On Streaks

App designers understand how fundamental is our desire to maintain streaks.

One of the fundamental Snapchat features keeps track of streaks of consecutive snaps between friends. Duolingo tries to gamify language learning in part by rewarding streaks. Besides having a social component, one of the most important features to build into apps for success is streak.

Of course, this has long been known – Jerry Seinfeld is famous for his string of “new joke” calendars – every day crossed off when he wrote a new joke. At some point, the streak got so long that no one could bear to start back over at one.

If we want our students to learn practice skills, we need to capitalize on this same urge – help our students build a streak that will compel itself.

How to do it is trickier – there is no app for music practice that comes close to the effectiveness of Duolingo or Words With Friends, let alone Snapchat.

My mentor, Steve Zegree, used to say that 5 minutes a day was all it took to build a new skill; I think that part of his thinking was that an impossibly low buy-in – 5 minute – made it far easier to get a streak going. Once going, we can alter the parameters, but at the beginning, the streak is more important than any other detail.