Why Grades Are A Bad Incentive

Incentives only improve performance when the problems are simple.

Complex challenges require a different source of motivation. Which category does education fall into? What are we training our students to do when we teach them to respond to incentives like grades?

“once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance” – Dan Pink

So, how do we motivate our students?

Dan suggests that we build around intrinsic motivation through the following three dynamics:

  • autonomy – to direct our own lives
  • mastery – the desire to improve
  • purpose – a yearning to be part of something greater than ourselves

These work in business, why not education?

While this talk is focused on the business and economic environment, the considerations are quite relevant as they force educators to grapple with the idea that perhaps grades are a bad incentive for motivating our students.

“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

Let’s consider how these concepts can create a more valuable and rewarding education experience.

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