27 September 2011

On Progress

One of my favorite quotes by Frank Herbert is that, "The concept of progress acts as a protective mechanism to shield us from the terrors of the future."

I think the very idea that no progress has been made on something really can terrify some people. I'm thinking of students who may be taking a course where they've traditionally not done well. Seeing a semester's worth of content spread out in front of them might prompt the realization that, "There's no way I'm going to do all of this."

I was reminded of that when reading research about how people tend to exert more effort as they get closer to their goals. If people feel like some progress has been made then they are comforted and work quickly and confidently toward the completion of a task.

In it, there is an experiment in which consumers are given a 10 stamp card to buy 10 cups of coffee and get one free while another group of consumers were given a 12 stamp card, same deal. Fill in the card, get a free coffee. The other important difference was that on the 12 stamp card, the first two had already been marked.

People with the 12 stamp cards with two free stamps completed the task of getting the next 10 stamps an average of 3 days faster than the other group.

I would like to apply some of these marketing ideas to the world of education.

It appears that progress and distance to the goal affect motivation in comsumers and I'm guessing that students and teachers will react the same way.

We can create the illusion of progress and help motivate people to perform tasks faster then they might otherwise on their own. Especially in populations who've typically seen little success/progress in earning credits, or new technological skills.

What if when people first enter a course they see that those very steps have filled in part of the progress bar in their checklist (one of my favorite Moodle add-ons)?

Step 1: Get an account
Step 2: Log in
Step 3: Get registered in the course

There are others that can be added depending on the course/workshop.

Those three items will shade in part of the progress bar and let the user know that they've started and are that much closer to completing the task of finishing your course.