Incentives in Education

December 30, 2018

We must take into account incentives in education. An education system that helps students face tasks and overcome their challenges is necessary for quality learning. Thus, to provide quality education, we must analyze these motivational aspects.

High interpersonal variability is the first element we must think about when it comes to incentives in education. In other words, each student has both distinct motives and distinct motivational processes. For this reason, there’s no magic strategy to motivate all students equally.

In this article, we explain three aspects that must be taken into account when it comes to incentives in education. These aspects are interest, self-efficacy, and goal orientation.

Incentives in education based on interest

How interested a student is in a school subject is an essential aspect. On many occasions, we tend to underestimate this variable. Namely, we assume that what’s really important is the effort students make to learn along with their resilience levels. However, this is a serious mistake. If the content is boring and tiresome, the effort the student makes will be mostly unproductive. On the other hand, if the subject is interesting, the student will perceive their effort as something positive and satisfactory.

We need to reevaluate the incentives in education to improve the quality of our schools.

It’s important to consider interest regarding incentives in education from two points of view. We can address interest at the individual level or at a group level.

Individual interest is pretty obvious in students. When a school subject captivates a student, their performance improves. Namely, this is because interest encourages explorative behaviors and constructive reasoning regarding the topic of interest.

Group-level interest is different. How do we manage to make a subject more interesting? John Dewey claimed that subjects didn’t become more interesting if you filled them with irrelevant details. For a subject to be interesting, a teacher must help students understand its complexity.

In particular, people love understanding things. Thus, problems arise when the teaching isn’t adequate and, as a consequence, the student doesn’t understand the subject. When this happens, the information they learn is meaningless and of no interest.

Incentives based on self-efficacy

We understand self-efficacy as an expectation or personal judgment on one’s ability to perform a task. In other words, it’s whether a person believes they’re competent or not. With this in mind, it’s important not to confuse the concept of self-efficacy with self-confidence. The former is a specific judgment about a specific task while the latter is a general idea about one’s own qualities and abilities.

A high self-efficiency level helps boost a student’s motivation towards studying and learning. This happens because being good at something makes people feel good. On the other hand, a low self-efficacy level can be very negative motivationally speaking.

In particular, the brain acts as a defense mechanism to keep our self-esteem up. So, the students lose interest in the tasks in which they’re not good at or don’t have the adequate skills for.

Flaws in our education system

One of the greatest flaws in our education system is that we put a lot of importance on failure and reward success competitively. We must bear in mind that by penalizing failures and mistakes, punishment becomes the main focus. Consequently, this can trigger a serious self-efficacy decline.

On the other hand, when we reward success on a competitive level (“John got the best grade in the class, you all could learn from him”), we can make the other students feel bad and this can affect their self-efficacy.

Therefore, the best way to promote self-efficacy is to develop the students’ strengths. Additionally, we should make tests that evaluate success based on personal improvement.

Goal orientation

Goal orientation is the direction the student’s motivation takes. In other words, they’re the reasons why the student develops their learning behavior. We must keep in mind that the motivational process will change depending on these reasons.

We can distinguish three different goals:

  • Performance-approach: In this category, the students that stand out are the ones who try to get the best grades.
  • Performance-avoidance: Here, we can find the students who try not to be the worst or avoid failing.
  • Competency: It refers to students who try to understand the subjects in depth to become competent in them.
Good incentives in education lead to better grades and performances

There’s another major education system flaw in this area. Students with performance-approach goals tend to score better than others. Namely, because their motivation drives them to fulfill their goal. On the other hand, having competency goals doesn’t correlate with better grades. However, students with these goals tend to understand subjects better.

So, how is it possible that those who care about understanding subjects don’t always get better grades? The answer lies in the fact that, in order to get better grades according to our current education system, it’s easier to memorize information mechanically than to develop a deep understanding. Students who have performance-approach goals learn this principle quickly. On the other hand, those who have competency goals need to make an additional effort.

Final thoughts

As you can see, incentives in education are fundamental aspects we must take into account to provide a good education. However, it’s not enough to teach subjects. Motivating isn’t just inspiring and awakening the students’ interests. Rather, it’s conveying that they’re worthy and capable of achieving their goals and understanding the different subjects in depth.