In a recent issue of English Teaching professional (Issue 113), I wrote about the ADDIE model and how we can use it to help frame the processes of material writing and material development. While ADDIE was a model that has its roots in the development of military training materials, it was adapted for use in the field of Instructional Systems Design, an area not too far off from one where we create materials and write lesson plans to support the learning journeys of our students.

In the same issue of ETp, Mike Hogan shared his eight key principles of course design that were inspired by the core principles of Service Design Thinking, a framework to help business create a better service experience for their customer.

In a previous blogpost, I looked at the concept of Glocalisation and how we can learn from companies like Maggi and McDonalds and localise our teaching to increase personalization and motivation.

While the ADDIE model, Service Design Thinking and Glocalisation are all concepts that come from industries that might be worlds apart from ours, they contain valuable lessons for us and can be easily applied to what we do.

Here are ten theories commonly known to those in the business sector that can readily be applied to our classrooms:


1. The Plateau Effect

You start a new diet plan and it takes pounds off your weight. You keep at it but the effectiveness dips after a while.

A manager offers an employee a pay increase to motivate them to perform better. This works for the first couple of months and then performance starts to plateau.

We are all familiar with the plateau effect – the tendency for the same techniques, approaches and tasks to stop achieving the effectiveness they once did when they were first introduced. In economics, we might talk about the law of diminishing returns.

The same could be said for our learners. Beginners are often full of motivation and every new word or structure learnt means a huge improvement in their language ability.  But as they get to an intermediate level, they start to plateau. Their learning journey seems to be a never-ending one and everything stagnates.

Learning point:

Vary the lessons we deliver, try out different methodologies and approaches, monitor the motivation levels of our learners, ensure that there are enough challenges and rewards to engage them, and openly discuss how certain tasks would benefit them.


2. Contingency Theory

There is no ‘one best way’ to organise a company, manage employees or make decisions. It all depends on the circumstances. Every situation is distinctive and every individual interacts with other individuals differently. Leaders and managers should react according to the circumstances, contingent to the internal and external situation of the company.

Learning point:

There is no such thing as a ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ method or approach. The same lesson material could be used with two different classes with very different results. It is vital that teachers are able to adapt and teach according to the personalities, needs, wants and lacks of each of their learners.


3. Switching barriers

A consumer might be disgruntled by a product that they are using (may it be their Android smartphone or their broadband service provider) but switching companies might mean having to deal with lots of paperwork, learning to use a new platform, or even dealing with the emotional cost e.g. the uncertainty of the new product. Such obstacles are known as switching barriers in business and can cause hesitation on the part of the customer.

Learning point:

Students often have set ideas of what a language class should entail. Years of being a student in a grammar-focused class where the teacher constantly emphasizes the importance of the present perfect and the third-person ‘s’ might lead them to saying things like ‘I need more grammar’ when asked for their needs. While it is important to get students to embrace newer approaches and methods of teaching, we also need to understand what their switching barriers might be. Overcoming these barriers might mean examining what the barriers are in the first place and having an open discussion about it.



4. Attribution theory

When experiencing success or failure, people naturally attribute certain causes to the result. If a manager attributes an employee’s recent promotion to her having worked hard, this might spur her on to work even harder.

A sales person who believes he didn’t meet his targets because all his clients were on holiday that month might be more willing to try again the following month than a sales person who believes he didn’t meet his targets because he’s a bad sales representative. How we attribute successes and failures can affect our motivation to carry out similar tasks in the future.

Learning point:

If our students believe that failures are due to their innate lack of skill, they might be less motivated in the future to try again. Be careful when offering feedback, whether it be praise or criticism. If students attribute their mistakes and failures to temporary causes or causes outside their locus of control, they are more likely to try again. Consider employing a growth mindset in your class.


5. The Pareto Principle

Economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of the country’s income was received by 20% of the population. He then went on to discover that 80% of his peas in his garden were produced by 20% of the pea pods. This principle has since been adapted to describe many different consequences that are caused by a small number of causes:

  • 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers;
  • 20% of your employees are responsible for 80% of the results;
  • 20% of what you do will account for 80% of the value of what you do;

Learning point:

In teaching, could we say that 80% of what the students learn happens due to only 20% of what happens in the lesson? If so, then which 20% of the lesson might it be? Ask your learners which 20% of the lesson they are benefitting from? Could we perhaps spend more time and effort focusing on that 20% and making it work for our students? Could we co-create the lesson with our students so as to focus on the 20%? Also, consider the content of the other 80% that is not working for our students and the reasons why.

Could we also perhaps say that of all the time we put into preparing a lesson, 80% of the value/benefit comes from 20% of our effort/time? If so, then could we consider what it is we are wasting our time doing? Are we perhaps spending too much time making our Powerpoint slides look impressive? Are we putting too much effort into typing out the grammar drills for our students? Are we focusing too much on trying to use the new technology tool and less on the actual learning that could come out of it?

By looking beyond our own field of language teaching and linguistics, we can benefit from the wisdom of other disciplines, and reflect on what we do and how we do it.



In my next blogpost, I will be looking at five more business theories that can be applied to our classrooms.