Competitions during learning seem to work but there is are dangers to avoid.
Competition comes highly recommended. Works by Thiagi, Bob Pike, Bob Lucas, Sharon Bowman and this Examiner's own royalty-free game show music offering all include games and other activities that rely on the element of competition.
It seems to work. Adult learners come to life during these competitions, the competitions illuminate key learning points and presenters who through the learning responsibility back on the learners themselves often receive higher evaluations.
Ands yet, some recent articles, including The downside of student teamwork, Study reveals nearly seventy-five percent of workers prefer not to work in teams, Ice breakers are harmful to the learning process and Article suggests motivation traps to avoid with participants all indicate that there is a downside to competition.
Annie Murphy Paul, in her February 2013 The Brilliant Report blog posting, warns of some more dangers to be aware of. She shares information gleaned from Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman and reported in their book Top Dog.
Top Dog, and Paul’s reporting, lists three situations in which competition can be damaging.
Situation one: When people feel threatened – Bronson and Merryman discovered that students who felt threatened during a testing experiment had scores averaging 18% lower than those who did not feel threatened.
Situation two: when people feel that poor scores will confirm stereotypes about them – Anyone who lets their own-self doubts or is aware of, and concerned about negative stereotypes will likely do more poorly during testing.
Situation three: when people perceive that they have an unfair disadvantage. People have been shown to either give up or produce less effort when they perceive that the results are biased against them.
Nothing in these three situations suggests that learning professionals abandon competitive activities. There are, however, some strategies that can make competition less onerous:
- Make your learning environment a welcoming, non-threatening one
- Treat all learners with equal levels of respect
- Make the competitive playing field as level as possible
- Dictate group size so that vocal players cannot overpower quieter ones
- Rather than introducing an activity as a competition, set it up as a task to be completed
- Do not force people into the spotlight
- Avoid making time limits into pressure situations
- Hint that an activity is a competition without saying so by starting it with the words, “Ready? Set? Go!”
Finally, just because some people are uncomfortable with game play does not mean it should be abandoned. Someone will invariably, be uncomfortable with anything you do during learning. Learning, by its very nature, is uncomfortable. We will not make the situation better by avoiding competition. Rather, we need to manage it for every participants benefit.