incentives in schooling (and games)
Time has a fascinating article up about the use of monetary incentives in schooling.
The first thing that struck me was the title: “Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School?” I was glad to see my immediate response echoed during the article. As Fryer points out, we do this all the time as adults; we give bonuses and raises and other forms of monetary reward to employees who do their jobs well. So why is it “bribery” when we offer kids the same kind of incentive we give ourselves? Granted, there are differences between work and school; your son’s math test isn’t used for any purpose other than judging how well he understands math. It doesn’t feed (directly) into a larger economy of labor. And there is definitely merit in learning for the love of learning — as the article duly describes. But the difference is maybe not as absolute as people assume.
What really gets fascinating is the finer-grained material, the evidence for what works and what doesn’t. Rewarding kids for good test grades? Not helpful. Not because they don’t care enough to try and earn the reward; they do. But they don’t know how. Test scores, to the type of kids this study worked with, are not sufficiently under their control. They don’t see how to get from where they are to where they want to be, because the educational system has already failed them on that front. It appears to be more useful to target the things the kid knows are under her control, like attendance, good behavior, and the successful exercise of skills she already possesses. That lays the groundwork for the belief that other things — like test scores — can also be controlled. Education is a game she can win.
I use that phrasing because this morning’s blog-crawl produced a semi-terrifying juxtaposition between that article and a piece on Cracked.com, about 5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted. It lays out how MMOs (which operate on a subscription model) use psychological tricks to make you keep playing, even when it isn’t fun. Which is all about incentives and reward.
Maybe if we ran our schools more like MMOs . . . ?