Motivation: Exploiting the WIIFM factor

How do we get kids to care about learning?

It's actually the wrong question, in my opinion. Instead, let's ask, "When it comes to learning, how do we get kids to see what's in it for them?"

The irony is that, if you are willing to start here, students begin to have the space to care about other things beyond their narrow worldview.

But trying to get them to be altruistic or intrinsically motivated from the start -- in my experience, that has backfired.

However, the fun trick of WIIFM is that there is almost always a personal, real-world benefit to doing something that's heroic, short of martyrdom.

For instance, if you save someone's pet from a burning building, they are going to think you are a pretty cool dude. They are going to fall all over themselves thanking you. They may take your picture. You'll get your picture in the paper. You're famous!

If you complete your assignment, you get positive reinforcement from the teacher. Your parents get off your back. You can relax for the rest of the night with the satisfaction of having done the work.

For some kids who have never actually been in the habit of completing work or doing nice things for other people, they may not know about these benefits! They don't know that it feels nice to have other people think well of you, or that you lose that cloud hanging over you if you actually do the work.

They don't know these things, so we have to tell them. So let's just tell them, explicitly. Let's not tell them that they are doing these things for the joy of learning, and must have pure motivations.

Nah, they are doing these things to make middle school easier, which makes high school easier -- and if high school is easier, you'll get better grades and your college search will be easier.

You can go to college in some beautiful place that has really nice dorms instead of living at home and being bored.

Virtually anything worth doing has consequences that are appealing to a twelve-year-old. Why not share them? Let's not be afraid to talk to students about the benefits of the work they are doing.

It's not a bribe. A bribe is when you try to manipulate someone into doing something based on a potential reward that wasn't there before.

This isn't a bribe. It's simply making them aware of the reward that was always present.

Casey von Neumann