Friday, October 26, 2018

Do Grades Motivate Learning?

Photographer:Krzysztof PuszczyƄski
There are some educators who believe grades motivate learning. Perhaps, the underlying assumption being that a lower grade can encourage learners to try harder and a higher grade can give them the motivation to keep going and stay engaged. In this discussion, I think it is also important to highlight various type of motivations - external, internal and amotivation (the absence of motivation). If grades do motivate learners, it is external motivation in terms of grades as a reward or grades as a mechanism to avoid a negative consequence. In the form of external motivation, grades can change behavior but the real question is, do grades motivate learning?
I am of the belief that grades don't motivate learning. In my view, grades only motivate learners to work towards getting better grades. This belief comes from my own experience as a learner and as an adult educator. Over the years I have participated in several professional development courses. This includes open-courseware such as MOOCs, paid courses offered by LinkedIn and University-level certificate programs. There have been no grades for MOOCs and for the LinkedIn learning courses. But that didn't change my learning process, the time I spent on each course, and the gains I received from each course. In a majority of workplace training that I have been involved with, I have neither received nor given grades yet I still learned and I know that participants also learned in the absence of grades.
"Multiple studies of students at various levels of education, in various subjects, and across various time periods reveal that grading has the general effect of replacing internal motivation with external motivation."
(Docan, 2006; Kohn, 1999; Kohn, 2000; McClinticGilbert et al., 2013; Schinske & Tanner, 2014 as cited in Krawczyk, Roxanna M. 2017).
So, what's the issue with replacing internal motivation with external motivation?
"Grades can dampen existing intrinsic motivation, give rise to extrinsic motivation, enhance fear of failure, reduce interest, decrease enjoyment in class work, increase anxiety, hamper performance on follow-up tasks, stimulate avoidance of challenging tasks, and heighten competitiveness."
(Harter, 1978; Butler and Nisan, 1986; Butler, 1988; Crooks, 1988; Pulfrey et al., 2011 as cited in Schinske, J., & Tanner, K. 2014).
"Grading is philosophically, socially and politically driven" (Fenwick, T. J. & Parsons, J., 2009, Pg. 140) and grades have become "a commodity in an exchange relationship" (Pg. 136). The meaning of grades can be very different for learners and adult educators. In general, learners tend to view grades as a tool for gate-keeping and for making comparisons with others. But as an adult educator, I don't see grades with that lens. To me, they are not a motivational or comparison tool. If anything, I see grades as a communication tool to provide feedback and guidance along the learning journey. I guess what a learner may make of a grade may depend on many things including what they score. If they are performing well, grades are a validation mechanism. If the performance is not up to par, grades provide them with an evidence of failure. Therefore, as an adult educator it is important that while I don't see grades in a certain way, I must acknowledge how grades are seen and understood by learners. 
So if grades don't motivate learning, what does?
In her 2010 presidential address to the Midwest Sociological Society (a published version of the speech is referenced below), Diane Pike said: 
Interesting and relevant assignments, timely feedback, connection between student and teacher, connection among students, meaningful use of time—these things motivate learning. Thinking more explicitly about grading and evaluation, finding out what students experience by asking them, and reconsidering what grading does motivate, we can unleash new practices that just work better for all of us.” (Pg. 6)
Fenwick, T. J. & Parsons, J. (2009). The art of evaluation. A resource for educators and trainers.  2nd Edition.  Toronto: Ontario. Thompson Educational Publishing
Krawczyk, Roxanna M.. (2017). Effects of Grading on Student Learning and Alternative Assessment Strategies. Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website:
Pike, D. (2011). THE TYRANNY OF DEAD IDEAS IN TEACHING AND LEARNING: Midwest Sociological Society Presidential Address 2010. The Sociological Quarterly, 52(1), 1-12. Retrieved from
Schinske, J., & Tanner, K. (2014). Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE life sciences education13(2), 159-66.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Don't Go Back to School!

What comes to your mind when you hear or read the words, back to school?

I have often wondered about the phrase, back to school and its significance with respect to how we perceive education, training and learning. Like many students in North America, I will also be going back to school this September. But I only mean it as a way to highlight the courses I will be undertaking as a part of my Certificate in Adult and Continuing Education program at the University of Victoria that I have been pursuing part-time since the last two years.

