Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist recently contributed to The Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet” blog, mentioning the possibility that students are more successful in school when they’re motivated by cash, prizes or other tangible goods, rather than by learning for learning’s sake.  Willingham points to a study by Freakonomic’s author Steven Levitt, which found that students did actually perform better with a payoff tied to good performance.

While parents may occasionally incentivize their children with cash or other rewards for doing well in school (many of us may have been on the receiving end of this, too), teachers typically don’t have the means to compensate students for hard work using cash or prizes.  Educator Bill Ferriter from SmartBlogs.com argues:

What students are really motivated by are opportunities to be social — to interact around challenging concepts in powerful conversations with their peers. They are motivated by issues connected to fairness and justice… Technology’s role in today’s classroom, then, isn’t to motivate. It’s to give students opportunities to efficiently and effectively participate in motivating activities built around the individuals and ideas that matter to them.”

So what can instructors do to motivate the Active Learner to strive for academic success this school year? Here are a few possibilities:

  • One hour of class time to work on their favorite social justice cause
  • Offer 15 minutes with the Principal to talk about what the school can change or improve
  • They get to lead the next classroom discussion (in person or online!)

Exciting and incentivizing students can be done without financial rewards. Just think of creative ways you can by allowing them to be more social, active and engaged. The same can be said for the workplace, according to Daniel Pink and his popular animation “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”


Please share with us – what ideas for motivating the active learner have worked in your classroom or are you trying out for the first time this fall?

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  • randa

    hi really its perfect ideas for motivation