In “4 reasons why student success is misdefined in higher ed and how data can fix it,” we tackled the mis-definition of student success and the need for more actionable data.

Here, we offer a concept of scaling personalized rewards early and often, drawing inspiration and practical lessons from an industry built on “winning”: game theory and the computer gaming industry.

Taking lessons from this industry, especially regarding the concept of a “compulsion loop,” involves acknowledging that some people find this subject controversial. We propose that in the “game” of higher education and completing a degree, personalized rewards fall entirely into the “do no harm” category.

The Compulsion Loop is core to many game designs. It explains an in-game
virtuous circle that keeps players engaged. The loop comprises three stages
each enhancing the next stage, like Escher’s never-ending staircase,
players keep on improving.
—Toby Beresford, rise.global founder and chief executive officer

How to scale personal success at your university without burdening faculty or staff

Applying compulsion loop thinking to higher education brings a new set of challenges. First, distribution of tailored data and rewards occur when the subject is active “in the game,” not after completing an action. (Picture receiving an admission offer or a grade days or weeks after submitting.) Second, a simultaneous mix of tailored rewards is best for stimulating emotional response to elicit desired behavior. This mix can include personalized data points, competitive feedback, and new levels of power and challenge.

Bringing this concept to life involves finding institutional answers to four important questions.

  1. What is the main flow of desired student actions and decisions from interest through graduation?
  2. How often do students currently experience an automated “reward” in this flow
  3. What do students perceive and receive as rewards?
  4. How personalized can an automated reward experience be?

(Next page: How universities can scale success)

About the Author:

Elena Cox is chief executive officer/co-founder of vibeffect. Launched in 2013, vibeffect® is the company that is turning student success into a science, and has built a full student success model, complete with a Thriving Recommender Engine and proprietary micro-guidance system. Over the past 20 years, Cox has worked nationally and internationally to promote philanthropy, learn from innovative corporate social responsibility projects, and raise funds for both non-profit and for-profit ventures.


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