But is going back to school all about courses and curricula? What about all the learning that happens outside the school; does it not matter? Is September 04 more important than any other date just because we have a backpack telling us we are going to a place to learn something?

On September 04, more than any other day of the year, I remind myself that learning is not about classrooms, courses and training days; it is ongoing and happens everywhere. As an L&D professional, I take it upon myself to make sure I act as the champion of informal learning and help others make their own informal learning more visible, accessible and usable to them.

I suspect September is a time when many adults might contemplate going back to school to learn something new, improve their job prospects or get a promotion. While I respect that thought and encourage the decision, I urge everyone to not go back to school; instead, try never leaving the school. I urge everyone to keep learning, continuously, every day of the year in this school of life.

This September, discover a new way to learn: listen to podcasts, read and comment on blogs, share your insights on LinkedIn, participate in twitter chats, meet professionals in your community, volunteer for causes that matter. Remember, you don't need to sign up for courses in order to learn.

“The more I live, the more I learn. 
The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.” 
― Michel Legrand

Friday, August 31, 2018

What Can L&D Learn from Marketing?

Both marketing and L&D share the single-minded goal of influencing thinking and behavior. They deal with similar challenges including how to build more connection and engagement with their target audience. So, is there something L&D can learn from marketing?

  • Treat learners as customers - Whether we call them learners, participants, workers, professionals or customers, as L&D, we need to know their goals and motivations, existing knowledge and experiences, demographics, learning preferences and behaviours. Marketing starts with understanding their customers and marketing teams are diligent about audience analysis and use that information to design the right message for their target customer. As L&D, we must be clear about our target audience and create a compelling learning experience that is suited to their needs. One of the ways to do that is to adopt and adapt the concept of customer journey mapping to visualize each learning experience through the learner lens. As we take our customers through the learning experience, it is important to think about all those critical points of connect that L&D will have with them through the entire journey and focus on keeping the journey contextual and connected to real-life and work.

  • Tell a story - We have all heard a good marketing story. Simply put, a good story makes the message more memorable and personal. For marketers, stories help engage customers so that they buy into the product or service. It is safe to assume that the same can be done using the right stories around learning and performance. As L&D, we can leverage the impact of powerful, meaningful stories and narratives. Stories can help us engage our learners in conversations that are important to them. Besides, a good story is able to make a deep emotional connect where a perfectly designed training manual can't! As L&D, it is important for us to not only know who our learners are but specifically know how emotionally-invested they are into the learning experience. Knowing this, we can use stories and narratives to address some of their mental roadblocks and challenges and create the right expectations before and after the learning experience. 

  • Align to business - Marketing closely aligns with the business at all times. Infact, I don't think it would exist without this alignment. L&D needs to do the same. I spoke about the value of alignment to business in an earlier post. A constant focus on business and how L&D can impact the bottom line by improving everyday work performance is critical. In the absence of this alignment, we tend to design training or learning experiences that have little or no value to the business and to the learners. To take this a step further, marketing constantly demonstrates the value it adds to the business through various metrics and L&D must do the same. Using ROI, ROE, surveys, feedback, anecdotal evidence, etc. L&D must make a conscious effort to articulate its value to the business and to all its stakeholders including learners. Establishing an L&D brand positioning and using that as a guideline to identify the core capabilities and the unique value that L&D brings to the table is also a part of staying aligned to the business. 

  • Go where the learners are - The mark of a good marketing strategy and excellent customer service is to go where the customers are. Marketing teams don't wait for customers to get to them; they anticipate customer needs, build products and solutions and identify multiple ways of reaching and engaging with their target audience. L&D can do a lot more of that with their customers. L&D needs to move away from the 'if you build it, they will come' mentality towards 'how do we best provide learning and performance tools at the point of need.' L&D needs to make an effort to listen to what the learners need and where and when they will find the learning most useful. This means providing greater flexibility with learning including at work, online or via blended learning models and empowering learners to choose what, where, when and how they want to learn. L&D departments have to be where the learners are. They need to explore the themes of personalization and customization and think about using informal learning, social learning, microlearning and other emerging concepts, tools and technologies to reach learners and respond to their needs. 

If L&D wants to be customer-focused like Marketing, then it is time to:
  • stop managing and start empowering learners.
  • stop directing and start responding to learner needs. 
  • stop creating courses and start solving business problems.