Persuading students through technology

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are becoming more accepted as educational tools in classrooms. This is only going to become more prevalent, with schools increasingly distributing iPads instead of textbooks and using mobile phones to engage students. In exploring current persuasive techniques in use, it is possible to determine how to incorporate even more efficient ways of using persuasive technology in the classroom. Murphy and Alexander (2004) indicate that persuasion is an inherent part of education, and forms the basis of student engagement. Without persuasion, students would not be able to utilize current knowledge for building fuller frames of comprehension. Currently, technology has become a focus of education and is being evaluated as a measure of student success. Collins and Halverson (2010) found technological mastery as being considered an indicator to predict economic advancement. They found parents feel obligated to purchase electronic devices to assist in their children’s education, providing an opportunity for educators to utilize these devices within educational settings (Collins & Halverson, 2010).

This paper aims to address the following research questions:

  • What types of persuasive technology are currently being used to support instruction?
  • What factors of persuasive technology are currently being used to support instruction?
  • How can persuasive technology be used more effectively to improve student learning?

Literature Review

 Various approaches have been used for making students participate and interact with information, but now teachers have technology as an option in the classroom. Through technology, planned persuasive design simply provides an additional tool for educators to engage students. Several researchers have explored how persuasive technology has been utilized in educational settings.

Functional Value

 Barab, Pettyjohn, Gresalfi, Volk & Solomou (2012) found in their study that educational games provide meaning to content, providing “functional value” (p. 532) in how students can apply information to practical applications and achieve personal satisfaction from the results. Applying knowledge in real or imagined worlds provides the content for when the information would be used. This exemplifies why a student needs to learn the information, and what the consequences could be if they do not. Many times, textbooks provide information without context, leaving students to determine how it would be applied in real life.

In early learning, many students do not understand the purpose of the material they are learning. They lack sophistication in educational procedures, and learning attempts can quickly lead to frustration. By making learning fun and engaging, this frustration is elevated and students are motivated to participate.


Mobility is an important issue for many people. They need to be able to access their technology on the go, and they utilize tablets, laptops, and even mobile phones. Having persuasive educational technology available on a variety of platforms allows greater flexibility for users, and consequently greater usage of applications. Several studies have utilized mobile phones to deliver messages to participants.

Goh, Seet, and Chen (2012) explored how short messaging services (SMS) were utilized in supplementing educational messages to students. According to Goh et al (2012), the researchers used the seven principles of persuasive technology in the SMS messages, and found those to be effective. The most improvement was evident in self-regulated students, and researchers suggested SMS interventions would be effective for high risk students (Goh et al, 2012). These messages were delivered through mobile phones, making the service mobile and easy to deliver no matter where the participants are located. This ability to have the application with them at all times enabled the persuasive technology to be effective.

Wang, Shen, Novak, and Pan (2009) employed a popularly used digital device in their study, using mobile phones to engage students who otherwise would have limited interaction with instructors and classmates. Texting applications between students and instructors used the most popular technology, and allowed students to start participating in their own education. Current educational processes have embraced the use of laptops and other portable devices, however mobile phones are just beginning to be considered as learning tools.

In China, the most popular mobile device is the mobile phone, and educators are looking to expand educational services through mobile learning (mLearning) to create an interactive educational environment (Wang et al, 2009). Classes in China are typically in a classroom, or live online, but allow little interaction with instructors or classmates. Researchers found students participating in mLearning reported stronger engagement and connection to the course material (Wang et al, 2009). Instructors reported increased student interaction and improved performance (Wang, 2009). Utilizing popular technology enabled students to participate in their education, instead of passively experiencing their education (Wang et al, 2009). Through texting, students were able to interact to a higher degree than they were able to previously. Questions and comments could be exchanged between students and teachers, making the learning experience more interactive.

Mintz & Aagaard (2012) performed a study using the HANDS web application, with interventions creating positive results in forming educational, emotional, and physical outcomes. This study shows positive results in using persuasive technology in educational settings, whether the targeted goal is distributing knowledge or informing behaviors. Through this application, participants could utilize the application wherever and whenever they encountered a difficult social situation.


Gamification provides an opportunity to learn through play. Using game concepts and mechanics to engage students, these applications offer fun and inventive ways to involve students in learning. Gamification is typically conveyed through technological means, using consoles, mobile phones, tablets, or computers. This allows the student to engage anywhere and anytime, even extending the experience outside the classroom.

Video games are popular forms of entertainment where participants explore imaginary worlds and complete complex tasks. Gee (2003) suggested through the experience of playing video games, that people are “learning a new literacy” (p. 199). Due to the content of the game itself, participants are learning to identify with the complex symbolism inherent to our society. Instead of reading letters and numbers through a textbook, the participant is being exposed to pictures, charts, tables, and artifacts that are also important for students to learn and understand the meaning of (Gee, 2003). The selection of video games available to purchase is wide enough that most people are able to find some that are appealing to play.

