What Motivates Students More Anything Else?

Video games designers learned long ago, that giving frequent feedback through rankings, levels, and badges, feels good.  Which motivates people to keep trying.

It gives people a sense of progress.

Progress, as it turns out, is the single most important thing that boosts motivation in people.
Here’s Why…

The Progress Principle

The Progress Principle states that of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perception during a workday, the single most important is making progress at meaningful work.[i]

Basically, the more frequently people experience a sense of progress the more likely they are to be productive in the long run.

Harvard researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer discovered this principle by asking 238 people working on creative teams to send them a confidential electronic diary entry at then of a work day.  In the end, they had 12,000 diary entries.
What they discovered is that people had the most productive days when they saw small wins.  Little progress had a snowball effect on their creativity and productivity.

People feel a status increase is when they feel they are learning and improving and when this improvement is acknowledged.[ii]

In one study, children’s brain circuitry that lights up when you get money was activated when they were repeatedly told by a computerized voice “that’s correct.”[iii]

(To learn how to use Peer Pressure to build Grit Click Here)

It feels good to be acknowledged for your progress and this progress will snowball into more progress.

Here’s the kicker:

This occurs even if the progress is merely an illusion….

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Endowed Progress

Endowed progress is a phenomenon where people will persist with greater enthusiasm if the path towards the goal has been manipulated to show that they have already shown progress towards to goal.  This may be one of my favorite discoveries in psychology because it is so simple, but has such a great effect.

As the authors of the 2006 paper that uncovered this phenomenon wrote,

“By converting a task requiring eight steps into a task requiring 10 steps but with two steps already complete, the task is reframed as one that has been undertaken and incomplete rather than not yet begun.”[iv]

In the study, the authors Nunes and Dreze set up a system in a car wash where you needed eight stamps on a loyalty card to get a free car wash.

In the first group, customers theoretically needed ten stamps, but the card already had two stamps (the endowed progress) on it when they first acquired it.
In the second group, the card only had space for 8 stamps.  Both cards showed that the customers needed only 8 stamps to get a free car wash. 

And the results…..

Those in first group redeemed their cards at a rate of 34% and only 19% in the second group.

Endowed progress almost doubled the success rate!

(Here’s how to get kids to follow directions better)

Also, the customers in the first also came back more often and the time between washes got shorter and shorter as they got closer to the free car wash.[v]

The closer they got, the more they did it!
The effect appears to depend on perceptions of task completion rather than a desire to avoid wasting the endowed progress.

(Here’s how Dan Pink told me he would motivate your students)

How to Use Endowed Progress in Class

There are many ways to employ this technique in education.  Suppose you need to complete 10 questions for homework, but the first three have the answers already done.

Many worksheets have an example already completed, but if teachers simply moved the example to the first question, students would be more likely to finish the homework. 

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[i] Amabile, Teresa, and Steven J. Kramer. “The Power of Small Wins.” Harvard Business Review. N.p., 01 May 2011. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

[ii] Rock, D. (2008). SCARF: A Brain Based Model for Collaborating with and influencing others. Neuroleadership Journal, 1(1).

[iii] Scott, Dapretto, et al., under review (2008), Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Journal.

[iv] Nunes, J., & Drèze, X. (2006). The Endowed Progress Effect: How Artificial Advancement Increases Effort. Journal of Consumer Research, 32, 504-512.

[v] Nunes, J., & Drèze, X. (2006). The Endowed Progress Effect: How Artificial Advancement Increases Effort. Journal of Consumer Research, 32, 504-512.

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