Let’s say you are a student. Your teacher gives you a science project that will demonstrate any bizarre natural phenomenon. The teacher then gives the instructions, the format of the paper, the requirements for a hypothesis, and so on. He also indicated that you should be able to demonstrate the natural phenomenon that you would document. Finally, he gives a deadline: one month from now. In thirty days, each and every one of you will be required to perform not only a paper but also the mechanism presented by your paper. After each presentation, he will give your evaluation.
Then, the awaited day arrives. You assemble a make-shift particle accelerator for your class presentation. You present the proper documentations. Then you move on to demonstrate the collision of particles and the traces of anti-matter registered at the cloud chamber. Your classmates were silenced in amazement. Then, your teacher, wearing what could’ve been an award-winning poker face, simply says that you “passed.”
All that effort, weeks of studying, days of assembly and a few minutes of electrical shock and the mere, monosyllabic response comes: “passed.” No certificates, or plaques or recognition pins or medals. Not even a word of amazement like “good job” or “nice work.”
If academic reward systems would be like that, there won’t be a lot of students around. If a single school is like that, they are bound to be bankrupt.
One basic driving force that allows us to learn is the reward. It can go in any form, from a simple pat in the head to certificates and recognition pins.
Certain behaviors are actually learned because they were rewarded. That pleasurable feeling of praise or a piece of card that says “great work” instinctively tells us to maintain that specific response or that particular action that we made. Behaviorist may call this “positive reinforcement,” the act of introducing something nice or stimulating in order to reinforce the behavior, thus increasing the chance of it being repeated when presented with the same or similar stimuli or faced with the same situation.
This concept goes even deeper, even at levels without people realizing it. People tend to return to the same restaurant or order the same food again whenever they have a pleasurable experience in the said establishment. People select which companies to keep based on how interesting or significant to them the previous interaction was. It shows the importance of not only the idea of rewards but also the significance of making that initial impression; that pairing of an effect with a particular stimuli or situation.
Moving on to the realm of the younger ones will show how important the concept it, from their formative years to adolescence and beyond. Toddlers are potty-trained by praising them or giving them rewards whenever they eliminate in the toilet. Kindergarten students learn how to write or read by giving small award such as a stamped star whenever they pronounce a written word properly. Kids in grade school are encouraged to maintain high grades with a combination of praises and being recognized as a good example among their peers. Later in life, high school students perform better in their academics when given incentives like medals and recognition pins. This does not only acknowledges their efforts and skills but also creates a friendly competition with their peers in an attempt to gain such distinction. Thus, it is not enough to say that their efforts will simply benefit them, it is better to acknowledge their achievement as a stepping stone in contributing to the society by handing them an incentive such as recognition pins.