Evaluating the potential stickiness of a technology


How do we know if a new technology, deployed in a specific context, will “stick for a reasonable length of time”? What factors allow it to remain in use? When evaluating a technology, there are four interlinked dimensions we need to consider.

  1. First dimension – how much extraneous cognitive load?
    1. There are some technologies that we can understand and operate immediately, they have excellent interaction design, expressing easily understood or instantly familiar design patterns, we can engage with them and know what they can do for us and how we can get them to do what we want.
    2. And then there’s a continuum of difficulty levels spreading away from that ideal. Some technologies require a higher degree of cognitive effort to get to grips with each time we revisit them. They need to be relearned. This is extraneous cognitive load beyond the higher purpose to which we are striving.
  2. Second dimension – how often do we revisit the technology?
    1. Some technologies may be in use continually.
    2. And then there’s a continuum of frequency away from that, all the way out to technologies that we might use once a year or even less often (for example, tools used to set up a course space once a year).
    3. More frequent use presents more opportunity and greater motivation to learn the foibles of the technology.
    4. Technologies that are low on the first dimension (need to be relearned each time we revisit) are not suited in cases where they are revisited less often, unless there is the possibility that they will be subject to deep and permanent learning.
  3. Third dimension – how much time, money, opportunity, motivation is available to spend time learning a technology?
    1. Will people put in effort to become permanently accustomed to a technology even if it is poor on the first dimension (with high extraneous cognitive load)?
    2. Does the value of knowing the technology permanently outweigh the time, money and effort required to learning it?
  4. Fourth dimension – what’s the true value of being able to use the technology?
    1. Is it essential? Is it essential that it is used effectively, accurately? Is it essential that it is used quickly?
    2. Or is it merely a nice additional feature?
    3. How close to the critical path?
    4. Can it be replaced, exactly or approximately, by some technology (analogue or digital) that is “lower cost”?
    5. Technologies that are essential, but which require deep learning, may provoke negative attitudes.

Dr Robert O'Toole NTF

Senior Teaching Fellow, Arts Faculty, University of Warwick. Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, National Teaching Fellow, Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence.

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