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Five Essential TED talks for educators (not about education)

Over the past 5+ years I have studied learning from a slightly different perspective…namely, I see learning as a behavior.

When you see the world through this unique lens you quickly come to grips with the reality that the science of learning is now infinitely more complex – we no longer need to ‘simply’ understand adult learning theory, pedagogy, memory science, or even neuroscience; we now need to embrace broader issues of psychology, sociology, and especially, behavioral economics.

Far from over-whelming, this new perspective is empowering both professionally and personally.

In other posts I have shared a primer on these critical, but often new-to-us fields of science, yet I am continually asked for more resources and advice on getting started – so here you go.

Below are what I believe to be five essential TED talks for educators. As you view each talk, continually challenge yourself to connect these new ideas to your educational planning, design, and delivery.

Good luck!

#1 Are We In Control of Our Decisions? with Dan Ariely

The author of Predictably Irrational, uses classic visual illusions and his own counterintuitive (and sometimes shocking) research findings to show how we’re not as rational as we think when we make decisions.


#2 The Puzzle of Motivation with Dan Pink

Dan presents us with a great take-away: Any action that takes even the slightest modicum of thinking is undermined with external motivations. As educators we must be able to spark and catalyze intrinsic motivation in learners!

#3 The Surprising Science of Happiness with Dan Gilbert

You may now know him from the Prudential commercials where he conducts pop-up experiments to help passers-by understand investing, but for decades Dan Gilbert has been exploring decision making, forecasting, and happiness.

#4 The paradox of choice with Barry Schwartz

Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied. The reason for this is that we aren’t (as humans) really good at making the right decision and we live with regret that often haunts us…we need help! (And so do our learners)

#5 How to Start a Movement with Derek Sivers

A short excerpt of a longer talk, but this gets right to the heart of the status quo in educational planning and design…if you don’t have the guts to be the first mover, you must be open the opportunities as the ‘first follower’! In many ways, inventing new ideas is no more important than being able to see their application and using them!


Ok…how about one other (sort of) education-related suggestion 😉

#6 How to Escape Education’s Death Valley with Sir Ken Robinson

While on the surface this talk is focused on k-12 education…it has what I believe to be my favorite educational quote of all time, “There has never been a classroom better than its teacher!” yet how many times do we, in medical education, look to subject matter experts to ‘teach’ when they have little expertise in teaching?


Written by

Brian is a research scientist and educational technologist. He helped transform Pfizer’s Medical Education Group and previously served in educational leadership roles at HealthAnswers, Inc.; Acumentis, LLC.; Cephalon; and Wyeth. He taught graduate medical education programs at Arcadia University for 10 years. Dr. McGowan recently authored the book "#socialQI: Simple Solutions for Improving Your Healthcare" and has been invited to speak internationally on the subject of information flow, technology, and learning in healthcare.

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