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For Sale: An App That Pays Children Cash for Learning Online

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Just when you thought that educational entrepreneurs had gone as low as they could go, along comes an app to pay children to study and respond to prompts. Patrick Leddy, the developer of the cash-for-grades app, has previously developed apps for selling custom tailored clothing, financial services, medical devices and cosmetics.

Launching first in the U.S. in December, the cash-for-grades e-learning app Incentify is based on the premise that children will be willing to study or do homework chores they don’t want to do in return for cash or other rewards.

“All of our technology is based on Harvard University studies, which have determined … whether kids responded to incentives and did better in school or not,” said Incentify’s CEO and founder Patrick Leddy. “And sure enough, conclusively, they do respond better to incentives.”

Leddy argues that before engaging with teachers and educational content at school, children need to be motivated to study instead of day dreaming or playing games.

“The classrooms are not at the speed of the children,” he told Techtonics. “The children are the Google generation. So how is it that we expect the kids to run at light speed outside of the school, but when they get in the school, they’ve got to slow down to horse and buggy?”

The Google generation – young people with “instant gratification” at their fingertips – can benefit more from e-learning than a traditional classroom, said Leddy. “We know for a fact that e-learning all by itself teaches a kid faster than teacher, pencil, paper and book.”

Dangling “a carrot” in front of kids to entice them to study is a model Leddy intends to take to other parts of the world to empower girls, in particular, who often are married off at an early age.

Whatever the reason for early marriages, Leddy argued children who earn money while learning are unlikely to be sold off for a dowry.

There are at least two things wrong with this app.

First, the app is based on the work of Harvard economist Roland Fryer, Jr., who has long sought the economic incentive that would lead to higher grades and test scores. His efforts have been funded with millions of dollars. He has paid children for getting higher grades or test scores, and he has paid them to read books. His efforts have come to naught, although children did read more books for pay but they did not get higher test scores or grades. So, the basic claim–that this incentive is effective–has no evidentiary basis.

Second, modern cognitive psychology rejects the belief that rewards will promote better outcomes. The work of Edward Deci, Dan Ariely, and other cognitive psychologists have shown that extrinsic rewards may get short-term results, but they do not last and they eventually undermine motivation. Daniel Pink has written about the importance of their studies (Drive) and why the real spurs to motivation are intrinsic, not extrinsic. It turns out that people are paid to do something that matters, they will stop doing it when the money stops.

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