Somehow this week i’ve accidentally signed up for a triathlon and a cycle tour of France. Well, both look like good adventures, so it will probably give me some motivation to get out and train in this dreary weather. At the very least it gives me something to aim for.
There is a benefit in having a target, a goal, that you are aiming for, especially when you are in company trying to achieve it. On the one hand, the shared goal can pull you forward, driving you on to compete, to achieve. On the other, the fear of failure, the desire not to be the one at the back, can push you forward. In either case, the net result is activity, which is half the battle.
In learning, we use different types of goals and targets. Some are incremental: modules, percentages, units, points, score tables. Others are just a simple finish line: pass or fail. In either case, they drive engagement. We often see competition utilised for this very reason, to pull people into the race.
Of course, targets have to be used with caution: if they are too low, there is no challenge, but if they are too high, i simply won’t bother. And they need to be relevant to the individual. I enjoy cycling and running, so for me the challenge of the triathlon is the swim. If i had to work hard at two of the three elements, it may be a bit too much. Unless i’m engaging on some life changing adventure, the challenges need to fit within my other hopes, dreams, engagements and aspirations. I can’t devote my whole life to it!
Goals and targets tend to be a feature of formal learning spaces, less so for informal ones. Social learning spaces typically have very little structure, are either semi formal or entirely informal, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t utilise targets if we are careful. We can generate good engagement when we present group challenges, tasks that can be worked on in collaboration, where different people can bring their skills to bear. These can either be facilitated sessions, where there is a formal moderator or facilitator engaging with the group, or can be left entirely to be self seeded. In either case, these activities can bring people together to learn.
The process of creating the shared narrative at the end of the learning can also be a goal for a group: telling the story of how we have learnt is a key part of reflection. It’s part of the learning experience.
There is benefit in understanding the landscape of goals: my cycle tour and triathlon are complementary. As both involve bikes, it’s not really two separate challenges: getting better at endurance cycling will help meet both targets. This is valuable: seeing how learning is applied, understanding how the challenges we throw down will help people meet everyday goals, understanding how they stack up around challenges in other areas, is important for engagement.
Just because i throw down a challenge or set a goal, doesn’t mean people will engage with it: it has to be relevant to something real for them.
Clearly many of the game mechanics that are so popular at the moment are targeted at plugging into this type of competition, into this level of engagement. This can work if the goals are aligned to everyday reality and aligned to my goals elsewhere.
Think about what challenges you’ve set yourself and how you responded to them. Does your response to goals vary, depending upon how achievable it feels?