In classrooms where students can make choices about learning and have tasks of worth to explore, the need for punishments or rewards declines sharply. Both rewards and punishments, says Punished by Rewards author Alfie Kohn, are ways of manipulating behavior that destroy the potential for real learning. Alfie, we educators use punishment quite a lot, but we've come to understand that it's not a very effective motivation. We've been convinced that it's much better to use rewards instead. But now you come along and say that's wrong, too.

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But like Alfie Kohn , I do not believe rewards work! In his book Punished by Rewards , Alfie Kohn shows that while manipulating people with incentives may seem to work in the short run, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and does lasting harm.

Credit: Peter Senge. Drawing from hundreds of studies, Alfie demonstrates that people do inferior work when they are enticed with money or other incentives. Rewards turn play into work and work into drudgery. Our approach to KM is far more than stick or carrot.

Do it! As a reward, you may keep your job. Credit: Bob Buckman. Rewards are gamed: People will manipulate the system to win the prize at the expense of doing what is right.

How do we encourage people to share? How do we motivate people to do anything? Pay people fairly. Incentives, bonuses, pay-for-performance-plans, and other reward systems violate this last principle by their very nature!

In my view, we need to understand our business and our world better jointly, and then we will see more clearly what needs to be done for ourselves. How do we better understand things? Through being involved and engaged in the world and through open conversation! We need to understand that we cannot motivate another person. Motivation is intrinsic. People have to find it for themselves. All we can do is help them find it. We do them because we genuinely care about their development.

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Punished by Rewards?: A Conversation with Alfie Kohn

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Punished by Rewards

Rewards and punishments are both ways of manipulating behavior. The reason is that while students would certainly like to have the goody itself—the pizza or money or gold star—none of us enjoys having the very things we desire used as levers to control our behavior. Rewards are most damaging to interest when the task is already intrinsically motivating. Instead, we need to examine the task itself, the content of the curriculum, to see how it can be made more engaging. Regardless of what we do about it, though, one of the most thoroughly researched findings in social psychology is that the more you reward someone for doing something, the less interest that person will tend to have in whatever he or she was rewarded to do.


Punished by Rewards? A Conversation with Alfie Kohn

We dangle goodies from candy bars to sales commissions in front of people in much the same way that we train the family pet. In this groundbreaking book, Alfie Kohn shows that while manipulating people with incentives seems to work in the short run, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and even does lasting harm. Our workplaces and classrooms will continue to decline, he argues, until we begin to question our reliance on a theory of motivation derived from laboratory animals. Drawing from hundreds of studies, Kohn demonstrates that people actually do inferior work when they are enticed with money, grades, or other incentives. Promising goodies to children for good behavior can never produce anything more than temporary obedience. Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery. Parents and teachers who care about helping students to learn, meanwhile, should be doing everything possible to help them forget that grades exist.

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