Incentives for Learning

When I prepared the coming course, “Assessment” as a key word inspired lots of reflections for these materials. “The Case Against Grades” highlights the criticism of grading policy in the current educational policy. From a psychology literature, grading is an incentive system to motivate students to learn. Generally speaking, there are two types of motivations: intrinsic and extrinsic types of motivation (Ryan & Deci 2000). Grades are considered as an extrinsic motivations and have negative effects on students’ intrinsic motivation to learn. In the 1980s and 90s, educational psychologists systematically concluded the effects of grades system. All findings support that grades do harms to students’ intrinsic learning motivations. However, intrinsic motivations of learning play a more significant role in people’s behaviors than extrinsic motivations do.
Even though we know these traditional incentive systems can’t work as we expected, what kind of incentive systems we hope to have? In the video of “Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation”, he clearly suggested a new approach from scientists. The approach is setup more based on intrinsic motivations. There are three elements for the approach: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy makes people pursue their what they want freely. They decide themselves to study what they want. Mastery means the competence to achieve the goal. In order to implement the goal, people would like to invest their efforts into building the capacity. Purpose is the goal that people want to reach. They would like to know the destination they want to go to. All these elements clarify the essential of intrinsic motivations.

Although we know extrinsic motivation systems like gold stars, honor roles and other reward-focused systems dominated long time in the currency of schools, we should clearly think about deeply the significance of intrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivations are the only determinant for people willing to learn spontaneously.

About qzhilei

The 2nd year PhD student @BIT department!
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4 Responses to Incentives for Learning

  1. waili9 says:

    I like your point of view that “intrinsic motivations are the only determinant for people willing to learn spontaneously”. Although grading can push students to learn and form competition, if teachers too focus on the score itself and ignore other performance of students, then grading will only inherent student’s intrinsic motivations to learn. Educators may need to explore more methods to overall evaluate a student and stimulate their intrinsic motivations and interests.

  2. Rafic El-Helou says:

    I agree with you and with the ideas of autonomy, mastery and purpose from Dan’s video. However, I don’t see it conflicting with the grades if approached properly by educators. I personally need autonomy to work and I need a purpose to proceed but I also need guidance and I need to know that I meet certain criteria. I see grading a way to do that. It’s not the only way for sure and should never be the focus but at least they highlight my weaknesses and help me understand where I need to improve myself.

  3. Najla says:

    I think you proposed a very interesting prompt: “we should clearly think about deeply the significance of intrinsic motivations”. It seems a great idea for me! It makes think about HOW could we start and maintain a living reflection and discussion around this theme – maybe we could collaborating in groups aiming to think further and deeper about intrinsic motivation and proposing applied experiences in educational settings.

  4. Casey Bailey says:

    I concur, but to some extent intrinsic motivation depends on the individual and teaching and learning strategies. I’m not sure if intrinsic motivations of learning have more significant role in learners behaviors than extrinsic motivations, because some learners are motivated by external factors, like grades, praise, rewards and etc., but internal factors is what propels the learner to work unyieldingly. This reminds me of Operant Conditioning, it’s like positive reinforcement equates to strengthening a behavior.

    It’s as if the external motivator has representation over something of value to the individual, so to use the example, grades become more sufficient when the outcome is more meaningful. So, extrinsic rewards can be effective, but appropriate, credible measures such as performance assessments could present more of an intrinsic motivation rather than a grade no feedback, so this has possibility to be an effective intrinsic cause, rather than an extrinsic reinforcement in its whole.

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