Immediate Feedback

or Why I Should Clicker Train My Kids

Last year I attended a talk at the Gamification conference on the use of game mechanics and systems theory in designing educational environments. One cannot over-stress the importance of immediate feedback in learning, they said. They being the Institute for Play if I remember correctly.

This notion became salient to me suddenly this last weekend, while spending a night at our friend’s house in the Napa countryside.

The house, an elegant mix of modern and french country, was particularly well designed. The couple who own the house are a design power-couple. One is a well known interior photographer and the other is a respected interior designer. The bathroom, with muted colors of travertine and an off-white subway tile, was simple and minimal.

So was the shower hardware. In fact it was about as simple as you can get. A single valve that controlled the temperature. There was not water flow valve. So the only decision to me made, the only adjustment, is “how hot.” It is a shower design that I have often encountered on hotels as I have travelled for work. With one exception. Hotel showers typically try to make it painfully clear with signage which direction is hot and which is cold. This shower, with it’s minimal design, lacked any marks. It was beautiful and totally maddening.

You hop in the shower and turn the knob. My first inclination is to turn the knob as far as possible, assuming that this would be hot. I keep my hand under the water to monitor the water temperature. We all know there is cold water in the pipes and it takes a few minutes for any shower to warm up. So I start off patient and happy-go-lucky even.

After a few minutes, I cannot detect any change in temperature. It is pretty chilly. So I move the knob all the way as far as possible in the other direction without turning off the water. Wait, is it getting even colder? Not totally sure. Let that run for a few minutes. Has there been a change in temperature? Seems cold still. Maybe I was wrong and simply impatient.

Back in the other direction goes the knob. For a second it seemed like it might be getting incrementally warmer. But then it seems to turn colder again. Perhaps the valve does not work in a simple directional gradient and the hot water is in between with either extreme being cold. So I place the knob as best as I can estimate, in the center between the two extremes. What’s that, a slight uptake in temperature. But then nothing and still quite cold. So an incremental nudge in what I thought was the hot direction. Any change? Hard to tell. How about the other direction? Unclear.

Now I wanted to just rip the valve from the tiles.

Am I totally insane or do other folks have this issue. This is the simplest of user interfaces and yet here I stand, totally mystified as to how to get it to work. Perhaps the on-demand water heater was simply not working.

I set the water again to the farthest position, which I initially guessed was hot, and went to go take a shit. Not that I really had to go. I just needed something to do while I let my adrenaline subside.

Not deterred by the extreme California drought, the water ran for a good 4–5 minutes. I got up from the toilet and tested the water. It was definitely warmer now. I decided it was good enough for a shower. Not the warm relaxing bliss of a hot shower on a chilly day — but enough to not feel uncomfortable and get clean. Within a minute of being under the shower, it turned acrimoniously hot. At least I had the information I needed now to adjust the shower. There was really only one option, turn the knob the other way.

In the end, I had a glorious shower. Woo hoo. It’s the small things in life.

But the even struck me again about what a long learning curve this was for such a simple task. With more immediate feedback, you can quickly achieve better outcomes. I am sure all my back and forth with the knob only delayed the onset of hot water.

With my kids, I see the value of immediate feedback in everyday situations. My older daughter takes voice classes and her instructor is very aggressive with providing feedback every few seconds. My younger daughter is potty training this week. Feedback is essential. When she get’s on the potty, there is affirmation. When she pees, clapping and cheers. If she pees on the floor, the feedback is to put her on the potty. Instead of diapers she is in training pants that feel uncomfortable when wet, a soft negative feedback. She is learning fast.

Recently, I attended a BJ Fogg habit design bootcamp and he shared a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WH63lywm_Sc )showing the power of clicker training with kids. Take a look — it is impressive in how the basic positive feedback of a clicker sound does more for training kids to high jump with proper form than verbose and convoluted descriptions of corrections. Rapid prototyping and experimentation with iterative improvements — right?

So I have purchased a clicker on Amazon and anxiously awaiting its arrival. So many things I can use it for to help train my kids. My daughter’s sudden interest in cartwheels, my younger daughters potty training. The possibilities are endless!

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