The Connection between Motivation & Exploitation in Education

Image of sky with Nelson Mandela quote: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use the change the world."


A synopsis of chapter 9 “Technology to Support Learning” of How People Learn.

As a technologist I was most intrigued by this chapter’s title and was curious to see whether words written in 1993 would accurately reflect the current direction of educational technology. As you could probably expect a lot of the suggestions and ideas were aspirational and hopeful of technology’s promise in an educational context. Many of the concepts are still relevant and more easily possible and commonly practiced in education such as distance interviews and opportunities for teacher learning.

However, I was most taken by the last paragraph of the chapter which reads:

“Good educational software and teacher-support tools, developed with a full understanding of principles of learning, have not yet become the norm. Software developers are generally driven more by the game and play market than by the learning potential of their products. The software publishing industry, learning experts, and education policy planners, in partnership, need to take on the challenge of exploiting the promise of computer-based technologies for improving learning. Much remains to be learned about using technology’s potential: to make this happen, learning research will need to become the constant companion of software development” (HPL, p. 230).

The use of the term ‘exploiting’ seems almost prophetic to me. Unfortunately, I think what has actually happened is the reverse of the suggestion above. Software companies are largely exploiting schools and their students. How People Learn may have overlooked or underestimated the impact of money on motivation within the software industry and the way in which our capitalist economy rewards profit over care. In order for software companies to prioritize learning science over their own interests, they have to value altruistic principles over money. This is one of the reasons that I feel strongly that our government has to stay steadfastly committed to excellence (and FUNDING) within our public school system. Although the promise of privatization often centers on innovation and flexibility, I think we overlook the impact that individual company’s motivations can have on the direction in which education is driven when we are financially reliant on their funding mechanism. It is essential that the singular motivation for our educational system is care for our students and an expectation of excellence for all.