The Moral Hazard of Cleverness

03 Jan

A pile of notes, three textbooks (500 pages each), infinity minus one Power Point presentations and Facebook discussions of exercises. In other words, four exams to go. And two students: dancing in a club, drinking beers and chewing. (No, not chewing. Popping!) What´s going on?

Unlike their 20-or-so classmates who have already given up studying and opted for coffeeshops instead, they are still planning on getting straight A´s (and not going mad in process). Interestingly, they are victims of a very specific type of moral hazard: Their own brightness. Somewhere deep inside they know that they do not have to study three weeks straight in advance for an exam; they know that 2 days somehow will be enough (empirically tested: yes, they are right). They postpone the unpleasant moment when they have to bury themselves in the books – and procrastinate in the meantime.

Sure. They could have gotten 100% on the exam. But why bother? If they do not study, they will pass anyway. If they study a little bit, it will suffice for an A. (Who cares about bonus points?)

I wonder. a) Is everyone (in theory) capable of learning that fast? If so, why do so many people fail their courses? b) Can this unique learning speed be taught? Trained? How? c) Does working hard during the semester play a role? How big? d) Does this moral hazard impede learning in the long term?

What an irony it is not these “straight-A´s-guys” who go down in history: The stupid ones do.

Any thoughts, dear readers? Any answers to my musings? Any strong feelings to vent? Tear my notes to pieces in disagreement or slap my back nodding, I shall be equally grateful for both.

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Posted by on 3 January, 2012 in Education


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