Edev_502 wk4

This week, our focus was directed onto habit formation and onto how habits influence education in particular. Before reading the required literature for the week, I was ambivalent about habits: they were either good/ bad or teachers could try to encourage good ones. That was about the extent of my engagement with habits. When habits are tied to motivation and motivation is tied to productive learning activity, however, the whole issue becomes very complex and interesting. I’d like to consider some methodologies about how to trigger habits more. Perhaps, a course in NLP might be in order?

Habits form when routines are repeated to the point of automaticity (Lally, Jaarsveld, Potts, & Wardle, 2010; Wood & Neal, 2007). Duhigg (2014) divides habits into sequences of cues, routines and rewards. A cue triggers a set of actions that lead to an expected reward.


Figure 1 Based on Duhigg: The Habit Loop

Although Duhigg’s routine begins with a cue, educators who wish to inculcate beneficial habits in students should begin by considering either a routine-start or a reward-start methodology and then work backwards to decide which cues would most usefully trigger the sequence.

By routine-start, I mean that desired classroom actions are the entry point into decisions about habit formation. Curricular aims typically prioritise content and select pedagogic actions that support the overall curricular goals (Richards, 2001; White, 1988). Instructional design (ID) typically is ‘routine-start’ “whose purpose is to bring about learning” (Roblyer, 2015, p. 2) and not the inculcation of habits. ID systems such as ADDIE (Branch, 2009) or Dirk and Carey (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2005) aim to promote learning (Hayashi, Isotani, & Bourdeau, 2009) but not to support habit formation (Watkins, 2005). As habit development relies on repeated actions, the necessity of linking desired action to beliefs about the learning process can be understood readily.

However, if the focus is on habit formation, ‘reward-start’ may be more beneficial. Habits are maintained because of the rewards they bring to the individual (Duhigg, 2014). Rewards are emotional advantages obtained from routine behaviour, and if educators consider what those benefits may be, the likelihood of habit instillation may be higher. Various types of personal rewards are described: increase of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994; Zimmerman, 2000) promotes heightened self-worth; self-determination theory places the potential locus of life control with the individual in positive environments (Deci, Ryan, & Williams, 1996); and much research into different types of motivation indicate the potential for positive motivators in educational contexts (see Dornyei, 2005 and Skehan, 1998). Ryan and Deci (2000) distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, noting that “intrinsic motivation has emerged as an important phenomena for educators” (p. 55). Habit formation depends on facilitating intrinsic motivation to promote “feelings of competence” attended by learners’ “sense of autonomy” (p. 58). To the extent the individual internalises positive values and is able to function without external regulation (Deci et al., 1996), the establishment of constructive habits is plausible. Ford (cited in Brophy, 2004) lists 24 goals that intrinsically motivate humans. As classroom activities may not be intrinsically motivating by themselves, educators who link the various strands of reward support with pedagogic aims will have fulfilled two of the three criteria of habit formation.

The third element is the cue for the habit. Wood and Neal (2007) point to context as the key trigger for habits, which may be locational, co-varying actions, interactional and so on. Context, according to Wood and Neal (2007), is powerful enough to trigger actions eventually without the individual necessarily encoding a reward goal. Various mechanisms exist for teachers to cue habits, but ultimately, which habits become cued will depend upon the individual’s past inter-relationship with the reward and the routine.


Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71–81). New York: Academic Press.

Branch, R. M. (2009). Instructional design: The ADDIE approach. Instructional Design: The ADDIE Approach. New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-09506-6

Brophy, J. (2004). Motivating Students to Learn. Mahwa, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. doi:10.1016/j.edurev.2010.07.004

Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., & Williams, G. C. (1996). Need satisfaction and the self-regulation of learning. Learning and Individual Differences, 8(3), 165–183. doi:10.1016/S1041-6080(96)90013-8

Dick, W., Carey, L., & Carey, J. O. (2005). The systematic design of instruction (6th ed.). New York: Allyn and Bacon.

Dornyei, Z. (2005). The Psychology of the Language Learner: Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition. The Psychology of the Language Learner: Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition.

Duhigg, C. (2014). The power of habit. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Hayashi, Y., Isotani, S., & Bourdeau, J. (2009). Toward a Learning: Instruction Process Model for facilitating the instructional design cycle, (Ld), 138–147.

Lally, P., Jaarsveld, C. H. M. V. A. N., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998–1009. doi:10.1002/ejsp

Richards, J. C. (2001). Curriculum development in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roblyer, M. D. (2015). Introduction to Systematic Instructional Design for Traditional, Online, and Blended Environments. In Introduction to Systematic Instructional Design for Traditional, Online, and Blended Environments. Pearson Etextbooks.

Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54–67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020

Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Watkins, M. (2005). The Erasure of Habit: Tracing the pedagogic body. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 26(2), 167–181. doi:10.1080/01596300500143153

White, R. V. (1988). The ELT curriculum. Oxford: Blackwell.

Wood, W., & Neal, D. T. (2007). A new look at habits and the habit-goal interface. Psychological Review, 114(4), 843–863. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.114.4.843

Zimmerman, B. (2000). Self-Efficacy: An Essential Motive to Learn. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 82–91. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1016habitloop

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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