The Key to Motivating Students? Use Technology to Enhance ‘Social Capital’

The Key to Motivating Students? Use Technology to Enhance ‘Social Capital’

Exasperated teachers and students reflect on the challenges of remote learning amidst a pandemic over video chat. My team and I listen to a laundry list of problems that exist from each perspective. After many sessions, hours, and questions, a common issue prevails student engagement.

Teachers cannot force exhausted, isolated, anguished students to focus on derivatives, The Great Gatsby, or classical conditioning. Students have societal, environmental, and political concerns. You know, the doom you dwell on when you’re in your home with nothing to do, no one coming over,
and nowhere to go. And not only is it challenging to get focused in this mental state, but when you’re absent from your educational environment, it is difficult to remain focused without the innate pressure of your peers.

So how can distance learning platforms leverage technology to keep students motivated? Use the addiction.

Social media has been curated to create a dopamine-loop. One so addictive, that users endlessly scroll the platform even though it makes them feel alone and depressed. While addictions can be positive, negative, and everywhere in between, our goal is to of course focus on the “positive addictions.”

By taking something that our students are already addicted to – social media – and apply it to their education, we’re able to provide long-term value.

So what, specifically, are students addicted to? Throughout our focus group sessions, we determined that one major dopamine-enhancing factor is social capital.

Social capital is simple. Users receive immediate feedback on their posts as they aim to grow their list of followers. In a sense, each post is graded against their previous posts. A post with their greatest number of likes might even produce more dopamine than a perfect score on a difficult exam.

How does social capital solve problems in education?

Social capital is a motivator and an overview of an active community, which is key for user retention. Earning badges, likes, and followers is enough to encourage a student to keep moving forward, whether they are consuming content or creating it.

In discussions with our student focus groups, we found that students were often afraid they weren’t studying the right content. A student may see progress in the form of a to-do list, but a premade, one-size-fits-all list does not cater to a specific class schedule or student need.

Companies that provide a single content thread per subject fail their users and it is impossible to solve a lack of specifics without tapping into the perspective of the users themselves to know exactly what’s needed. You’ll spend endless hours and cash trying to meet every need, especially when you don’t even know what every need is! Look at the success of Quizlet. You can find a learning opportunity in the most granular of topics.

By giving students the opportunity to create content, you’ll increase retention, create niche availability, and engage them in a new, motivating way.

So how do you apply social capital to your product?

When a student uses your product, by asking a question, providing an answer to a question, writing an educational post, or sharing a helpful piece of content, they must be rewarded publicly and instantly. You need to make the student proud of their accomplishments within your platform, otherwise, you lose an amazing opportunity for user retention and brand trust.

It will be nearly impossible for future competitors to convince users to leave apps that provide social capital, like Instagram and Reddit, because their users have invested time and earned social accolades.

Students are no longer receiving encouragement and positive feedback from their teachers standing at the front of the classroom, and this is your company’s opportunity to lift students up, show them they are moving forward, and create a community around your product.

Take the time to think about how your product can entice users to engage with you in a new way, and how you can reward your users for participating. Otherwise, you are a mule in the mud; you will move slowly and miss opportunities.

When your users don’t regret the time spent on your platform and are applauded for participating, you’re able to create an environment where addictions translate into long-term value, not only for each individual user but for the communities in which the user digitally lives.