user. They use it on their computers and on their phones. (Some of my students even QQ me while they are having a class with another teacher!) Your country probably has a similar popular chat platform. I’ve been doing a lot of experiments with QQ over the past year and it’s greatly helped me develop a “presence” with my students.

What if we used a chat platform that our students used to deliver content that would appeal to our students’ impulses? Something short. Something cheap on time, quick. Something catchy. Here is one example although you can probably think of many more and I’d appreciate you sharing your ideas on

What about Extensive Reading? The student gets a teaser like this:

“HI JOHN, READING IS GOOD FOR YOUR ENGLISH. YOU MIGHT LIKE THIS STORY: Jaws – Chapter 1 Night Swim. The shark moved through the night water without a sound. It swam towards the shore, with its eyes and mouth open. The woman began walking out towards the sea. The water came up round her feet. It was a warm June night, but the water felt cold. The woman called back. ‘Come and have a swim with me!’ But there was no answer from the man. She ran into the sea, and soon the water was up to her head. She began to swim. The shark was a hundred metres from the beach. It could not see the woman – it could not see anything in the dark water – but it felt the sea move. It turned towards the shore. PUSH ‘MORE’ TO CONTINUE THE STORY”

Perhaps 200 words by 200 words, the reader could continue through the story. He may be riding on the bus, eating breakfast, waiting for a friend, but doing something he would not ordinarily do. Learning English. Impulsive reading.

I’m interested in what other teachers might think about the possibilities of using technology and the dynamic possibilities of appealing to impulsive studying.

[1] I am not suggesting using copyrighted materials. Finding appealing materials would be another question to resolve. Jaws: Penguin Readers Level 2 (Penguin Longman Penguin Readers).


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