My previous post prompted reflection on how good study habits are formed. I shared ideas on long-term change as described by B. J. Fogg in his TEDx talk “Forget Big Change, Start with a Tiny Habit.” In theory, it certainly sounds plausible that a new habit can become automatic if it is closely tied to an existing behavior. Since I have yet to experience or observe this in the context of language learning, I can only hold on to the idea as a possible approach. There are others we could consider, of course, so we may not jump on Fogg’s tiny habit bandwagon too soon.
I do agree with Fogg’s assertion that intrinsic motivation can take good habits only so far. What else can fuel a person’s efforts to make a long-term change in their behavior? Perhaps we can consider the support of an app. Yes, I know it’s become cliché to say, “There’s an app for that.” However, why dismiss the idea without looking at what the app actually offers?
Look in the app store and you’ll see quite a number of apps that track habits and goals. What they all have in common is requiring the user to first identify specific goals. In the case of a language learner, one cannot simply type in: Understand more English. Concrete tasks must be entered. Study vocabulary flashcards would work. If a teacher were to recommend the use of such an app, one guideline would be to identify a range of doable tasks related to the language goals. An app may allow a user to create an unlimited number of tasks, but too many wouldn’t allow a language learner to focus properly.
Habit trackers also ask users to set reminders. This can be a good thing since today’s students carry their smartphones around all day long. Reminders with a special alert tone are harder to ignore than a friendly email from a study partner or teacher. Reminders can be set for daily or weekly tasks. A 5-minute review of flashcards can be set for every Monday and Friday morning. The task of writing a sentence with one vocabulary word can be scheduled for every evening at 7 p.m.
Habit trackers force honest reflection. Users view trends and insights. These apps use numbers and/or graphics to track what has or hasn’t been done. For example, a language learner can easily see the last time vocabulary flashcards were used. The app Productive shows your current streak and your best streak. Can you top your best streak? Did you break your streak? And if that isn’t enough to prompt a learner to get back on schedule, then perhaps fun rewards or social support would work.
An app like Habitica considers more sources of motivation beyond personal reflection. It’s promoted as a “gamified task manager” complete with the chance to earn rewards and level-up. Users get an avatar and can turn the whole experience into a social one. It’s not as simple as posting your progress on social media. The app allows friends to fight monsters together in the quest to form good habits and maintain them. The other perk to this kind of gamified platform is the necessity to read more English. Users will read quest details and learn new words and expressions in a meaningful context.
My disclaimer is that I’m merely proposing an idea for consideration. Can apps help students form good study habits? Maybe. As with Fogg’s TEDx talk, I have only considered these habit-tracking apps in theory and have not tested them out with students. I find the summer months to be a great time for gathering new ideas. Have you come across any other apps worth considering?