#108/111: Punished by Rewards

This is one of the books where I just read the title and bought it. Recently, I talked with a friend about rewards and rules and we noticed that they often lead to out crawling from intrinsic motivations. He said “if I have to do something in 48 hours, I will take at least 48 hours – if I can choose my time freely, I probably will do it immediately.” You probably had similar experiences.

Some of these observations will be true. Alfie Kohen wrote lots of other books about schooling and the use of rewards, so this bit in the book is especially interesting.

His main objective is a critique of pop behaviorism, i.e. you have to give something to get something or equivalent with punishments. If I want the kids to learn about history, I have to get them grades. If I want my kids to eat healthier I have to reward them after eating. Or in business settings: If I want my employees to get three new accounts I have to pay them extra for each one. It’s so inherent in our thinking that it have to be challenged.

So what is Kohn saying about this? I read a great amount of studies and presented his findings. The first and most fundamental is that rewards often don’t work and sometimes they worsen the situation. There are some things to understand.

Firstly, rewards punish. A typical setting is some superior (teacher, boss, parent) who compliments you if you did something great. What is if your superior doesn’t compliment you? It’s basically punishment. Punishment and rewards each side of one coin. There are study that found that even compliments can be bad if they are linked to some objective. That’s important! Unexpected rewards sometimes are better than none but as long as you link it so a objective it basically become some form of punishment.

Secondly, rewards distorts your intentions. If you offer your kid a buck for each carrot she eats, she will eat more carrots because of the buck not because of the carrot. The eating of a carrot is the unpleasant thing to do to get the buck. You wanted to promote eating healthy food and instead promoted that healthy food is unpleasant.

Thirdly, rewards crowd out intrinsic motivation. There’s some kind of myth that you can add motivations, that is if you are intrinsic motivated and someone gives you money/praise/etc for doing this task that you will be even more motivated. Actually, motivation doesn’t work that way. If you are not motivated at all, then of course, extrinsic motivation motivates you to do the task. However, if you already are intrinsic motivated the extrinsic motivation can crowd your complete intrinsic motivation out and replace it with extrinsic motivation. This effect is rather famous in economics and studied in psychology.

You will probably think that extrinsic motivation isn’t good but we don’t have any alternatives. Kohn himself thinks that it’s hard because extrinsic motivators are so easy to create. Just throw some money in and you’re done. But there are alternatives which aren’t so easy to implement but have a less damaging effect.

The first one is collaboration. Work with your subordinate together to solve the problem or let him work with outer people. Alfie Kohn cites an interesting case where a mother went crazy because her child don’t wanted to go to sleep at 9pm. She tried nearly everything but she never tried to understand why her child don’t wanted to go to sleep. The same goes for pupils who come to repeatedly to late to school or unmotivated employees. Talk to them and help to solve them the problem. If you’re employee doesn’t like to work at your place then it’s probably the best for both of you that he looks for another job. It’s not the easy way but it does solve problems instead of treating symptoms.

Secondly, content is important. It’s rather easy in think about it in the schooling field. Don’t let kids learn things that are boring. For example, he talked about dates in history and I agree. The interesting thing about the Franz Ferdinand’s dead isn’t that he died on a Sunday or at June 28 but rather that this coincidence lead to the first World War. You can make probably most things interesting and you should!

The last one is choice. The more freedom you allow the more intrinsic motivated people will be. For example, he shows that for uninteresting work the best one can do is, to let people handle it the way they want. Even for interesting work this has a positive effect and the business literature begins to include it. We let people work from their home or they don’t have to be in office from 8 to 5 but rather just have to get some task done till some date. This exactly the choice which helps to increase people’s motivation.

This book got so many interesting studies in it that I recommend this book to nearly everyone but to everyone who is some form of authority: Parents, teacher, supervisors.

#107/111: Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar

By now, you probably have guessed that I think institutionalized education isn’t that great. Most of my marketable skills are self-learned, I pretty much started this at the age of 13 reading books about computer hardware. It’s just was and is natural curiosity.

I’m of course not alone. Lots of people, especially in the IT-sector, are self-learned and they are mostly better than their peers – why? Because they love what they do, they haven’t learned programming or security or testing just to get a job but rather because they love to learn about new stuff. One of them is James Bach.

In his book Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar he told his story about dropping out of high school, living on his own and learning programming. With 21 he was hired by Apple as a software testing manager and today he is an established expert in software testing and gets invited to (academic) conferences. He is happy and loves what he’s doing.

He wrote about his life outside of the mainstream and addressed some issues I had recently. The first one and probably one which affects more people is about learning. After the first years of university I thought that you have to learn everything like they do. That is, take a text book, work through most of the exercises and take the next one. In my school time, I just had three or five books laying around and used them more as references if I needed to solve some problem.

James Bach had a similar problem and recognized that you have to use your motivations. If you are interested into something, just learn about it – read books, talk to people about it, watch videos. Use the momentum and satisfy your learning needs.

On the other hand. If you’re not really interested in learning anything¬† – just leave it. There will be some time when you’re full of motivation again. This was utterly important for me. I was stuck in this situation where I had a book piling up and thought that I have to work through it before beginning the next one. Now, I just left it. When I’m again interested in it, I will work with it.

