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Unless you’ve been a hermit since birth, you should have noticed that we human beings are drawn to celebrity. From peasants to the so-called intellectual elite, we are vastly more likely to pay attention to celebrities (and their activities) than to anyone else.

The evidence is everywhere.

  • Movie producers hire big name actors to draw people to theaters.
  • Yahoo’s home page almost always leads with a celebrity.
  • Google gets more searches for Johnny Depp than for any of your neighbors.
  • Advertisers pay big bucks for celebrity endorsements.
  • Celebrities get the largest book advances (and sales).
  • Conferences pay big bucks to hire celebrities, even if they have little to say.
  • Much of our idle chatter involves talk of celebrities.
  • Tournament organizers groan when the big names get ousted or withdrawal due to injury.

I have to admit it myself. While browsing the web, I often find myself clicking through to a story about a famous person. It’s almost an unconscious response. I seem to be drawn to want to know what’s going on with them.

The New York Times has a nice piece about the power of celebrities to draw interest on the internet.

How Can We Use Celebrity to Increase Learning?

First, we have to distinguish between drawing attention and creating distraction. Using celebrity is a good method for getting more of our learners to initially access the learning message. It might also be useful to maintain attention longer than normal. But we have to watch out for the distraction factor and make sure that the learning message is supreme.

I’d actually like to see a study that tests my little theory.

  • Hypothesis 1: Celebrity helps garner attention, AND increases long-term retrieval of the main learning points.
  • Hypothesis 2: Celebrity helps garner attention, AND decreases long-term retrieval of the main learning points (but increases long-term retrieval of information about the celebrity or the learning event itself).
  • Hypothesis 3: Celebrity does nothing. We only think it does.

The research would have to be very careful to avoid experimenting with captured learners. Why? Because the hypothesized benefit is due to more people attending to the learning event in the first place. If everyone, regardless of whether we use a celebrity or not, is captured, there are less likely to be learning benefits.

In a natural, authentic training environment, I’m betting on Hypothesis #1 above.

If anybody has learners and funds to test this theory, give me a call. Let’s get to work.

Training Implementations

Some of us use celebrity already. I’ve seen e-learning programs from Type A Learning Agency that used in-company celebrities to reinforce messages within e-learning programs.

Celebrity doesn’t have to reside only in individuals either. Executives love being sent off the Harvard Business School events, for example.

Elliott Masie–the training industy’s P. T. Barnum–uses his celebrity to draw people to his conferences, which are pretty good learning events after all.

Local ASTD, ISPI, SHRM (etc.) chapters use celebrity speakers to draw a crowd at their sessions.

More and more, executives (in-company celebrities) are teaching leadership courses to company managers.

The Bottom Line

It’s worth considering how we might use the concept of celebrity to draw learners to our learning initiatives and increase their attention on our learning messages.