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Why is Barbenheimer so popular?
What L&D can learn from the box-office smash
You know that place where no one goes anymore? The place where everything feels dull and repetitive? The place where success is measured by ‘bums on seats’?
No, not your LMS! The cinema. 😉
Before the release of ‘Barbenheimer’ (Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer), it seemed that theater attendance was in terminal decline.
With a few notable exceptions, Hollywood has struggled to lure audiences off their couches since the Covid pandemic. Even blockbuster stalwarts like Indiana Jones have performed relatively poorly at the box office in recent months.
So why, then, has Barbenheimer been such a hit? And, more importantly, can I persuade you that its success holds valuable lessons for L&D?
Let’s find out.
💸 Barbenheimer is a triumph of marketing
In the months leading up to the release of Barbie and Oppenheimer, it was almost impossible to avoid either film. In addition to the usual array of trailers, adverts, and media coverage that accompany a major blockbuster, there was a pink mushroom cloud of social-media buzz surrounding both movies. While this buzz might have seemed purely organic, Warner Bros. president of global marketing recently described Barbie’s ‘breadcrumb strategy’, where the audience was gradually fed little pieces of the film to stimulate conversation.
The takeaway – ‘Build it and they will come’ only works in the movies. You can create the best learning experience the world has ever seen, but it won’t matter if nobody knows about it.
👚 Barbenheimer is ‘event cinema’
When my wife and I went to see Barbie, the first thing we noticed was how many people had dressed for the occasion. The cinema lobby was a sea of pink and blonde, with groups of teenagers posing for photos to post on social media. Sure, they could have waited for the streaming release and hosted a viewing party at someone’s flat. But it’s not quite the same, is it?
The takeaway – The rise in remote working has created an opportunity for L&D to position learning as an event, not just business as usual. This is particularly true for face-to-face experiences, which may be few and far between for remote teams.
🔥 Barbenheimer is actually worth the hype
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, Barbie and Oppenheimer are both good movies, with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 88% and 93% respectively at the time of writing. While they may not be revolutionary, they are that rare bird in modern Hollywood: films that aren’t prequels, sequels, or the latest expansion of an existing franchise. They’re also not about superheroes.
The takeaway – This one sounds straightforward, but is possibly the hardest to achieve: create high-quality experiences your audience cares about, and don’t just recycle old ideas because they’ve worked in the past.
Want help creating blockbuster learning experiences? Then contact email@example.com or reply to this newsletter from your inbox.
🎧 On the podcast
In the past, if you had difficulty thriving in a traditional school, your parents travelled a lot, or you were a child actor, you had the option to study online. Post-covid, that approach is gaining in popularity.
I confess I hadn’t known that online schools existed until a recent conversation with Cambridge Assessment’s Matt James, but the techniques used by teachers in this context have real practical applications to those of us focused on workplace learning.
‘We’re all used to these online meetings where everyone’s looking slightly away from you because they’re looking at their own screen or the chat box or whatever. The teacher has to remember that, to look at the students, they have to look into the camera lens. And once they do that, then they can vary their bdoy language and make it interesting, leaning into the camera, showing suprise, showing delight at a good answer. Those reactions from the teacher are crucial.’
Listen to the full episode here:
📖 Deep dive
Is there such a thing as a ‘fast learner’?
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s ‘Human Computer Interaction Institute’ recently cast doubt on this idea.
In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found evidence that, while students require extensive practice to develop expertise, they do not show substantial differences in their rate of learning.
This does not mean that certain learners don’t achieve learning outcomes faster than others, but the research indicates that this may have more to do with these students’ previous access to learning opportunities.
As the lead author, Ken Koedinger, puts it:
‘We have all seen cases where somebody gets to a learning outcome sooner than a peer — one student gets an A in algebra and another gets a C. But what we don't usually track is where they started. Our results are not contradicting that people end up in different places, but accounting for where students are starting from can tell us a lot about where they will end up.’
Kenneth R. Koedinger et al. (2023). An astonishing regularity in student learning rate. Vol. 120. No. 13. PNAS.
👹 Missing links
If, like me, your to-do list has one or two items on it that have been lingering a little longer than they should, Art Markman thinks you should cut yourself some slack. While that nagging sense of guilt might motivate you to get things done, this is only true if you’re in a position to act. If not - perhaps because the other twenty things on your to-do list are more urgent or important - then you’re better off focusing on what you have achieved, rather than what is still to be done.
To discourage staff from scheduling unnecessary meetings, Shopify has created a tool to calculate how much they cost. Based on average compensation data across different roles, meeting duration, and the number of participants, the tool puts a price tag on ‘jumping on a quick call’. For example, a 30-minute meeting with three employees costs Shopify somewhere in the region of $700 to $1600. Time, as they say, is money.
This is a longer piece from Vox, but it’s well worth a read. In essence, its thesis is that productivity is inherently difficult to measure. Not only that, productivity in one context doesn’t necessarily apply in another, particularly when it comes to knowledge work. As it turns out, what’s driving the ‘return to office’ push in large organizations may have more to do with what management thinks productivity looks like, rather than an evidence-based understanding of what it actually is.
👋 And finally…
If you’ve ever wondered what I would look like as a Ken doll, wonder no longer… Created using BaiRBIE.me.
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