Persuasive Technology: Elective Behaviour Management or Brainwashing?

Published: July 6, 2016

Captology is the study of computers as persuasive technologies. The term was coined by scientist B J Fogg, whose Persuasive Technology Lab is at Stanford University. He specialises in creating systems to ‘change people’s behaviour’ and while you might be thinking he works for a covert government agency, nothing could be further from the truth. In 2007, Fogg taught a course on the ‘Psychology of Facebook’ and his students designed apps that saw 16 million users in ten weeks, making a number of the app developers quite wealthy in the process. Persuasive technology is anything that encourages the user to modify their behaviour. This can be information or incentives delivered via websites, apps, mobile phones, games, etc. The question is whether persuasive technology is actually coercion or simply a way to encourage or motivate someone to act in a certain way?


Even something as seemingly benign as a website allowing you to stay logged in could mean you visit that site more often and even spend money. Amazon’s famous one-click ordering and same-day delivery make shopping fast and uncomplicated. Yes, you could shop around and find the same item for less, but this would mean logging in, adding the item to the basket, checking out and filling in your payment details. Amazon has made it mind-bendingly simple, which is why its shares perform so well. Getting points or cash back for using a credit card is another example of persuasive technology, as the consumer might otherwise pay cash for the item or not buy it.


Pressure and Guilt

How often have you acted under pressure? When you watch the horrific and tear-jerking ads for dying children in third world countries, what makes you pick up your phone and text a donation?

Even something as overtly positive as a fitness app can motivate out of guilt. They want you to believe you should be: lighter, thinner, stronger, fitter, more flexible. By using social media to compare results (similar to what weight-loss classes do) this motivates users to stick to diets or face embarrassment. It’s quite amazing how peer pressure alters behaviour. Opower’s home energy management software lets you compete with the energy consumption of similar homes but for the pinnacle in throw downs, you can now upload your utility bill to Facebook and compete with your friends. Baby Think It Over, an infant simulator, is aimed at stopping teenage pregnancies by taking the user through the sleepless nights and inconveniences of having an infant to care for.


Many apps use incentives to change patterns of behaviour. Get Rich or Die Smoking is a clever little app that shows you what you could buy with the money you’re saving by not smoking. Kwit also tries to get users not to smoke but they use gaming and achieving levels as their rewards. Others give you daily words of wisdom or support from the community of addiction-breakers. How well they manipulate choices depends on what motivates the individual user.

Macrosuasion and Microsuasion

While an entire piece of software aimed at altering behaviour is seen as macrosuasion, smaller design elements within larger programs are classed as microsuasion. An example of this would be a school learning management system with a facility to offer praise or rewards for completing tasks. The function of the LMS is to educate and the incentive is designed to persuade. Webanywhere’s school web design, School Jotter, is no exception and with the Merits app pupils can create their own avatar with points earned. The more merits, the more they can customise their avatar or donate to charity. It’s behaviour modification but through positive motivation.

We cannot escape persuasive technology, as it permeates everything we do and experience, in one form or another. Whether it’s a form of coercion or free will is difficult to determine. Perhaps we all need to take a step back and ask who is pulling our strings?

Discipline in the Classroom – How to keep order without being the bad guy

Published: September 17, 2015

Sometimes being a teacher is far too stressful. Mounting workloads, lack of resources and even staff shortages cause all manner of issues within a school, but the biggest disruption is one that has always existed – keeping control of the classroom. The best laid plans can go awry when one student decides that today is the day they’re going to impress everyone by refusing to behave. Well, don’t lose your head – here’s a few tips for keeping control of the classroom.

1. Make the rules clear

The rules in your classroom will define the way it runs. The advice often given is to have 5 very clear, very firm rules. You need to make them short and easy to remember, and you need to teach them in a positive light. Remind students that behaving isn’t just going to avoid reprimanding, but can also lead to rewards. It’s also a good idea to get students to agree to the rules, through show of hands or even a written agreement. But don’t forget that you too will have to obey them. It has to be a fair system, one rule for them is just as much a rule for you.

2. Innocent before proven guilty

Sometimes misbehaviour is simply a misunderstanding of the boundaries. If someone is acting up, let them know why it’s not acceptable and explain what the rules are. Don’t let the student feel like a victim of ignorance – first offenses can slip, but repeat behaviour requires a firmer hand. Lay down the law and you’ll find that most, if not all students will be more than happy to obey. The point is to not assume malice – when you have someone actually causing active disruption you need to have no ambiguity that that’s what’s going on.

3. Be fair, but be authoritative

Is it better to be loved, or feared? Machiavelli is said to have fallen on the side of feared, but in truth he agreed the ideal was both. When disciplining students it’s always best to deal with the student in a way that they will be able to understand and accept, but if you need to put your foot down make sure not to hold back on the agreed consequences of breaking the rules. Authority is derived from respect, and to earn respect you must be consistent, both in mercy and in justice.

4. Don’t Argue

Arguing is a guaranteed root to misery, it inflames a pupil’s need to “win” and will lead to further disruption. Instead make sure you discipline students separately, as this gets them in an environment where they don’t have to defend their ego. Tell them they’ve broken the rules and then instigate punishment, don’t instigate a shouting match. Do hear your students out, let them make their case, but only once. Think of it as a 3 stage conversation.

Stage 1

Explain what rule they have broken.

Stage 2

Allow them to respond

Stage 3

If their input doesn’t change your mind enforce the punishment.
Don’t mistake not arguing for not listening – often the scuffles in the playground are rarely one student acting up, so make sure that all those involved are dealt with appropriately, and don’t punish the innocent, as nothing will erode your authority faster than being unfair.

5. Make sure cover teachers know the rules

As we’ve established, consistency is everything, so even when you aren’t in you’ve got to keep your classroom in order. Create a printed pack for substitute teachers explaining what the rules are and the expectation of the pupils. It might even be a good idea to have the substitute teacher explain to pupils that they’re aware of the rules and that they too agree with them. If you’ve done your job well, kids will respect the authority you laid down for the rules, even when you aren’t there.

6. Every day is a fresh start

Don’t hold grudges – there’s no such thing as a “troublemaker”. Once a student has served the consequence of their misbehaviour they should be treated like all the others regardless of past behaviour. If you help cultivate the reputation of a troublemaker it’ll become a self fulfilling prophecy, so try to encourage pupils to refresh their attitudes.
Keeping control of the classroom is tricky, but create a proper culture of discipline and you’ll soon see the need to monitor behaviour fade into the background of everyday teaching. It’s worth bearing in mind that although discipline is worth maintaining, rewards are what backup good behaviour.
Webanywhere offers online services for VLEs, School Websites and Learning Apps for both the education and workplace sector. Our range of products include a Merits App for our School Jotter suite, and a behaviour and rewards tracker via MIS integration.