Games allow participants to play, and not have real life consequences beyond the expense of time. This aspect of playfulness is appealing to many people. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown contend the essential learning properties of “curiosity, imagination, and a sense of play” (as cited in Cohen, 2011, p. 16) are not evident in conventional textbooks and text based education. However, these properties are all evident in video games. Many video games send participants on quests to find people or items in an imaginary world that creates obstacles. These obstacles have to be navigated, utilizing critical thinking skills. Participants open doors and containers while attempting to locate an item, satisfying their curiosity while fulfilling the quest requirements. The participant has to imagine the need for finding the item is real, even if only to proceed to the next quest.

While playing a game, learning constantly occurs because participants are self-motivated to discover, evaluate, and disseminate information continuously (Cohen, 2011). Participants can work together sharing information and ideas without the pressure of getting the exactly worded correct answer. Participants can take risks without real-life penalties (Gee, 2003). In contrast, exams and tests do not allow for trial and error, with students that make mistakes having no opportunity to correct a poor grade. By being able to take risks they would not in a test situation, students can explore boundaries and alternate options and not chance a lower grade.

Games can be used to build skills that can later be tested for proficiency. Barab et al (2012) suggest appropriately constructed educational games influence children socially and personally through their need to obtain specific information in order to be successful. The experiences in a well-designed educational game could still provide the needed knowledge to test well (Barab et al, 2012). Through educational games, academic content is transformed into an interactive activity, allowing the students the opportunity to participate in their own education.  After the game, the participants can retain the knowledge gained through the activity, and apply that information to test questions successfully.

Persuasive Technology Currently in Use. There are programs and schools currently using persuasive technology, and gamification in particular, successfully. Successful programs include the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Kids’s Interactive Whiteboard Games which offer programming for pre-kindergarten through grade eight in areas such as language arts, art, math and social sciences. This web application has proven to be highly popular, and offers a great enough variety that children at different learning levels are still engaged. The majority of the application is geared towards very young children, with basic skills being the main focus. However, many of the activities are available to older children and are equally popular. The Learning Company’s WII and Nintendo 3DS educational game, The Oregon Trail, explores history using persuasive technology in the form of gamification (Cohen, 2011). Participants journey through the Oregon Trail, learning history, geography, and geology as they travel. Trophies are earned through gameplay, persuading participants to continue on to the next trophy achievement while learning.

While the concept of gamification is relatively new, games in school are not. However, not many schools build their curriculum around the concept of making everything into a game. That is what an experimental public charter school in New York City, Quest to Learn (Q2L) has done. They have almost entirely eliminated textbooks from the curriculum, and instead use gamification in the classroom. The school uses games to encourage students to “actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others” (Quest to Learn, n.d.). The students actively participate in constructing games, as well as playing them. The curriculum is designed to involve the students as much as possible, and does not expect rote memorization over developing a deeper understanding of concepts and ideas.


 Summary of Findings

The capacity for persuasive technology to assist educators is just starting to be explored. Persuasion is not a new technique in education, but merging tried-and-true persuasive teaching techniques with emerging technology creates an opportunity to infuse students with the initiative to participate in their own education.

Limitations of these studies

            While the use of persuasive technology in educational programs and applications seems an obvious opportunity to engage students, not everyone is convinced of its effectiveness. Dominguez et al (2013) suggested the cognitive impact is insignificant between persuasive technology and traditional teaching methods. They further suggest that while gamification could influence motivation toward learning, the overall scoring between the educational methods did not otherwise indicate any improvements (Dominguez et al, 2013). Proposing existing educational methods be changed without first obtaining proof of effectiveness could prove to be a costly mistake with the high cost of technological equipment.

Technical limitations

The effort required to design and implement persuasive technology in education is significant. Designers and technical personal would be required to create and install programs and applications. After installation, personnel would be needed for training and trouble shooting. Changing current curriculum to a computer systems based methodology would require training of administrators, educators, students, and possibly parents. Families would have to invest in information and technological communication (ICT) equipment to allow students to work on schoolwork at home. That would require educating families of computing equipment requirements, software, and means to access the internet.

The expense of technological equipment could present a barrier for students and families of lesser socioeconomic status.  Whereas traditional education provides free textbooks to students, technology requirements could be significantly higher in cost. A traditional textbook could be used for more than one year, but software licensing for a student would be individual and not transferrable. If the application was custom designed for a school program, the cost could be even higher in development costs. The burden of paying for these applications could be paid in part by the school, but families will likely incur some added expense due to the scope and variety of technologies being used.

