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Head for the Edge, December 1996

Before I can convince you to accept an idea, try a new procedure, or support a cause, I have to help you answer the WIIFM question: What’s In It For Me? This old psychological chestnut is worth dragging out and examining every once in a while by educators interested effecting any type of change in their schools.

The WIIFM approach is really at the heart of most effective persuasive efforts:
  • The telephone company uses it: We’ll give you better rates and services.
  • The YMCA uses it: We’ll give you a longer life and the health to do more things.
  • Politicians, the clergy, and educators all use it: You’ll be better off after the election, in the next life, after graduation.
WIIFM is a powerful tool for those of us who would like to see education transformed into a process which is more effective, works for more children, and has a more positive effect on society, using information technologies as the transformational catalyst. But we need to be careful. Too often the WIIFM question when asked by teachers is answered by technologists with a quick, “Technology will make your life easier.” Just invest about 200 to 300 hours in training and practice, and your electronic grade book will calculate your grades for you!

As my son would say - Big Whoop.

There are plenty of good reasons teachers need to put some serious “butt-time” into learning new  technologies, but efficiency is not necessarily one of them. Instead WIIFM should be answered and proven with arguments like:
  1. The skilled use of technology will give a more professional look to your communications, help you create more effective self-made teaching materials, and allow you to better organize your resources.
  2. Technologies, especially on-line communications, can open more opportunities for professional development and collegial contact. Educational materials like study guides, lesson plans, and assessment tools are easily and inexpensively obtained via the Internet or other on-line sources.
  3. The more technologies you have, the greater variety you can inject into the school day, and the more opportunities you have to be creative. Kids aren’t the only ones who get bored in school.
The problem with these answers to the WIIFM question is that their veracity is difficult to substantiate by quick and easy measurement. And, as Donald Norman argues, we tend to value only the things we can measure. It takes a leap of faith on the part of teachers to accept that investing time to learn to effectively use technology will not necessarily make them more efficient, but it will make them more effective.

Appreciate those teachers who are willing to make that leap. Most skills which are worth having require work to master. Learning requires genuine effort. New knowledge often makes us uncomfortable or even frightened. Work, effort, and discomfort - I’ll accept them all, so long as I know WIIFM.

One most excellent thing makes the job of the technology advocate easier. Teachers respond not just to a WIIFM approach. In fact, the WIIFMS  argument is often far more persuasive: What’s In It For My Students? (We are still the most altruistic profession on the face of the earth, regardless of the political rhetoric.)

Here are just a few ways research and experience has shown technology (and especially information technologies used in conjunction with resource-based teaching and learning) can answer the WIIFMS question:
  1. increased learning, more efficient learning, higher level learning
  2. increased motivation and sustained interest
  3. higher percentage of students reached and involved (at both the high and low ends of the academic achievement curve)
  4. opportunities to learn whole-life technology skills which can strengthen student’s natural abilities and talents
Notice that not one these benefits includes “Technology will make learning easier or more fun?” Technology can make learning possible in many cases, but not necessarily enjoyable. The pleasure of learning with technology is derived from the same sensations the pleasure of all learning comes: feeling that I am smart and capable of growth; recognizing that I have additional tools to use on real problems; and discovering that I have new lenses with which to view life.
An honest statement of WIIFMS should be a part of every budget proposal, every staff development activity, and every technology plan. And teachers aren’t the only ones who need to learn WIIFM(S). So do parents, community members, administrators, and, yes, even our students.

Some places to look for external validation of the effectiveness of technology in school:

  • Apple ACOT Research (408) 862-5134 or <http://ed.info.apple.com/education/>
  • Research Briefs #3, #4, #10, #11, #12 from Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium, PO Box 842020, Richmond VA 23284-2020.
  • Report on the Effectiveness of Technology in Schools ‘95-’96 from Software Publishers Association, 1730 M Street NW, Washington D.C. 20026-4510, (202) 452-1600
Posted on Friday, July 6, 2007 at 01:41PM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | CommentsPost a Comment

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