I recently completed a course in search engine optimisation through GetSmarter, which offers an online platform for short-course training from the University of Cape Town.
My statement of results is in, and so is my certificate.
My pieces of paper made me happy. As did the 10 weeks of being a student again (one of my most recurring dreams is that of returning to university). I’m a serial over-achiever in exams, motivated to learn and driven to do well. I know that this kind of marks-driven learning is only one way in which knowledge is gained and shared – but it still matters to me, as one part of the lovely process involved in learning something new.
Which is why I took the trouble to read an online article entitled How a School Ditched Awards and Assemblies to Refocus on Kids and Learning on the excellent MindShift website. This paragraph in particular stopped me in my tracks:
“This is one of the most robust findings in social science—and also one of the most ignored,” wrote Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pursuit of the trinket or prize extinguishes what might have been a flicker of internal interest in a subject, suffocating the genuine sources of motivation: mastery, autonomy and purpose.”
Can that be true? That getting an external reward diminishes your intrinsic interest in something? This is not just of academic interest to me – as a trainer, this is important to think about. The purpose of training (especially in adults) is not just the transfer of knowledge or skills – it must surely also inspire learners to take what they have learned and use it, and perhaps to continue their own efforts in mastering the topic. And it seems dishing out rewards at the end of a course is not a good idea.
The MindShift article addresses the systems of awards that are used in schools, and how schools should rather be fostering a community in which everyone is recognised, so some of it is not applicable to the kind of training involved when working with a group of adults in a workplace (which is the kind of training I have mostly done).
The system of rewards (think the end-of-year award ceremony) used in school is not really relevant, and there are other issues at play: at least some of the participants have probably been sent by their boss and may have no interest in the course they are doing, let alone an award ceremony at the end.
For this reason alone, it is worth asking what the driving motivators are for adult learners. Recent experiences I have had in training adults at a local high school have been filled with pleasurable interactions: here I was working with people who had paid their own money to attend an evening lecture simply because they wanted to learn something. For these people, the motivation truly is to gain “mastery, autonomy and purpose”.
It’s clear that the motivations for learning are as varied as the people in any given course. The challenge for the trainer is to find ways to work with those motivations to make sure everyone learns as much as they can (or are willing to learn). I had assumed that most people were motivated by the desire to complete the course and get the piece of paper – it’s clear that I was wrong.
Personally, though, I still love getting a reward for my hard work!