Time-Based Motivation

Posted on June 20, 2012


I was just playing around with Motion Math, working on a review for The Puzzle School and I came across one of their games where if you don’t answer fast enough then a pin pops your bubble and you have to start over.

I’ve never been a big fan of this type of motivation. It’s so common in games and it clearly works at a certain level, but I don’t think it belongs in education, with some possible exceptions.

These time-based mechanisms are meant to motivate you to stay focused so that you don’t drift off. They do so by threatening to set you back if you don’t finish something in a certain amount of time. And it works. These techniques are very effective at maintaining focus.

But I’m not sure we need to focus so much attention on paying attention. I know this is a big issue in schools these days, but if you want to allow students to learn at their own pace (and I do), then you need to let them take breaks and zone out occasionally. Rest is an important part of the learning process, so if we are constantly fighting to keep students focused on active learning then they’ll be more likely to ignore their own body’s request to take a break. I think this is a mistake.

I also don’t particularly like the feelings of anxiety and stress that time-based techniques make me feel, and I know the material. I can only imagine what it feels like for someone who is trying to learn the material. Some stress is beneficial in learning, but I think the stress associated with trying to figure out something for the first time is enough. We don’t need time-based mechanisms to increase this further.



The Puzzle School