Feb 10, 2013

The Fulcrum

“Often children –and adults– need external incentives to take the first steps in an activity that requires a difficult restructuring of attention. … But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow.

And so it exists, that place in between. The fulcrum point of getting learning going and maintaining momentum.

We need to be in pursuit of the perfect balance between externally incentivizing learning at the beginning, without making the external reward the only reason to persist, while creating a system to remove the external incentive when a student’s skills have made learning intrinsically rewarding.

Presumably, every student is different. Every student reaches that place of equilibrium at a different time. The seesaw of their motivation finds that perfect place at a different time depending on parental influence, ideas of achievement, use of punishment, etc.

I’ve been a strong proponent for getting rid of grades in school. I still think this is important. Marks are inauthentic.  However, Csikszentmihalyi has got me thinking what external incentives should/could replace grades to get the learning started. 

Are there authentic incentives that we can harness in schools? Views on YouTube, likes of Facebook? I don’t know, but maybe we need to spend more time thinking about these things.

1 Comment

  • This technique of incentivizing and then removing the incentive is known as operant conditioning.
    It is not new. Read about Skinners studies for a simple overview. A good book is the Principals of Classical Condition. It is based on real research and not opinion. If you apply the techniques in your classroom you might be successful.

    Try not to globalize and say in boldface that “marks are inauthentic”. Marks are authentic in numerous subjects… put 2 and 2 together to figure out one of them.

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