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The Power of Priming Our Minds for Education

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

If you have any experience in marketing or psychology you may already be familiar with the psychological concept of priming. It is all around us, from the thousands of ads we are exposed to everyday, to the types of characters we see in movies. It is such a ubiquitous psychological phenomenon that our brains begin priming before we are even born, and yet it is a concept that can be used to dramatically increase a student's success in their educational pursuit.

What is Priming?

So what is priming then? Well the exact definition is a "phenomenon whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention." In colloquial terms, priming is when an image, product, experience, smell, or style gives off a certain feeling or idea associated with it. For instance the smell of flowers may invoke a feeling of springtime, or a dark ally may invoke a feeling of fear.

Priming is often used by companies to get consumers to purchase a certain product. An apartment complex may use good scented candles to give future residents a sense that the apartment complex is clean and well put together. A life insurance company may use a baby as their logo to prime potential buyers to think about the lives that benefit from purchasing a life insurance policy.

How can Priming improve education?

Ok, so what does the Gerber baby have anything to do with improving education? Well quite a bit actually. In the traditional education system priming is certainly going on to some extent. It is almost impossible to avoid. I can promise you you will never see a college brochure with pictures of students in their Friday 8 am Calculus class, but if I had a piece of paper for every brochure with a happy diverse group of students outside the prettiest part of campus I would Dunder Mifflin. It is not in the marketing that current educational systems lack priming but in the education itself.

Do you remember sitting in a classroom and thinking "why am I learning this" or "when am I ever going to use this in my life". Yeah, me too. It doesn't matter if you graduated 40 years ago or two months ago, everyone has felt the same way at some point in their education. There certainly are many things that are taught in school that are never used or recollected again, but on the other side of things there are many concepts that we learned in school that we only realized their relevance once we were in the working world.

I remember learning accounting concepts and thinking "well I don't want to be an account so why am I learning this", well two businesses later I know why it is important to know the difference between cash and accural based accounting; and the same can be said for most subjects for most students. The ancillary education subjects to a students primary focus often seem useless unless they make it on Jeopardy, but in reality many concepts we learn we learn because they are important.

How to Prime for education

Well what if a student could see for themselves what knowledge and concept is necessary for the job they are studying for? Where a student could see exactly where accounting concepts fit into the job tasks of a stock broker, or where ecological concepts are used in sustainable farming practices, or where calculus is needed for a civil engineering project. What if a student could be primed to see the relevance and importance of the concepts they are learning in school by seeing these concepts used in the work place?

Through job shadowing, internships, and apprenticeship programs students can get a good idea of where certain educational concepts fit into their desired career path. When a student has seen first-hand where classroom knowledge goes directly into a job, that student is then primed to recognize, remember, and even enjoy that concept more when it is brought up again. The priming of knowledge through job shadowing, internships, and apprenticeships can precede the formal education as well, giving students a keen understanding of "why" for when they are learning the concepts they saw first in the work place. This priming of knowledge can dramatically increase a students interest in a subject as well. When a student no longer questions the need for the given information and in fact sees the importance for it instead there is a natural increase in attention and retention of the information.

Of the three main forms of hands-on priming mentioned earlier, job shadowing is the easiest, cheapest, and the lowest commitment. There is no extensive interview process for job shadowing, nor a long training process or multi-month commitment. Job shadowing is not a competitive process and can be done dozens of times during a student's educational career. The same cannot be said for internships which, although typical, only allow for a student to see what one or two jobs and companies are like during their undergraduate years, giving the student less exposure to the job fields available to them.

Through multiple job shadowing experiences students can get a good idea of what multiple job fields are like and where the variety of educational concepts learned in school fit into those job fields. The easiest way to find a job shadowing experience is through Enspire is a network of job shadowing opportunities where students can easily see what companies in their area are open to receiving students for job shadowing, giving these students exposure to these fields for educational and recruiting purposes. Through job shadowing experiences and other hands-on work experiences students can become well-primed to see the value in their education.

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