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Sticky Instruction

Why is it that some instruction is long remembered and leads to change and some is forgotten as soon as a multiple-choice exam is submitted? Why is some teaching “sticky” and some completely dry?

stickyIn their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath identify 6 traits that will make your teaching stickier:

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional
  6. Story

At ASU Online, one of our most important workshops is the Boot Camp for Teaching Online. We ask that all of the instructors who teach in fully online programs attend this 2-week online workshop. At the core of the workshop is the opportunity to experience an online course from a student perspective. For most of the participants, the workshop is the first time they have ever taken an online course. They may have taught online plenty of times, but they have never been a student in an online course.

This rather simple idea can have a big impact on how the workshop participants teach their online courses. The faculty read articles, watch videos, participate in discussions and complete writing assignments. The assessments are scored and recorded in a gradebook. Most of the graded work includes facilitator feedback. A minimum final grade must be achieved in order to pass the course.

The  workshop experience is unexpected because most do not anticipate working as students in an actual graded, online course. The course includes concrete examples of effective online teaching in the modeling done by the facilitators, the design of the course and the material generated in the discussions. The course is credible because it functions as a real online class, with learning objectives, activities and assessments. It may be emotional if the participants run into technical problems, get behind in their studies or share or read a meaningful story in a discussion. Graduates of the course often report newfound empathy for their online students once they know what it feels like to take an online course. Stories play a big part in the discussions, as faculty share accounts of successes and failures in their online and on-ground classrooms.

By applying the 6 traits of stickiness, your instructional activities can generate ideas that will stay with your students long after the semesters have ended.


  • Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2008). Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. New York: Random House.
  • Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010, July 5). Teaching that Sticks. Retrieved December 7, 1012, from That Sticks.pdf