The next thing concerns the choice of topics and books. His basic structure are topics on which he wants to learn more – often questions, like “why are some countries poor and other are rich?”. But he don’t have to follow some path. Let your mind wander.
You will discover new areas that you even have thought about in the beginning.

Furthermore, I want to talk about building credibility which will be your disadvantage at first. If you don’t have a college or high school degree you’re in a bit of disadvantage but only if you haven’t done anything presentable.

When I was 15 or so, I fixed lots of computers of friends and their parents and slowly more people heard about my ability which gave me credibility. They come to more to fix the computers I got even paid. This works really fine on a local level and often leads to local job offerings. But it doesn’t have to be limited on local opportunities. You can easily make the world your market.

For artists it’s pretty standard to have a portfolio with one’s works. It’s getting also more traction for programmers which is in my opinion great because it doesn’t matter how you learned you stuff, it matters how good you are. And the internet is a great accelerator. Present your knowledge on a blog, Q&A sites or start a youtube channel.

I really liked this book because I could relate to so many things and events in this book. I would probably recommend this book to someone who’s self-learning for some years. If you are new to self-learning just let your mind flow and learn about things that you’re interested in.

#106/111: Future of Education

An other book by Kieran Egan where he talks about his different methods of approaching a topic and its implementation.

I talked a bit about these different methods and will now deepen it them a bit. His main idea is that knowledge should be deep and linked.

The first one is Mythic Understanding. This includes stories, metaphors, binary structures, rhymes, play, jokes and pattern. Stories are a very important elements, so is story telling. Even for adults story telling is great method for delivering information. Egan talks a lot about story telling and even wrote a book about it. He points out that stories should be made up. For example, if you want kids to teach about the days of week, you could just teach them the names and the order and they should memorize them. Or you could talk about the origin of each week day, what’s special about it, etc. Just look up how much information there is on wikipedia on Friday.

The next step is Romantic Understanding. You probably remind the time you were in this phase. You are looking for extremes – the biggest machines or smallest animals, you start to get hobbies and start collecting things, heroes help kids overcome their fear. This can be easily integrated in teaching. This is probably the most commercialized phase with action heroes, card games, books and games.

After that Philosophic Understanding is starting. This phase is quite interested because some people would define it at the final phase. Abstractions and theories become more prevalent. People begin to form theories and try to explain with them specific situations. However, even Philosophic Understanding got some problems.

The final phase, so far, is Ironic Understanding. It’s more interesting then you may think. Now there’s a difference between what you say and what you mean. Besides that a problem of Philosophic Understanding is that you may try to squeeze everything into a model. Some scholars overreach themselves with generic models and just neglect outliners. Furthermore, it helps you to live a nice live. Sure lot is fucked up but you could either become depressive and/or manic about it or just laugh about some stupid things happening.

The second part talks about a scenario how this ideas could be implemented. I won’t go into detail – but it’s a nice read.

All in all, it’s an interesting book. I know that he explained his ideas more detailed in The Educated Mind – so maybe that’s the better choice if you want to learn more about his ideas.

#105/111: change.edu

How does the future market of higher education looks like? Andrew Rosen, the CEO of Kaplan, presents his ideas and takes a look in the past of higher education in the USA. At the beginning there were colleges, like the Harvard College. Interestingly, there isn’t much known about John Harvard. The most important thing was that he donated his library and half of his money after his dead to the nearby college.

At this time, Harvard was a college where young men could learn about science and the arts. Most, didn’t graduate. It was rather so that they stayed two years there and learned about different subjects. Other universities like Brown or Princeton had a similar history. They play be the same rules. Tons of money, highly prestigious, strong in research. Rosen says they use the Ivy-League Playbook.¬†

The next higher education institutions came later when people found out that American agriculture is much less efficient that European because the lack of knowledge. This lead to land-grant colleges which provided knowledge for farmers. The older colleges were strictly against this type of colleges because it would undermine the spirit of higher education. Today, some of those land-grant colleges evolved into Cornell University or the MIT.

A more modern form of these land-grant colleges are community colleges. The offer education for everybody, for people who aren’t “college material”, who want to improve their skills or who want to learn something new. These colleges play be the All-Access Playbook.

If we move a bit in time a new form of higher education institutes evolves. Like the Kaplan University or the University of Phoenix. These institutions focus on learning and a lead like a company. Basicially they are like All-Access institutions but a bit more advanced. This is the For-Profit Playbook.

Before we go future playbook, I will show why Rosen made this distinction. Lots of decent institutions try to play the Ivy-League Playbook which is called Harvard-envy. Instead of spending money on the education of their students, they spend their money on new buildings or try to buy famous professors. They try to build up their prestige.

A nice example is the High Point University that spend tons of money in building a prestige luxury resort for students. That’s nice, sure but you can’t argue that these investments are necessary for better learning.

The future playbook is the Learning Playbook. Rosen shows what could be and encourages institutions to try to become a learning institution instead of accumulating more prestige. The Learning Playbook focuses totally on student’s learning. It will use modern technology, use new scientific findings to improve the learning. Learning will become more individualist, more mobile and more global.

Andrew Rosen did a great job in presenting the history of higher-education in the US and differentiating it. I don’t know if the Learning Playbook will be so institutionalized because we saw more and more small players and micro education platforms like skillshare.com. But of course, it’s uncertain but it would be nice if he included that. Great book!