Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

In the experience of becoming a graduate student, and the articles and rich conversations which have been a part of this journey into inquiry and ICT, I found myself questioning the role of competition in learning environments.

Collaboration is a critical element of inquiry, and is mentioned in virtually all literature which describes 21st century learning skills.  Is there still a place for competition in the classroom?

Research indicates that competition creates performance goals rather than learning goals, and has a negative effect on learning and motivation. One study compared psychology classes with cooperative and competitive goals structures. (Sherman, 1986)  In another study,  students in Hong Kong were randomly assigned to either competitive or non-competitive conditions in a 2-hour Chinese typewriting course. (Lam, Yim, Law & Cheung, 2004).  The result of both studies indicated that while there we no significant differences in achievement, the students in competitively structured environments were more performance oriented and had a more negative experience.

Apart from these studies, I look to my own experiences with competition in learning.  Today, our instructor fabricated a mock “test” to elicit conversation about assessment.  Even though I immediately recognized it as a simulation, I still had an intrinsic need to perform well.  And yes, I did wonder how I performed in comparison to others.  Was it a negative experience? In this situation, not really, but I do still feel a competitive thread to our class.  Even though we are not in competition with each other, and have been learning cooperatively and collaboratively, I am constantly concerned that my academic language and performance on the assignments is not as good as others in the class.  Is this a result of my previous experiences as a student, which have conditioned me to feel this way?  Furthermore, is it a bad thing to want to do well?  Competition is indeed one of the motivating factors pushing me to succeed. It is everywhere.  Video games, retail pricing, even reality TV, which puts people in competition with each other for love. (Yes, I am a closet Bachelorette fan!)

Returning to my original question, is there a place for competition in 21st century classrooms?  I believe Roosevelt’s quote to be quite accurate. Perhaps it is not about eliminating competition from learning but simply ensuring that cooperation and collaboration become the priority.  So while my question remains largely unanswered, I plan to continue the inquiry.  When I reach a more concrete solution, I’ll let you know… unless you reach one first!


Lam, S., Yim, P., Law, J. & Cheung, R.  (2004). The effects of competition on achievement motivation in Chinese classrooms.  British Journal of Educational Psychology,  74, 281–296.

Sherman, L. (1986). Cooperative Versus Competitive Educational Psychology Classrooms: A Comparative Study. Teaching and Teacher Education, 2(3), 283-295.

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