As parents and educators, we spend many hours thinking about what motivates us and consequently, our children and students. Many parents use material gifts to motivate their children to do well for their exams. Are we setting ourselves and our children up by teaching them to expect rewards? Do these incentives truly motivate children?
‘Drive’ is a book that tells us otherwise. Daniel Pink writes about studies conducted by psychologists decades ago. The first was done by a man named Harlow in 1949. The second man was Deci who carried out his experiments in 1969. These men’s studies revealed that adults and children alike were not motivated by short term rewards. In fact, they discovered that such material benefits made people less motivated in the long term.
The Studies About Motivation
Again, the same conclusion was reached when a landmark study was done in 1978. Psychologists Mark Leper, David Greene and Robert Nisbett studied how rewarding pre-school children for something they enjoyed (in this case, it was drawing) reduced their interest in the activity. They concluded that tangible rewards had a negative impact on intrinsic motivation. Again in 1993, this same finding was the basis of the book ‘Punished by Rewards’ by Alfie Kohn. Despite these findings, these men’s theories were not widely accepted nor were they well received. Most organisations in the past and indeed even today, assume that people are motivated when they are rewarded.
What Is The Reality?
In reality, this does not seem to mirror reality of today. The open-source movement is one example. This movement came about when software developers came together to share programming codes for free. This means that no single person claims ownership for programming codes for useful and innovative software. By sharing freely, individuals all around the globe can share and benefit.
Another example is that of blogs. Millions of blogs have been created and made freely available to everyone and anyone. While many bloggers do profit financially from their blogs, many started their blogs because they wanted to share tips, ideas and information. These two examples show us that the world is made up of people who ,naturally and pragmatically, work for monetary rewards but that there are definitely growing numbers of self directed people who want to make a difference.
The book suggests that people are truly motivated when three criteria are met. Firstly, people should have some autonomy. This means that they have some choice and control in what they do. Secondly, they need to have mastery. Mastery refers to the ‘desire to get better and better at something that matters’. Mastery refers to expertise which comes with focused practice. Lastly, people must have a sense of purpose. When people feel that they have a goal that matters to them, they will be naturally motivated to do well.
What We Can Learn From “Drive’
How does all this translate into how we can keep our children and students motivated for the long term?
Children need to know that they have some choices with regards to their schedule and their lives. Forcing a child to do something he/she abhors generally does not work and will only strain the parent child relationship. Once they feel more in control of their lives, they learn to develop self confidence and time management skills.
Take note of your child’s interests and hobbies. Encourage him and her to learn more about his interest so that he/she becomes an expert in what he/she loves. It does not have to be related to his/her studies. It should not be confined to school work alone. The rewards of this support will become evident after years have passed by.
A Sense Of Purpose
If a child understands the relevance and importance of what he/she is learning, then he/she will feel empowered. For example, if an eight year girl understands how discarding plastic in the ocean affects millions of living organisms in the sea, she will be more interested to learn about the environment in her science class.
Written by The Schooling Society (TSS)