Honest Teacher: What Educators and Parents Can Learn From Smartphone Games

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This sponsored column is written by Peter Bui, founder of The Honest Teacher. An Arlington native and former teacher, Peter offers private tutoring services that focus on the individual needs of students and emphasize the core values of confidence, independence and resilience.

It’s no surprise that kids and adults can become addicted to apps. According to CNN as of March 2014, Candy Crush, a popular matching game, has around 93 million daily users who play the game over one billion times. Each person makes the choice to play the game approximately 10 times a day. Imagine if every student made a choice as often to learn, focus, persist, organize or study.

The user experience for successful apps are designed specifically to elicit repetitive behavior to have the user continue to use the app. Dr. BJ Fogg, founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, has created a model to help designers pinpoint the reasons why people stop performing particular tasks. The Fogg Behavior Model is a simple equation that identifies when a behavior will be carried out based on three factors: motivation, ability, and triggers.

Triggers are signals telling the user to do the action. There is an activation threshold for triggers, a trigger will fail or succeed to produce an action depending on the amount of motivation and ability. Motivation can vary from low to high like ability. Low ability would be an easy task while high ability would be difficult for the person. Let’s look at the case in which the person is highly motivated and the task is easy to do, triggers are most likely to succeed in producing a behavior. Likewise, if the person is not motivated and the task is difficult, triggers do not succeed. Frustration may arise from a task that the person is highly motivated to complete but is very difficult to do and annoyance may come from a task that is easy to do but the person isn’t highly motivated.

So now let’s apply it to organization, an area and skill of school work that can get ignored. Students who stay organized are often highly motivated and find the task of organizational maintenance easy. Triggers like receiving homework or a test notification are immediately followed by filing the paper away or writing down the test date.

So what can be done for students whose behavior is not initiated with a trigger? The immediate adjustment can come from simply lowering the difficulty of the task by increasing the simplicity of it. For example, using a binder requires more effort, some papers are not hole punched and even opening the clips can be complicated. As opposed to a folder or accordion file in which the papers can simply be put into a pocket.

The easiest, simplest filing system is the backpack. I will see students simply stuffing papers into their backpack, the trigger succeeded in producing the action to organize but motivation was low enough that students found the simplest method to fulfill the task. A conflict of interest arises when students are more motivated to have a lighter backpack and then a myriad of solutions to resolve the issue may occur. Finding the appropriate level of simplicity while maximizing effectiveness is key to maintaining the repetitive behaviors of organization.

The long-term change is in motivation, of course this is the more difficult, but I will attempt to address the different perspectives on motivation in my next post.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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