Designing for Educational Influence

Research has shown that the learning environment can have an important and significant impact on student performance. Our observation is that when there are many poor performers in a class, educators may try to solve this problem by making the content and pedagogy experiences easier to complete or lowering the performance bar to achieve desired improvements in academic outcomes. This is based on the false assumption that poor performers are poor learners and thus less capable. However, data suggest that poor performers are often simply poorly motivated.

The unintended consequence of making courses easier to accommodate poor performers is that excellent performers are incentivized to learn less because they stop performing as soon as they earn an “A” grade, and their learning experiences demand less of them than their potential to perform. Ironically, due to a lack of motivation, poor performers may still not engage more in the easier course and they are not helped either. This approach likely reduces learning for all learners and jeopardizes the academic integrity of a class. Rather than adjusting content, pedagogy, and rigor to solve the problem of poor performance, we recommend adjusting motivational affordances in a course to help students want to learn and improve academic outcomes. This can be done relatively easily with Delphinium.

In the Educational Engagement Framework tutorial (click to view), we answered the following questions

  • To what end are we influencing? (Outcomes)

  • What are we influencing? (Attitudes and Behaviors)

  • How do we influence? (Influence Methods )

  • Who or what will perform the influence? (Influence Sources )

The last question the Educational Engagement Framework answers is "how do we design for educational influence?". The answer to this question is backwards design and player types (described below).

Backwards Design and the Educational Engagement Framework

Backward design is the process of starting with the end in mind, then working backwards to design what is done by whom to get there. In this tutorial we'll provide four cookbooks, one for each influence source, that describe the methods each can use to influence student's attitudes and behaviors, and ultimately improve course outcomes.

For a simple example of how backwards design can be used to design educational influence in a course, consider the two tables below. The left table provides a summary of how the four influence sources can apply specific influence methods. The right table briefly illustrates how these influence methods might be applied to a US History course. This simple example illustrates how you can effectively design for educational influence in your course.

Influence Methods by Source

Example: US History Course

Four Influence Cookbooks

The four influence cookbooks linked below, one for each influence source, prescribe practical, applied recommendations for designing influence in your course.

Designing for Different Types of Students

When designing a Delphinium layout, a common urge is to make a layout that would be engaging and motivating for YOU. This is a mistake. If you do, you will be making a Delphinium interface optimized for only about 25% of your students—engagement and motivation needs may not be well served for the other 75% in your course. Different students are motivated by different things; what is silly or boring to one student may be thrilling and engaging to another. The goal is to provide the most engaging and motivating interface for your course for the most number of students.

Delphinium is flexible and provides a wide range of engaging and motivational components that leverage a variety of influence methods. Through statistical analysis, surveys, and experience we have identified four distinct "player types", described below. An important consideration when designing a Delphinium layout is ensure that you are designing experiences for all four types of students.

  • Citizen

    • Students who are motivated and engaged by opportunities to interact with others. Preferred interactions include collaboration, comparison, competition.

    • These students will enjoy sharing avatars, doing peer review and group projects, and comparing and/or competing in a leaderboard.

  • Champion

    • Students who are driven to do their personal best. They are their own metric for success and they are driven by improving upon past performance.

    • Include components that help these students compare where they have been, where they are, and where they are going.

  • Gamer - Students who really enjoy and are motivated by the game-like experiences found in Delphinium like prize boxes, avatars, leaderboards, achievements, narrative, and competition.

  • Pragmatist

    • Students who's central focus is completing assignments in a course. They do the work to get the work done. They want the course to be well defined and direct. School is the means to something else that they value more in their lives.

    • This group may find "fun" aspects of a class bothersome and distracting, so we recommend making the first tab of a layout direct and to the point with a modules component and a grades component. Fun or informational components can be displayed on other tabs.

    • This group is typically smaller than the others, but it is important to design for their needs and interests too.

Like most systems for classifying people, these are not discrete categories. A person likely experiences traits from multiple categories depending on their moment to moment experiences and moods. However, many students will find themselves primarily driven by one, maybe two of the categories. Most likely, you won't find that all students are motivated and engaged by every component in your Delphinium layout. The important thing is to create a layout where every student can find at least some components they connect to and are driven by.