Over 26 million users and 1,500+ global companies subscribe to the microlearning app. Ben Schuman-Stoler, Director of Content at Blinkist, shares insights into the journey of creating our bite-sized learning platform and what’s in store for the future of microlearning.
Ben Schuman-Stoler — May 12, 2023
Blinkist started as the solution to a simple problem: Too many books, not enough time. The answer? Original distillations of some of the most powerful ideas, structured in what we call Blinks. These are short enough to consume during a commute, so that members can more easily fit learning into their lives. Over the years, as millions of members started to level up their learning strategies with Blinkist, the content evolved and Blinkist became one of the world’s leading microlearning apps. What’s the secret behind Blinkist’s success?
We’ve learned a lot since Blinkist was launched in 2012. One of the first major insights was that people need to learn, and people are busy.
Since the idea economy has taken hold, ideas are now currency. Having good ideas, understanding the pressing ideas of our time, being able to access and apply great ideas – ideas can make the difference in landing a new job, dealing with a challenging colleague or relationship, and fulfilling your potential. At the same time, the internet and new technologies have allowed us access to more ideas than ever before. We humans are curious, insatiable learners. And whether out of curiosity or to learn a specific skill and solve a specific problem there are more opportunities to learn.
But humans are busy too! So fitting that learning into our lives is challenging.
To allow its members to access great ideas even while multitasking – Blinkist’s first great evolution was adding audio in 2014. There were very few subscription audio apps available, and Blinkist members could use the relatively new technology available in smartphones to listen to Blinks on the go, while doing chores around the house, or while exercising.
Quickly, we scaled the library and the categories we offered, from psychology to business to productivity to sex and relationships, so that anyone would find something they would love.
It was as if Blinkist members had a secret weapon in their pockets. While others struggled to find time to keep learning, or read all the nonfiction books they wanted to, Blinkist members had one of the best apps for professionals and were ahead of the game.
Nowadays there are many audio apps available, and it’s hardly a unique differentiator to only offer audio. So Blinkist evolved again.
One thing that Blinkist learned in its first years of rapid growth was how powerful audio is as a medium. It’s the most intimate medium, in fact, research shows that it’s easier to tell if someone is lying through audio, more than video or text. And information has been proven to be more memorable if heard, too. But as podcasting, audiobooks, and streaming audio took off, Blinkist had to find a different way to stand out from the crowd. That’s why we started doubling down on ways to get one-of-a-kind ideas with personality and experts.
Using audio to listen to Blinkist while multitasking was one great step, but we always want our members to feel like they have the best ideas at their fingertips. And we knew that great learning experiences require great teachers. Just think of any worthwhile workshop or course you’ve attended: Surely there was a great teacher involved. So we expanded beyond our core format Blinks into other formats.
We worked with author and marketing wizard Seth Godin to make a bite-sized original format, and launched a spate of original shows – like 2 Minutes With Seth Godin, Simplify, and Shortcasts – with experts and personalities explaining what they’ve learned and how others can follow their success stories.
These are win-win-win setups, because Blinkist members get access to some of the greatest minds in the world in a learning experience that fits their busy lives; experts get to work with Blinkist in expanding their audiences and delivering their ideas across the world; and we at Blinkist continue to innovate the world of ideas.
But ideas are never enough themselves. Blinkist’s goal is never to remain strictly in the theoretical space, but to practically change people’s lives. So the next evolution of Blinkist content was to help members apply the ideas they access on Blinkist to solve real problems, and change real lives.
We surveyed users and dived deep into user research interviews, where we learned how common the frustration is to learn something amazing, only to forget it, or not find a way to wield it IRL. So we developed new products like Spaces, which allow users to share what they’re learning with a group, and Guides, where an expert guides members’ progress through a particular topic, utilizing tools like reflection exercises and infographics to make the ideas as actionable as possible.
A short personal anecdote:
I was at a meeting in spring 2022 with the Product team discussing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and the vision of success for these new formats. We formally focused mostly on data KPIs, that is, black and white numbers. But that’s when we committed ourselves to building not only for in-app KPIs but for real-life change in our members’ lives. We kept working on features and elements of these new products until we could be sure – via user interviews and other qualitative feedback – that Blinkist was helping members solve real problems and feel better at work and in their personal lives.
In the course of the past 10 years, Blinkist has grown from a simple solution to a common problem – too many books, too little time – to one of the world’s leading bite-sized learning products. So what’s next?
We want to continue helping people access great ideas that can change their lives and change the world. New, powerful ideas will never cease, humans will always continue to strive and grow. And no matter what innovations come to help us keep learning, Blinkist will spark understanding in people through audio, proven expertise, and real-life application.
Ben Schuman-Stoler is the Director of Content at Blinkist. He constantly pushes for content innovation, thrives on collaboration, and believes that great teams create better products than great individuals.
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