Clearly, the cup of education overflows with extrinsic motivation. Is that good or bad? What impact do extrinsic rewards have on intrinsic motivation and learning?  Here are summaries of two relevant research studies:

 1) Psychologists M.R. Lepper, D. Green and R.E. Nisbett studied children who spent a high percentage of time drawing during free play. They took children individually and asked them to draw. Expected-award children were shown a good-player certificate and told they could win one by drawing. After they drew, they were told they had done well and were given the certificate. Unexpected-award subjects were not informed about the certificate, but after they drew, they were given the same feedback and certificate. This condition controlled for any effect due to receiving a reward. No-reward children drew with no mention of a certificate and were not given one at the end, which controlled for any effect due to drawing. Two weeks later, children again were observed during free play to determine the percentage of time spent drawing. Expected-award children spent less time drawing during the post-experimental phase compared with the pretest baseline phase; pretest-to-posttest changes of the other groups were nonsignificant. Compared with the other conditions, expected-award subjects spent less time drawing during the post-experimental phase. Similar results have been obtained in several studies using different subject populations (children, adolescents, adults), types of rewards (monetary, social) and target activities. The original study is titled “Undermining Children’s Intrinsic Interest with Extrinsic Reward” and was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

 2) Psychologist Edward Deci did research with two groups to see the effect of extrinsic rewards on learning. Group one received an extrinsic reward (money) for solving a puzzle called SOMA; the second group received no rewards. Afterwards, both groups were left alone and secretly watched. The group that was paid stopped playing; the group not paid kept playing. Deci summarized his findings thusly: “Stop the pay, stop the play.” He concludes, “Monetary rewards undermined people’s intrinsic motivation….  Rewards seemed to turn the act of playing into something that was controlled from the outside: It turned play into work, and the player into a pawn…. Rewards and recognition are important, but as the research has so clearly shown and I have reiterated many times, when rewards or awards are used as a means of motivating people, they are likely to backfire.” –Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do

–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshop, Skip@OnCourseWorkshop.com

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