10 Reasons the Listicle Is Effective for Digital Pedagogy

Key Takeaways

  • The listicle retains the nostalgic orderliness of the beloved book while ushering in the brevity necessary for teaching and learning in the information age.

  • Students can use the listicle to synthesize information, organize information, and prioritize course tasks.

  • The broad pedagogical power of the listicle helps students by enhancing their reading, researching, writing, and digital-media skills.

The fast pace of the digital age calls for multitasking, hyper-reading, and collaboration at school and work. Enter the listicle: the popular genre of the digital age that facilitates digital teaching and learning practices. The listicle retains the nostalgic orderliness of the beloved book while ushering in the brevity necessary for teaching and learning in the information age. The listicle’s digital mindfulness is enticing. Online reading and writing are enhanced by this genre, as it encourages variety in content and audience. We believe the listicle is a powerful tool for digital pedagogy because of its:

  1. Readability. Listicles are not only an efficient way to present disciplinary content but can also be used to introduce the rules of using a particular digital tool or learning platform for a course, such as 15 Ways to Use Twitter in Education. In the age of digital distraction, listicles are fast reads and provide easy access to all-you-need-to-know information about a subject. Instructors and students can scan quickly, then choose whether to interact with the piece through commenting, sharing, or liking. The user-friendly format lends itself to diverse readers and learners.
  2. Availability. Listicles are handy for teachers and students alike. There are no limits to their content. They can highlight relevant news (10 Big Numbers From Snapchat’s IPO Filing), popular culture (10 Little Known Superheroes That Would Make Marvel Millions), opinion (10 Best College Majors for Your Career), or historical facts (10 Secrets of the Sarcophagi). In this way, they are dynamic and adaptable to almost any learning platform, be it a social media site or a face-to-face classroom. Listicles are great for gaining a broad based understanding of a subject. Later, they can be used as a way to categorize or narrow down specific information related to a course or genre. All subject areas can use listicles in their courses. Listicles are also a way for less reading-intensive subjects to incorporate reading and writing into their classes. Math students, for example, can read or write a listicle like this one: Six Mathematical Equations that Changed the World.
  3. Hybrid nature. Since many students have grown up in the digital age, listicles are often familiar, available, and easy to scan. Listicles can also be used to bridge the prevalent second level digital divide that exists in higher ed — many students may have access to technology, but that does not mean they are well versed in using that technology to access and/or produce content for an academic or professional context. Furthermore, listicles can help facilitate discussion of how folksonomic elements (social tagging and bookmarking) and paralinguistic affordances (liking, favoriting, and so forth) can be used toward networking and curating students’ professional profiles through social media.
  4. Encouragement of composition skills. Writing listicles is an effective way for students to practice finding evidence, arguing a point, and writing clearly—all focused around a specific purpose. Listicle writing differs from standard essay writing but still provides students the opportunities to enhance their writing skills. Each writing assignment has a rhetorical purpose. Academic disciplines use writing genres that reflect specific conventions. The listicle can be used to help students identify the genre that will most effectively achieve a rhetorical task. Listing the responses to typical rhetorical questions (Who is the audience? What is the context? What is the purpose?) is a strong way to approach a research or writing task.
  5. Support for research. Digital archives — neatly categorized collections of literary texts, endangered languages, historical documents, images, audio/video recordings, and other digitized artifacts centered around a particular theme or topic (Shakespeare Electronic Archive, Chicana Por Mi Raza, Jackie Robinson, Civil Rights Advocate) — offer efficient ways to sort and list key information in texts that may have formerly been static. Like digital archives, classroom research projects can begin with the listicle. Its organization makes it easy and convenient for students to access digital archives and find resources for their various research projects. The listicle can be a generative way to organize or categorize information in a course, prepare instructional or study guides, and/or archive important sources for a particular project. Most academic tasks or assignments involve steps — the listicle is a compelling way to organize these steps and map a large project.
  6. Authoritative tone. Using a listicle can be a direct way for faculty to design syllabi and prioritize course requirements. In a fully online course, the listicle can be a powerful tool for designing course modules and formulating learning outcomes. An effectively ranked listicle will argue for the order of items. Non-ranked listicles, on the other hand, place equal weight on each item. This leaves less room for misunderstandings between faculty and students. Another factor is omission. Readers may point out items missing from the listicle, increasing interactivity and engagement with the course content. Faculty can also extend opportunities for students to co-author, amend, or crowdsource the listicle, encouraging them to become active participants with course content.
  7. photo of Leonardo DiCaprio raising a wine glass in toast with the words HERE'S TO ALL THE MEMES THAT MAKE US SMILE written on the photo
    Image: Internet Archive Blogs
    Multimodality. Gifs and memes can make listicles more entertaining and also mesh digital modalities with writing. The description or content of the listicle is enlivened through combinations of digitized modes, making it more attention grabbing and authoritative. Visuals enhance the readability and provide links between text and image. The capacity for listicles to appeal to visual, auditory, and reading/writing learners offers instructors exciting ways to differentiate instruction. For kinesthetic learners, or those who learn best through hands-on doing, the listicle can provide a roadmap for experiential task completion beyond the face-to-face or online classroom. For example, students can use a listicle like How to Create a Blog in 6 Steps to learn through doing beyond classroom spaces.
  8. Comprehensiveness. The listicle can be introduced to students as a way to navigate the swarm of content they confront online daily. Faculty can identify the pros of and cons of the listicle with students and use it to segue into discussions about other public and academic writing genres that students will be required to employ in their college careers. The listicle can be used as an ice-breaker or as a formative assessment or exit ticket at the end of class to gauge students’ individual understanding. The listicle is a way to offer every student citizenship, not just economically privileged students who often come to college with advanced verbal and digital literacy skills.
  9. Connective abilities. Listicle readers will typically connect with at least one element listed. A reader of 50 Things Only Grad Students Would Understand, for example, would feel reassured knowing he/she is part of the club. This is doubly effective if each item’s summary is accompanied by a gif or meme that is familiar to the reader or that aptly digitizes the writing. Listicles can be used to build community in the classroom. Offering students the opportunity to create or contribute to a listicle on a given course theme or topic is a pathway for inclusion.
  10. Citizenry building. Regardless of the discipline or student’s major, the listicle can be a powerful way to show students how to be socially conscious in their educational and professional pathways. Listicles point to a unifying sociocultural center, especially in the divisive landscape we currently navigate — a list is often useful despite one’s race, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic status. A list also resonates with readers regardless of educational background. Creating, commenting, favoriting, and sharing listicles can promote citizenry, social activism, civic participation, and cosmopolitanism in our glocal (global and local) communities. The listicle 14 Things You Didn’t Know About the Triads gives readers a glimpse (and perhaps a movement toward eradicating) an unknown, dangerous micro-world. Furthermore, listicles often generate other listicles or list-like formations and movements that can affect material cultural change, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #BringBackOurGirls, #YesAllWomen, and #IceBucketChallenge Twitter movements.

The listicle is a strong pedagogical method for faculty to communicate with students, either about the curriculum, through specific assignments/goals, or regarding technology use in the course. Furthermore, students can use the listicle to synthesize information, organize information, and prioritize course tasks. On the surface, the listicle may seem simplistic, but the broad pedagogical power of the listicle helps students by enhancing their reading, researching, writing, and digital-media skills. Thus, the listicle serves as an effective tool in any classroom.


Erica McCrystal, PhD, St. John’s University.

Cristina Migliaccio, PhD, St. John’s University.

© 2017 Erica McCrystal and Cristina Migliaccio. The text of this article is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0.