Shift Fatigue

Published: June 29, 2016

‘Change’, ‘innovation’, ‘a new way’, ‘paradigm shift’ – all these are familiar terms in the education technology industry. The pursuit of the new, the framing of a product as something different and therefore something indispensable is a recognisable marketing technique as companies attempt to both distance their own product from that of their competitors, make their product seem more desirable in the eyes of the user, and whip up excitement surrounding it.
But is this technique a particularly effective one when it comes to teaching, training and education?
After a decade working in the sector, there is something that has become very much apparent to me as I try to keep up with the newest curriculum, teaching fad or ‘essential’ bit of kit – education is an area that is seemingly in a constant state of flux. From government policy to classroom pedagogy, the rate of change is such that practitioners can often feel like they are running a race they are ever destined to lose, desperately scrambling to get a handle on something, only for it to irrecoverably transform as soon as they feel as if they have a handle on it.
In a sector where consistency and stability is such a rare commodity, is more change really what is needed?
There is a narrative that paints teachers and other practitioners in educational establishments as cripplingly hesitant when using technology, as holding back the inevitable onset of progress in the classroom, as preferring a chalk-dusted, Victorian model rather than the glistening chrome and neon learning area of the future. Undoubtedly, this can sometimes be the case, but I also believe that there is something else afoot. I see hesitation in using technology as a symptom of a more general malaise that may not be to do with technology at all. I label it ‘Shift-Fatigue’.
Shift-Fatigue is a malady suffered by those in education as a result of the unending process of change that they are subject to. An underlying anxiety brought about by uncertainty, a lack of enthusiasm in reference to something newly introduced as the (often correct) assumption is that it either won’t be there for long, or, if it is, will change into something unrecognisable and a cynicism regarding a newly introduced policy or tool; these are the effects of working in a sector that is defined by its rapid and often ill-thought-out revamps, reshapes and reforms at all levels. If teachers and other education professionals are overly cautious and hesitant, then there are some very solid reasons why that is the case, not least as a reaction to the working environment that they find themselves in.
What can be done to ensure that marketing doesn’t fall victim to these symptoms of Shift-Fatigue when trying to promote an educational product? If promoting the ‘revolutionary’ aspects of a product can be counter-productive, what is the alternative?
Perhaps marketing techniques need to go through a shift of their own. A movement from the more traditional techniques of emphasising a narrative that focuses on the uniqueness of a product, how there has ‘never been anything like it before’ and other statements that (if we are going to be truly honest) are little more than empty superlatives and hyperbole and a move towards highlighting aspects of the product that reinforce how it is dependable, will compliment and augment already existing practice, and will take very little time and effort to integrate is an approach that may not seem particularly ‘sexy’, but may be a way to swerve the Shift-Fatigue that educational staff may exhibit.
By offering stability, reliability and support, a product can set itself apart in a market where promotion is often in thrall to newness and a difference to what has gone before, readily perpetuating a way of thinking that educational professionals may be extremely wary of. Instead of trying to sweep up potential users in the excitement of yet another piece of technology or approach that will ‘change everything’ (yet again), going the opposite way, and presenting the product as something that is to be depended on in times of uncertainty, may help it to stand out.
In a sector where constant change has become the norm, a company that offers a change from change, a shift away from shifts and are innovative enough to leave innovation (or at least talk of it) behind could be well on its way to finding new opportunities.