Using Student Competition as a Motivator: Pros & Cons Video

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  • 0:04 Student Competition
  • 0:55 Pros of Using Competition
  • 1:30 Cons of Using Competition
  • 2:55 Balance
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Student competition can be a major source of motivation in some cases, however, for every benefit there may be a problem. Learn about the pros and cons of using student competition in the classroom.

Student Competition

Student competition happens when students are pitted against each other in an activity, game, or quiz, either individually or in groups. Most teachers have tried introducing competition into the classroom. Introducing a competitive game, leader board, or contest often leads to excitement, energy, and enthusiasm from students. Students see and experience competition in sports regularly. They experience competition when they audition for a play or when they apply for college admission.

But, is competition always a good thing? Or is it only good in certain circumstances and with certain students? What are the pros and cons? It's easy to imagine that not all students will like competition, and for some it may cause a great amount of stress and anxiety.

In this lesson, we're going to discuss some of the potential benefits and problems of using competition in a classroom.

Pros of Using Competition

There are many apparent benefits of using competition as a motivator in a classroom. Here are a few of them:

  • Competition can make learning seem like a game, which makes the process more fun.
  • Competition can get students more actively involved in the class.
  • High performers and achievers that might otherwise be bored can become motivated, because they have a high chance of success.
  • Competition in teams can lead to better cooperation and a sense of community.
  • Some students thrive under pressure, which competition provides.
  • Some might argue that competition is a part of life and learning to operate in a competitive environment is a valuable skill.

Cons of Using Competition

However, there are also many reasons you might not want to use competition as a source of motivation. These include:

  • Low performing students might feel that there is no point participating or trying, since winning may feel impossible. However, this reaction can be reduced by creating effort-based competitions.
  • Younger or sensitive children can find losing to be traumatic, and the whole process can create anxiety.
  • Some students perform far worse under pressure - often the same students who struggle to perform during tests.
  • Competition can encourage students to view effort as only important when there's a reward, called extrinsic motivation, instead of learning for its own sake, called intrinsic motivation.
  • As much as it can build community, competition can also weaken it by creating division and jealousy between students.
  • Some might argue that cooperation is more valuable than competition, and that you'll be more successful in life if you learn to cooperate with people instead of always competing with them.
  • Some studies have shown that competition actually leads to lower average performance, especially in mixed performance groups.
  • Stereotyped groups can feel pressure and apprehension because a negative stereotype ('girls aren't good at math' for example) can be confirmed by losing a competition. This is called stereotype threat.
  • Competition can erode self-esteem and a sense of security, which may reduce learning, especially in the long-term.
  • Most studies show that cooperation leads to better learning outcomes than competition.

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