4 Things Ed Tech Can Learn from Peloton

Written By: Ryan Gialames

During the pandemic, I have been lucky to have a Peloton bike and subscription. It served not only as a means to challenge myself and get more exercise, but as the months dragged on, it became a tool to relieve stress, engage in the Peloton community, and build both physical and mental habits that increased my wellbeing. I often find myself in conversation with my educational technology colleagues about what we can learn from Peloton; here are four conversation starters.

#1 Community Matters

Peloton is well known for its strong community between members; some have even gone so far as to call it a cult. It isn’t rare for people to catch a glimpse of my Peloton bike in the background of a video call and an instant bond is formed, diving into our favorite instructors, class types, or celebrating or commiserating an achievement or broken streak.

Peloton is intentional in its community building, creating various opportunities for members to connect. These connections might be centered around the love of a musician or a genre of music, or a celebration of LGBTQ persons during pride, or Latin or Asian heritage month. Members can build their tribes through hashtags that might represent themselves or a group of riders; examples include #PelotonTeachers or #WorkingMomsofPeloton.

In education, we must strive to create social spaces where our learners can connect through similar experiences, such as completing a course, beginning their journey through the enrollment process, and celebrating graduation and beyond. We must provide affinity groups for like-minded students. Think gamers, single parents, or active military, for example. Creating opportunities to socially connect should be deeply embedded in all aspects of the learner lifecycle, and the technology should enable this connection as a core function.

#2 Data Can Motivate

The Peloton platform is full of relevant data to help members see progress, trends, and streaks. The spin classes themselves are built around the data points of cadence and resistance which, combined, form output. These metrics allow the instructor to provide the rider with ranges to aim for and to give the course structure, but the rider always has the option to move at their own pace based on their current ability. On days I feel tired, I allow myself to move a little slower; other times, I’m competing to break a personal record.

The rider’s profile provides them with valuable metrics in the form of overviews, milestones, and streaks. This data helps the member better quantify the progress they’ve made and provides a helpful picture of the road ahead. I feel a sense of pride when I unlock a new streak badge, but I also know it is important to realize that life happens, and streaks are meant to be broken. Keeping a level head about what story the data is telling us is important.

Education technology has the opportunity to work with our academic partners to determine what data and metrics are helpful and motivating to learners. Providing students and those who support them with clear pace and progress indications to help paint a clear picture of where the individual is on their journey and to identify streaks that could motivate the user to create and maintain strong academic habits. It is important to keep in mind that the data we present to a learner could prove to be motivational to one learner and unmotivating to another. We must be careful and considerate as we learn more about what can help drive successful outcomes.

#3 Social & Emotional Instruction Can Change Attitudes

The idea of competition is a tricky one when it comes to academia. For years the merits or hazards of leaderboards in educational settings have been debated and for good reason. we must not demotivate a learner in the progress towards their goals and comparing themselves to the performance of others can have a dire effect. The Peloton leaderboard can also negatively affect riders if they are not prompted to look beyond their rank.

Peloton instructors often remind riders that “it isn’t where you are on the leaderboard, but rather that you are on the leaderboard.” This social and emotional instruction is found throughout the experience. It would be easy for Peloton to engage its users with talk of slimmer waistlines or toned muscles, but instead of fitness, they focus on health and wellness. They remind us the leaderboard is there to support one another through high-fives and to always be aware that those we are passing by on it might be suffering from injury or recovering from surgery. These prompts help keep riders focused on their journeys and the progress being made rather than comparing themselves to others.

Carefully thinking about the social and emotional impact of the features and tools we create for our learners and those that support them is imperative to student success. We have the opportunity to design prompts and nudges, whether automated or human, that both keep the student on track and promote reflection and mindfulness along their journey. We can help them to recognize that bumps in the road aren’t setbacks but are simply part of the overall pathway to opportunity.

#4 Blurring Asynchronous & Synchronous

Peloton offers classes synchronously based on a specific time and date when riders and the instructor work together in real-time. Afterward, these recorded classes are offered asynchronously for riders to take whenever fits best for them. Recently Peloton rolled out a feature called sessions that allows users to start a pre-recorded class together so that those riders are in a synchronous class together, even though the instruction was pre-recorded.

Blurring lines between asynchronous and synchronous instruction is a powerful tool for educational technology providers to explore deeply. Creating opportunities for live events to have relevance to those that cannot make the original session just as engaging as those that can open up new means of instruction, opportunities for learners to connect anytime and anywhere, and allows for greater interaction between those that have more limited time availability.

Final Thoughts

There are many sources of inspiration we designers, product managers, and engineers can draw from when creating educational technology. Peloton is just one. A focus on community, learner data and its impact on motivation, a focus on the social and emotional wellbeing of our users, and blurring the lines between asynchronous and synchronous instruction are interesting conversation kick-starters. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these topics or others inspired by sectors outside educational technology below in the comments.

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