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Credit: Sam Holland

A Wharton doctoral candidate Joy Lu and two Wharton professors have found that people who binge watch videos in online courses are more likely to complete the courses, but often score worse on evaluations than those who consume content more steadily.

Marketing Professor Bradlow, who is one of Lu's two advisors, said he first became interested in the topic after learning about the common phenomenon of binging on television shows. 

Bradlow discovered that binge consumption of any type of media, which he has termed "clumpiness," made consumers want to consume even more content.

“People that consume in a clumpy fashion end up consuming even more in the future” he said.

Given the recent rise in popularity of online courseware sites, such as Khan Academy and Coursera, Lu said that she wanted to understand how binge consumption affected online learning. She found that the closer people got to finishing a course, the more likely they were to start binging course videos.

“As people get closer to the end, they’re likely to consumer faster and take fewer breaks” Lu said.

Using data from two Penn courses on Operations and Marketing on Coursera, an online learning platform, Lu also sought to understand how binge consumption impacts student performance. 

Lu found that online students who binge watched might consume more content but, on average, performed more poorly on quizzes and assessments.

“In both of the courses I looked at, the binging metrics I used (how much you consume in a sitting and how much you switch between content) are basically negatively correlated with performance” she said.

College sophomore Prashant Godishala, who took an online video EMT course last summer, said he's glad that he paced himself rather watching all of the material at once. 

"Because I could absorb the material, I felt confident that moving forward I would know what I  learned" he said.

Bradlow said that with their limited amount of data, the researchers can't say for sure if cramming or material binging in typical classwork would affect student performance.  

“I don't want to make a general statement that binge consumption leads to lower test scores” he said.

However, Bradlow said that he’s cautiously optimistic that the findings that Lu has found with Penn classes on Coursera might apply to other forms of learning.

Ultimately, Bradlow said that he’s excited about the possibility of doing more research on binge-consumption and how it can impact businesses and individuals.

“As a scholar, that’s what’s exciting for me. Plus who doesn't want to hear about binge consumption, it's an interesting topic!”