Kids who watched Sesame Street were 14% more likely to keep up in school than those who didn’t. That is the main finding from research by Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland based on years of studying Sesame Street. We interviewed Melissa to find out why Sesame Street worked – and whether there were any lessons for eLearning in general. 

You can watch the interview and research video below – here’s a summary of what we found.

So, what are some of the lessons from the decades of Sesame Street success?

  • Be relatable… The show was aimed at poorer kids who didn’t have access to the best schools and often had problems at home. So the creators of Sesame Street made sure to feature children from these backgrounds so the kids could identify with the characters they were watching. And it was filmed on an inner city street, not in fancy houses in the suburbs. While your course might not be for kids – it is worth thinking about who would be best to deliver your course, where it should be set and what props or tools you might use for it to connect to your audience.
  • Be entertaining and engaging…The show was designed to hold kids’ attention, using research and focus groups to understand what worked, and continues to do so. Previous educational shows thought that entertainment would detract from the learning – far from it! This is really worth thinking about when you are considering your next eLearning project – don’t cut corners on making it engaging. People learn more when they are having fun. 
  • Adaptability. Sesame Street was constantly adapting to what worked and what didn’t. They had child psychologists as part of the project to evaluate the success of the show. There are stories that the puppets were only meant to be a small part of the show – but when the child actors and viewers responded so positively, they had to stay. This is really worth thinking about when designing your course: design ways to get feedback on what is working and plan in ways to update and adapt if need be. With online learning, and learning management systems, this is much easier than in the days of Sesame Street on TV.

We also spoke to Melissa about her research showing the effectiveness of Sesame Street. She used a random quirk in the expansion of TV channels in the US to show that some regions that received Sesame Street earlier (because they had the right TV channels) had much better educational results than those that didn’t. You can watch that interview here: