Friday, April 5, 2013

Should We Disgust People into Learning?

If you have 30 minutes to spare I suggest you listen to this podcast from about a year ago. A friend and  colleague pointed it out, saying it has implications for computing education. You will decide for yourself what
Appealing to Your Better Nature
the real take home message is. (Subject Matter Hint: germs and money)

I have been reading a lot lately about global and national trends in technological development, global infrastructure and how different nations are investing in R&D, and STEM education to support it. Fascinating, because although you may be aware that certain other countries are leaping ahead or behind, some of the data is mind blowing. China for example is plowing so much funding into technological infrastructure and the education to produce a workforce to support it that I almost choked. Want to get your mind blown too? Read just the Overview section of these Science and Engineering Indicators for 2012 . Russia, meanwhile, is on more of a slide than I realized. Interesting...

Of course there is the looming environmental disaster in China (poisonous smog, pig carcasses in the water) that seems to be growing as fast as their infrastructure investments.

One of the points made in that podcast about germs and finances in relation to American bad habits, might or might not have something to say here. In the podcast, it seemed that people are effectively shamed, tricked and frightened into doing the right thing for health and the environment. Change was more effective via those routes than through education about why they should do the right thing.

Part of the reason, not discussed in the podcast, was likely the emotional as opposed to cognitive aspect of being shamed and publicly embarrassed. It is well established that, in spite of what people say and think they will do sometimes they don't do it - until they have an emotional reason to do so. It is easy to think your way around a tough issue or to just shelve it for later, thus effectively not addressing it. On the other hand, if you don't want to show your face because of the reaction you will get from others, then you are more likely to alter your behavior.

But...does this mean we should put more focus on behavioral change through shaming, tricking and frightening people? In classroom settings, in work settings, in global politics?

Before you reach any decision, you should also check out this book, just to make sure you are fully informed of all the ways people might think about the issues: "Theories of International Politics and Zombies". I read this almost without stopping and found myself educated in great depth political theory. Something I would not likely have ever considered putting time into, much as I like to be well informed about what is going on in the world.

Combine what you learn about Zombie politics with what you know about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and then add in what you know about deep vs. surface learning, and then add in what you know about effective longitudinal behavioral change.

Then you tell me: will shaming people into doing what you want, will humiliating them, will berating them or just plain embarrassing them, lead to deep learning and long term change?

I almost completely stopped drinking cow milk after learning about federal guidelines listing how much pus is allowable in cartons of milk, organic or otherwise (gross, gross I wish I could get that out of my head!). But have I really lost interest in milk? Have I really changed? What have I really learned (aside from a truly disgusting factoid)?

You can disgust me out of cow milk in my tea and cereal, but I'm already subliminally looking for ways to subvert the problem.

Zoom back out to bigger issues of education, business and politics. What have you learned?

No comments:

Post a Comment