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Education Bookcast

Feb 8, 2016

Well well, the grand finale. We've seen in the previous episode how laboratory studies have shown that extrinsic rewards lead to reduced motivation and lower-quality work, as well as a priori arguments for why it's a bad idea to incentivise behaviours with rewards. For those of you who are still unconvinced, I'm losing hope a bit since I've spent a total of about 3 hours so far over two episodes (last episode and episode 2) talking about why rewards are a really bad idea. Here goes my last chance at convincing you, and your last chance to see the light.


With one more chance, what will I talk about? I imagine that those people still saying "yeah, but..." might be most convinced by research based on real-life situations, rather than on laboratory studies. Well, as luck would have it, this is exactly what Alfie Kohn covers next in his book. Picture a group of company directors from various industries talking to one another about their observations that incentive plans have caused damage to their organisations. Picture teachers, "incentivised" by controlling external accountability measures, becoming more authoritarian to the kids in their classrooms in turn - and children learning less as a result (research* has shown this, no kidding). Picture children becoming less cooperative and generous as they are given rewards for good behaviour.


For those of you who are convinced by now (hopefully most of you!), you might still be saying something like "I can see the importance of these findings, but what realistic alternatives are there to using punishments and rewards?" Thankfully, Alfie Kohn spends Part 3 of the book tackling just this issue. I don't want to spoil it for you too much, but let's just say, it can be done.


Even if just one teacher reduces or eliminates the use of contingent sweets or stickers, class rankings, inappropriate praise, or grades as a result of having listened to these past two episodes, then they will have been worth producing. Aiming a bit higher, wouldn't it be great if we could turn our society, and our world, into one that realises the value and the potential of intrinsic motivation, and the dangers of extrinsic motivators?


Enjoy the episode.


* "Controlling Teacher Strategies: Undermining Children's Self-Determination and Performance" by Cheryl Flint, Ann K. Boggiano, and Marty Barrett; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1990.