             Pedagogical limitations

             Persuasion is an inherent aspect of teaching, requiring educators to use a variety of persuasive measures to engage their students (Murphy, 2004). Persuasion is any message designed to change existing beliefs while representing new ones by capitalizing on current knowledge and beliefs (Murphy, 2004). Through building on these current ideas, an educator is able to slowly inform change in students. However, while technology has offered many opportunities for growth, “the education system remains rooted in a gray industrial past” (Cohen, 2011, p. 16).

Many educators are not familiar with persuasive technology and are uncertain how to utilize it effectively. Teachers that have already been effectively engaging their students and have proven successful could be particularly resistant to changing their methods. Often, it seems that educators attempt to circumvent technology, disallowing use of technologies such as wiki’s and calculators. They do not allow commonly assessed information routes in an attempt to maintain an academic standard, sacrificing tried and true methods to obtain answers that could be utilized into adulthood. Until educators are willing to embrace technology in all its aspects, shortcuts and all, education will not extend beyond memorization of textbook facts.

Conclusions and Future Study

Deliberate and “planned persuasive effects of computer technologies (Fogg 1999, p. 27) provides educators an alternate method to use in engaging students. There is no one-method-fits-all way to teaching, and having a variety of options addresses the diversity and variety found within any student body. Just as Dewey recommended in 1938 that education have students participate instead of spectate, teachers have an opportunity to utilize technology to get students to be participants (as cited in Barab et al, 2012). Some students excel at reading textbooks and synthesizing concepts into practical applications, however students vary in what they are capable of understanding. Educators should have a toolkit of ways to present information to students, with a variety of ways to engage them and compel them to learn. As the world becomes more technical, students are going to have to know how to proficiently navigate a computer, or some computing device.

Persuasive technology may not be more effective than traditional educational methods. If not, that does not mean it should be discarded. Students deserve to be exposed to technology as much as possible, because it is only going to become a greater part of their lives. If the advances within the last twenty years are any indication of the growth in technology that can be expected, students should be given every opportunity to become more proficient with different developing technologies. However, studies show promise in the effectiveness of persuasive technology in education, particularly in motivating students to stay engaged.

Further research is being conducted to examine the efficacy of persuasive technology in education. Simoe, Redondo, and Vilas (2012) began applying aspects of social games to the social educational environment to verify the validity of gamification in education. As an ongoing study, the researchers are tracking progress to determine if gamification provides better results than traditional pedagogy. Through an established social learning web application, Simoe et al (2012) have formed a framework for using gamification in social education. Only through ongoing study will the results of persuasive technology in education be evident.


Barab, S., Pettyjohn, P., Gresalfi, M., Volk, C., & Solomou, M. (2012). Game-based curriculum and transformational play: Designing to meaningfully positioning person, content, and context. Computers & Education, 58(1), 518-533. DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2011.08.001

Cohen, A. (2011). The gamification of education. The Futurist. Vol 45(5), 16-17. Retrieved from

Collins, A. & Halverson, R. (2010). The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26, 18-27. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00339.x

Dominguez, A., Saenz-de-Navarrete, J., de-Marcos, L., Fernandez-Sanz, L., Pages, C., & Martinez-Herraiz, J. J. (2013). Gamifying learning experiences: Practical implications and outcomes. Computers & Education, 63, 380-392. DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.12.020

Fogg, B.J. (1999). Persuasive technologies. Communications of the ACM, 42(5), 27-29. Retrieved from

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach US about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: 10.1145/950566.950595

Goh, T.T., Seet, B.C., & Chen, N.S. (2012). The impact of persuasive SMS on students’ self-regulated learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(4), 624-     640. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01236.x

Mintz, J., & Aagaard, M. (2012). The application of persuasive technology to educational settings. Education Tech Research Dev, 60, 483-499. DOI: 10.1007/s11423-012-9232-y

Murphy, K., & Alexander, P. (2004). Persuasion as a dynamic, multidimensional process: An investigation of individual and intra-individual differences. American Educational Research Journal, 41(2), 337-363. DOI: 10.3102/00028312041002337

Public Broadcasting Service. (2013). Interactive Whiteboard Games. Retrieved from

Quest to Learn. (n.d.). Curriculum. Retrieved from

Simoe, J., Redondo, R., & Vilas, A. (2012). A social gamification framework for a K-6 learning platform. Computers In Human Behavior, 29(2013), 345-353. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2012.06.007

Wang, M., Shen, R., Novak, D., & Pan, X. (2009). The impact of mobile learning on students’ learning behaviors and performance: Report from a large blended classroom. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(4), 673-695. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00846.x


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