Am I walking the learning analytics walk or just talking about it?
I am a fitbit wearer. I like wearing a watch. I also quite like receiving alerts about meetings, texts and calls to my wrist.
I can’t deny it, I like counting steps and I do try to hit my step target (11,000 steps a day (which given Audrey Watters’s blog post is insanely arbitrary)).
Has it worked? Sort of.
I’m fairly active anyway, I like walking for pleasure, I like riding a bike and for the first time in my life, I own a dog. It has changed my behaviour, on occasion I’ve definitely made the decision to just walk around the block late in the evening to hit my daily step target. But I haven’t joined a gym, worked up to doing a park run, or set a 20,000 daily steps target. That may reflect my personality. I only ever joined a gym once for a few months before we walked the coast-to-coast long distance trail. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but gave it up quite quickly and hate the idea of being pestered by a personal trainer.
I like the way that the fitbit works. For example, in the 2 years, I’ve owned one, I have apparently climbed over 280,000 feet. I know this because they sent me an email about it this afternoon. I get quite a lot of messages to my phone, today for example I’m an “Overachiever! You’re 2,802 steps over your daily goal.”. As the screen above shows, there’s a lot of information about how much activity I’ve done (irrespective of how accurate the tool actually is).
The other aspect of my life where I regularly encounter analytics is the brilliant free(-ish) service provided by Duolingo. In 2015, I was invited to deliver a keynote at a conference organised by KU Leuven. I think at that point I knew how to say ‘tea’ (I am English after all) in Dutch, but I thought I’d better learn a few words. So I downloaded the app. If you think aiming for 11,000 steps is perverse, try learning a language where every native speaker seems to speak perfect English.
I have enjoyed learning Dutch. I’m terrible at it, but I have enjoyed it. I don’t learn it every day, but I tend to study it in bursts (often in the run up to meetings with Dutch and Belgian colleagues). I find that I get lots of little dopamine hits that come from getting questions right.
I think I used the app daily almost for the whole of March 2018. I really cared that I was consistently practising and had a 20 day streak. I even paid to ‘fill in’ a day that I missed. However, I’ve hardly used it during April. I think a few things were happening. Firstly throughout March, I was speaking to Dutch-speaking colleagues (in English of course). Secondly, I was making time to log on whilst I was on the bus. I’ve had some time off for Easter and driven in, so I’ve lost the routine a little. Thirdly, I hit a really hard spot. I was moving to more complex Dutch: instead of just replacing words, I had to re-order the sentence structure (frankly it was blowing my mind).
However, I do understand some Dutch. I follow a few Dutch academics on twitter. I can understand some of what they write. I watched a few minutes of a Belgian drama the other night, I understood a few words (usually one word in every four sentences). That’s better than I’ve done using textbooks or audio CDs.
My MOOC experience
I think I’ve tried two. Both were a disaster. I started one and gave up part way through and didn’t even start the second.
In both cases, my motivation just wasn’t strong enough.
- Both the Fitbit and Duolingo apps are laid out in a similar fashion (bright colours), friendly icons, they appeal to my inner child.
- Both send me friendly/co-pilot nudge reminders at least once a day. I know it’s totally insincere, but it’s nice to know that I’ve hit an arbitrary daily score (whether it’s two Dutch lessons, or 10 flights of stairs), or that I’m close to doing so.
- The Fitbit has an easier job, I’m likely to walk 5-6,000 steps in a normal working day anyway. Nudging me to just walk a little bit more is far easier than suggesting I stop everything to engage in some Dutch learning.