Quality vs. Gamification

First of all, let me begin by briefly explaining the concept of “Gamification”. It is actually a new name for an older idea. Simply defined it is the use of game elements in a non-gaming context to drive user engagement, loyalty and motivate the desired action. According to several studies, games are one of the most powerful behaviouristic motivators and anyone can enjoy games if given the right reason to do so.

This kind of mirrors the concept set forth by Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs theory that necessity is the driving force behind achievement. A theory used by Advertising and Marketing Agencies world-wide. The idea is that if you are looking to promote a certain action ie, buying a particular product or completing a certain task, you must find a motivator. It is this motivator that compels, or rather, manipulates the desired action. Gamification is a “spin-off” of this theory. Renowned author Alfie Kohn, in his articular Rewards are still bad news (25 years later) , published in the New York Times October 28, 2018 provides another perception of rewards. https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/rewards-25-years-later/

He states that “Experimental results that challenge entrenched beliefs and practices are even more noteworthy. Case in point: the discovery that when we are rewarded for doing something, we tend to lose interest in whatever we had to do to get the reward. This outcome has been confirmed scores of times with all sorts of rewards and tasks, and across cultures, ages, and genders.

Pay attention to this next part because, having majored in Psychology myself, it is clear to me how it speaks to the long-term affects of a reward system on young learners as it pertains to Extrinsic vs Intrinsic motivation .

Again, for the sake of this article. Extrinsic motivation means that some people do something n order to receive a reward of some kind whether it be simple words of praise, a piece of candy, or a new job. TO the contrary, Intrinsic behavior means that some people do something simply for the love of doing it.

Kohn goes on to state the following:

It’s not just that these two are different but that the first tends to undermine the second. Intrinsic motivation (loving what you do) is also the best predictor of high-quality achievement, which is why — brace yourself for another counterintuitive discovery — people promised a reward for doing something often end up doing it more poorly than people who weren’t.

I began tracking, and trying to explain, these lines of research back in the late 1980s. This year, for the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of my book Punished by Rewards, I reviewed as many studies as I could find that were conducted since its original publication. The conclusions that rewards frequently kill both interest and excellence have, if anything, grown more solid in the intervening decades. Yet many teachers, parents, and managers persist in using various versions of what has been called “sugar-coated control.”

Sugar coated control; I love that term. So what does all of this mean? While it is obviously better to control Young Learners behavior with reward rather than punishment, (Or is it?), I agree with Kohn that both can be equally damaging. I do not adhere to the ancient ideal “Spare the rod, spoil the kid”, but I definitely can see how children might become less concerned about the well-being of others if they become accustomed to receiving a reward for helping or sharing. I am in further agreement that students become less interested when they are induced to do the same task with the same carrot. The reward needs to be bigger and bigger to induce the same level of excitement. This type of extrinsic motivation destroys any hope of forming these children with intrinsic values. Doing something simply because they love it or because it is the right thing to do.

Kohn’s article, is in my opinion, a clear exhibition of presenting both schools of thought. At the very least, I invite you to read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

I want to use one more point that Kohn makes to point out the real purpose of this article. He discusses studies done on the effectiveness of a reward system to induce attendance. The results suggest, and I COMPLETELY AGREE, that we are teachers and institutes must stop thinking of ways to rewards students for attending. We MUST, instead, start thinking of ways inspire students TO WANT TO ATTEND.

Our commitment must be to teach and guide students to discover their dreams and then provide them with a quality product that will help them achieve realize those dreams.

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