Magazine article Teaching Business & Economics

Behavioural Economics and Student Learning

Magazine article Teaching Business & Economics

Behavioural Economics and Student Learning

Article excerpt

Business and economics teachers often find themselves at the periphery of school-wide policy-making, certainly by comparison with the monolithic core subjects: science, English and maths. Indeed, many people in education are instinctively suspicious of the private sector and the free market, and any attempt to introduce practices from the world of work, such as performance management, breeds resentment in some quarters. I would argue, however, that business and economics teachers have much to offer, and the relatively new sub-discipline of behavioural economics is particularly fertile ground.

In this article, I shall focus specifically on how it might have lessons for student learning. I take as my starting point some recent extended project qualification (EPQ) work by a student of mine. I am, incidentally, a great fan of the EPQ and the opportunities it can offer to the less conventional student (as in this case). My student's premise was that students choose (not entirely consciously) how much effort to put into their A-level studies, and that this choice is a more significant variable than the usual ups and downs of teaching expertise. He thought that economics is a study of choice, and researched what behavioural economics might have to say on the matter. I have summarised his main findings below.

1 Students suffer from information failure, particularly with regard to the choices and assumptions made in the transfer from GCSE to A-level. Students assume their GCSE work style will suffice at A-level. Poor AS results are often required to remedy this information failure. This is not about an absence of information, as we provide copious information, but it is a failure to respond to the information.

2 Students suffer from massive time-discounting, whereby the perceived short-term costs of study always exceed the longer-term benefits of better grades. This effect vanishes very quickly after Year 13 mock exams, when the long-term has become the short-term, but it bedevils learning prior to that point.

3 There is a principal-agent problem. Students see teachers as the principals, in whose interests grades are to be improved. They see themselves as the agents by which these grades are effected.

4 Connected to point 3, students are grade satisficers whereas teachers are grade maximisers. …

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