Why not educate people?
Three reasons: i) They know all this stuff already! Let us be clear: 98.7% of all the people who are active in the ELT world are nice, liberal people who are against all kinds of discrimination; ii) telling people the same thing again and again may well trigger reactance (Wiseman 2012 – p. 227); iii) (much more importantly): there is no guarantee at all that informing people or getting people to agree to something will have any impact on the way they behave.
But you do not have to take my word for this – here is professor Dan Ariely to drive the point home. Notice in particular the bit after 1:40. Ask yourself this question: have you ever sent a text message while driving? (I can tell you are nodding to yourself) Why was that? Was it that you were not aware of the risks?
Three different appeals
So – if propaganda does not work, what does work?
Well, consider the following study (Ferrier, Ward & Palermo 2012): The question here was which would be the most effective way to get people to support a charity (‘Save the Children’). There were three experimental conditions: the first group got all the info – they got the facts and figures about child poverty etc. (does this ring any bells? J ); the second group got an emotional appeal (smiling, happy children plus inspirational music); the third group however got nothing. Instead they were asked to design an advertising campaign for the charity. There was also a control group. Afterwards, each group of people were asked to make a donation to the charity. Care to guess which group offered the most money? Well, the graph below speaks for itself (Ferrier 2014 – p. 38).
Why was the third approach so effective?
Ferrier (2014 – p. 38) gives three reasons: i) A sense of ownership: by contributing something – a slogan, an idea) people felt closer to the cause. Advertising people know this and they have used this again and again (see this campaign for instance). ii) Cognitive dissonance: subconsciously people think ‘If I am prepared to do some work for this organization, they have to be doing something good – I wouldn’t do it otherwise’. More importantly however… iii) People felt a sense of autonomy: ‘they were invited to interact with a message on their own terms rather than it being forced on them. This circumnavigates resistance’ (ibid).
I believe that this last point is one we should take note of. Our cause is a just cause – but there is always a risk we might alienate people. Instead, what we should do is get people active. In J. Jaffes’ words, we need to shift from a ‘Tell and Sell’ to a ‘Participate and Play’ approach (ibid – p. 181).
How can we involve colleagues?
Well, we could crowdsource ideas for a start. The campaign still does not have a simple, instantly recognizable logo to act as a trigger (see Berger 2013 [Chapter 2] on the importance of triggers for virality) or a catchy slogan.
But we do not have to ‘prompt’ people in any way. We could simply ask colleagues for ideas on concrete, actionable initiatives (‘asking people to remove discriminatory language from ads’ is a good step forward; ‘awareness-raising’ does not quite cut it – it is too fuzzy). Sue Annan came up with the brilliant idea of having trainee teachers respond to discriminatory ads with e-mails to the companies who had posted them (click here to read the post). Notice the dual effect here: i) the market is beginning to get the message that ‘the times they are a-changing’ and advertising for ‘a qualified teacher – whites only please’ is not acceptable any more and ii) much more importantly, the trainee herself is not the same person after that e-mail.
Last Words – a toxic relationship
Have you ever tried to persuade a friend of yours to leave a toxic relationship? It is hard, isn’t it? Everybody tells her (it is usually ‘her’) this is going nowhere – the guy (it is usually a guy) is selfish, controlling, abusive but how much does this help? She knows all this after all. The more people tell her, the more reactance kicks in.
Similarly, our field is still in love with native-speakerism. Not with ‘native speaker’ teachers you understand – there is nothing wrong with them – but when the time for inviting speakers comes, the old habits kick in (‘People want the big names’ – ‘We are doing what is best for the association’ etc. etc.) and the old patterns keep perpetuating themselves. In my view, there is no point in preaching to the converted; what is needed is a little nudge for our field to really move forward.
- Berger, J. (2013) Contagious. London: Simon & Schuster
- Ferrier, A. Ward, B. & Palermo J. (2012) Behaviour Change: Why Action Advertising Works Harder than Passive Advertising. Presented at Society for Consumer Psychology: Proceedings of the 2012 Annual Conference. Las Vegas, 16-18 February
- Ferrier, A. (2014) The Advertising Effect. South Melbourne, Oxford University Press
- Wiseman, R. (2012). Rip it up. London: Macmillan
Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been working in the field of ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner and teacher trainer. His love of comedy has led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’ channel on YouTube. He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles which have appeared in a number of publications in various countries. He is particularly interested in student motivation and classroom management as well as Social and Evolutionary Psychology, Management and Marketing. For articles or worksheets of his, you can visit his blog at www.michelioudakis.org.