University of Cape Town: WOOP goal realisation app now in all 11 official languages

A collaboration between the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the originator of WOOP, the goalsetting and realisation app students use to achieve academic targets, has now been translated into all 11 official South African languages. This makes the app accessible to a much broader pool of students.

WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan) is a free, web-based app. It was introduced by UCT’s Residence Life Division to help particularly first-year students in residence manage their academic life. A Xhosa translation was introduced in 2020, thanks to UCT’s work with WOOP originator, Professor Gabriele Oettingen of the University of New York. That collaboration resulted in the translation into all 11 official languages.

The tool was originally created as a workbook and introduced into UCT’s residence system in 2018, said Residence Life Division’s senior coordinator for learning and innovation, Sean Abrahams. Abrahams worked closely with Professor Oettingen on the translation project.

WOOP is based on Oettingen’s research on how people think about the future and how this affects their cognition, emotion and behaviour. Scientifically, the approach is termed “mental contrasting with implementation intentions”. The app has helped people of all ages and nationalities reach their health, career and personal goals, said Abrahams.

“Mental contrasting with implementation intentions is a well-researched strategy that has been positively associated with increased academic performance and various increased outcomes,” he noted when the app was first released at UCT.

Appraisal and adaptability

During their collaboration, Abrahams and Oettingen also found that students, especially first-year students, tended to set goals that demand “extremely high standards”. But they didn’t realistically appraise the kind of obstacles and strategies needed to overcome their challenges.



“It’s being able to think about identifying and imagining their obstacle and making a plan to overcome it.”

While the app is “a very useful and powerful tool in a student’s repertoire of growing skills”, goalsetting and achievement is not the linear process many expect, said Abrahams. Adaptability is important.

“It’s being able to think about identifying and imagining their obstacle and making a plan to overcome it. This is a crucial skill at university,” he said.

“The power of contemplating obstacles in advance is that it gives you a strategic mental advantage to anticipate the kinds of unique situations that you may face. It also develops the practice of expanding your own thinking strategies about how to navigate challenges.

As students navigate day by day, week by week, month by month and ultimately year by year towards attaining their goals, they develop their awareness and ability to come up with their own solutions to obstacles. This contributes towards their overall success as a student, she noted.

“There is no doubt that students need the support of a community, of their peers, of lecturers, teachers, and support staff. But within their own space it is the student’s capacity to think, strategise and anticipate in advance that will give them the added edge – the skills which will set them up for the future.”

National effort needed

Abrahams will continue his research into the applicability of WOOP at UCT and other South African higher education institutions where the app has been introduced.

There is much work to be done nationally, he said.

“We’ve got to come up with as many different, informed strategies and tools as possible to offer to students as they navigate towards degree completion.”

Abrahams thanked the Residence Academic Development Committee (RADC), former deputy vice-chancellor and RADC chairperson, Professor Loretta Feris, and acting deputy vice-chancellor (transformation, student affairs and social responsiveness), Emeritus Professor Martin Hall, who all contributed to the project.

“Finally, a huge thanks to Professor Oettingen who backed the full translation of the WOOP app into all 11 official South African languages. Without her commitment and long-term research none of this would have been possible. It is this type of long-term commitment that is crucial to collaborative efforts that benefit students.”

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