The Ikea Effect

When students painstakingly produce something of substance that has some value beyond simply producing it for an assignment and subsequent grade, they own it; it becomes part of them, even though at times their creation is overvalued in their mind. That overvalue a student places on his or her creation, makes them feel extremely loyal to it. This phenomenon can be attributed to something called the “Ikea Effect.”

Ideally the “Ikea Effect” plays out in our classrooms like this:

  • Labor produces love.
    • When students learn new information as it pertains to their creation, they feel a responsibility for its life.
  • Love produces (additional) labor.
    • Products of student learning, if returned to over time, can lead to the growth of the product and ultimately the student.

NPR recently presented a great piece on the “Ikea Effect.” The paradox was described in a 2011 paper from the Harvard Business Review. The “Ikea Effect” has little to do with the actual furniture in the vast retail chain, but describes something that happens to all of us after we have labored to assemble the retail giant’s wares: We fall in love with that piece of wonky furniture adorning our living rooms. During the assembly we become frustrated and swear off ever putting anything together again, but upon completion we applaud our grit, revel in our fortitude and defend our masterpiece.

Labor enhances affection for its results. When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations. (Norton)

The NPR correspondent writes:

Most of us intuitively believe that the things we labor at are the things we love. Mochon and his colleagues, Michael Norton at the Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely at Duke University, have turned that concept on its head. What if, they asked, it isn’t love that leads to labor, but labor that leads to love? (Vedantam)

How does this apply to our students and schools? In his book, Who Owns the Learning, educator and author Alan November provides a glimpse of the “Ikea Effect” alive at our schools. Katrina Schwartz paraphrased November’s work in a Mindshift article:

November gave an example of a middle school teacher who had his students contribute to a wiki that supplemented the textbook. They wrote and diagrammed material that would be passed on to students following them. One of the teacher’s former students contacted him while in high school asking to revise the part of the wiki he’d worked on three years previously. He said he’d learned more now and felt a sense of responsibility for what he’d produced. (Schwartz)

As educators, this loyalty can be used as a lever in the attempt to increase engagement and instill a genuine love of learning amongst our students. Something that can be created to demonstrate learning, which is intrinsically motivated, labored, and built over time, provides a sense of ownership of that product.





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