Jonah Berger's 'Invisible Influence' and our Higher Ed Conversation

How to use this book to advance a learning agenda for higher ed change.

October 20, 2016

Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior by Jonah Berger

Published in June of 2016.

I read Invisible Influence with the nefarious goal of trying to secretly learn how to better influence the larger higher ed conversation.  The 3 ideas that I’m hoping to advance are:

1 - Learning Is the New Higher Ed Differentiator: Investments in learning are strategic from a business sense - and directing resources at educators and the larger learning ecosystem is not just the right thing to do - it is the only thing to do if you wish to build a foundation for long-term institutional relevance and sustainability.

2 - Learning Is A Relationship: Find a way to provide your educators with support, autonomy, and resources - as well as an environment of small classes where they can get to know their students as individuals - and get over the idea that we will find a way to use technology to effectively scale authentic learning.

3 - Technology Can Advance Learning In Higher Ed (But Usually Doesn’t): We can leverage the affordances of technology to improve access, lower costs, and put the educator/learner relationship at the center of our work - and blended / low-residency learning is one way to achieve this goal - but unfortunately the edtech conversation is too often hijacked by the productivity agenda.

What we learn in Invisible Influence is just how susceptible we all are to the influences of other people. We like to think that our ideas are solely our own - formed as the result of careful consideration and the weighing of evidence.  In reality, we our actions and our thinking are driven and constrained by those around us.

The idea that we are influenced by peers probably does not come as a surprise.  What will come as a jolt is exactly how influenced, and influenceable, all of us are.  In study after study, Berger demonstrates the high degree to which we are influenced by the actions and behaviors of others while never realizing the impact of those around us. 

Our brains don’t seem to be wired to distinguish very well between exposure to an idea and the quality of an idea.  Familiarity breeds liking.  In our higher ed community, the best way to influence the thinking of others may be to say the same thing.  Over and over again.  Message discipline is not only a good organizational change tactic - it is also a good cognitive persuasion strategy.

In putting the 3 ideas that I hope to influence the higher ed conversation in this book review - I am following a strategy of repetition (I say these 3 things all the time), and association (associating these ideas with a really good book that I know that you will learn from and enjoy).

It would be even better if I could get people that you respect to also say similar things about higher ed.

Do you think that we could get Jonah Berger to help those of us working at the intersection of learning and technology to do a better job in influencing the direction of postsecondary education?

If your thing is leading academic change to advance learning - then I recommend reading and talking about Invisible Influence.

What are you reading?


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