The Benefits of Rewards-Based Learning

Regardless of experience level, educators are always looking for effective teaching strategies that can help improve the quality of education they provide for their students. Finding successful teaching methods is of particularly high importance to elementary school teachers, since the skills that children develop early in their education can significantly impact1 their learning experiences through grade school and beyond.

One common approach to learning that serves as the foundation for many successful teaching strategies is known as rewards-based learning.

What exactly is rewards-based learning? Let’s find out.

What is Rewards-Based Learning?

Rewards-based learning is an approach to learning rooted in reinforcement theory2. According to reinforcement theory, positive reinforcement is an effective way to promote desirable change in student behavior. Educators use positive reinforcement tactics3 like rewards and prizes in the classroom to teach new skills and encourage positive outcomes.

First, teachers must determine what will be the target behavior of the students, as well as which reinforcers will be used to effectively encourage that desired behavior. Those reinforcers can then be integrated into the teacher’s lesson planning and teaching methods.

For example, if the desired behavior is for students to read more books each month, the teacher could award students with a sticker for each book they read. The sticker serves as a positive reinforcer—students are encouraged to read more books in order to earn more stickers.

In order for rewards-based learning to be an effective approach, positive reinforcement must be:

Teachers must stick to a specific routine. When a student does “X”, the result is “Y”—every time. If reinforcement is not delivered routinely, the connection between the behavior and the reinforcement is weakened.

Reinforcement is most effective when delivered right away. The sooner a student is rewarded for desired behavior, the more likely the behavior will be repeated.

Contingent on Behavior
Teachers should refrain from delivering positive reinforcement if the student doesn’t meet the criteria to receive reinforcement. While it can be difficult, and at times uncomfortable, to discipline a student or deprive them of a positive experience, it’s important to establish that reinforcement must be earned.

For example, giving a student a sticker to appease crying rather than as a reward for finishing a book defeats the purpose of handing out stickers to begin with. In fact, it only encourages the student to continue the inappropriate behavior of simply crying to get their way.

How Stride Supports Rewards-Based Learning

Stride is a digital, rewards-based learning tool that motivates students towards subject mastery through a branch of reinforcement theory known as token reinforcement, which involves using points or tokens to encourage appropriate behavior.

In Stride, students read passages and answer corresponding questions or solve math and science problems, which can earn them tokens if answered correctly. Tokens are often effective reinforcers on their own as students collect them until they achieve the “Millionaire’s Club,”  but can  also be exchanged for valuable “brain breaks.” Stride leverages the power of token reinforcement as a teaching tactic by allowing students to collect or trade in their tokens (Stride uses coins, specifically) for another desirable prize — virtual games. 

The Stride platform comes with an arsenal of popular virtual games available for students to enjoy. However, students must trade in their hard-earned coins in order to access their favorite games. By requiring students to earn a certain number of coins in order to access these highly engaging games, students are motivated to take their time answering questions and make sure they’re mastering the subject matter, as coins are only awarded when questions are answered correctly.

Not only does Stride encourage subject mastery through token reinforcement, but it also addresses each student’s unique learning path.

Today’s classrooms are very diverse. Not everyone learns at the same rate—some students may have learning challenges that prevent them from keeping up with more advanced learners. Some students may be English Language Learners (ELL), which adds another layer of difficulty to their learning process. However, Stride uses real-time data to adapt questions to meet the level of each individual user, which means that all students have an equal opportunity to earn coins and play games.

Additionally, students can access Stride anywhere, anytime, from any connected device, which encourages students to continue learning outside the walls of the classroom.

Discover how Stride can leverage the power of reinforcement theory and rewards-based learning to improve student performance in your classroom or district.

Request a demo today or visit our website to learn more.

Download our infographic for more information about the benefits of rewards-based learning.

1Effective Teaching Strategies for Elementary School Students. Queens University of Charlotte.
2Larriba-Quest, K. (2017) Reinforcement in the Classroom. Indiana University Bloomington: The Reporter, 21(18). Retrieved from
3Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom: Tips for Teachers. (Dec. 2016) University of Minnesota, College of Education & Human Development.

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