In The Game Changer: How to Use the Science of Motivation with the Power of Game Design to Shift Behavior, Shape Culture, and Make Clever Happen, Jason Fox offers anyone interested in the intersection of game design and motivation studies a thought-provoking read. For me, a key takeaway in his book can be summarized in a three-word quote: “make progress visible.” Amid the many theories and suggested strategies for increasing motivation in the workplace, Fox focuses upon this core concept. People are more motivated when their progress is visible, when individuals have some means of frequently seeing how their behaviors are impacting the extent to which they are making progress in their work.
Back when I started exploring why some students cheat and others do not, I quickly found myself traveling into a wonderful and richly rewarding world of research. I learned that the old-school policing and crime metaphors for cheating and school missed the mark. I discovered that one of the easiest ways to reduce cheating was to change the environment. Reduce student anxiety and increase student confidence going into major, high-stakes assessments. Then people don’t seem to have as much of a drive or temptation to cheat. That is what led me to my more recent work and writing about the power of formative feedback and assessment.
By giving people lots of frequent and focused feedback, we help them see whether they are progressing, giving them motivation and confidence to persist in their learning. In other words, we can design a learning environment that helps bring out the best in ourselves and others, and a significant part of it was very much in line with what Fox explains in his book. There is power in making progress visible.
This is such an incredibly simple concept, but one that can improve any classroom or school that takes it seriously and makes it a central part of how we think about designing learning environments and learning experiences. As Fox points out in his book, this is why so many of us are motivated by something as simple as creating a checklist and marking off items as we complete them. It is why, in the presence of massive and intimidating projects with little feedback, we often procrastinate and revert to small tasks that we can complete quickly and see our progress or accomplishment.
I would love to see a school take this single concept and make it a priority for a single school year. How would it impact the student experience, the school culture, and learner motivation? At the same time, there is no reason why this must be the sole responsibility of teachers. Imagine the power of helping students learn how to create their own mechanism of making their progress visible. By engaging in such an exercises, they will develop a deeper understanding of what progress looks like in a given domain, and then learn how to create systems that are motivating and allow them to make more consistent progress in their learning.