Is learning, as a reward in itself, dead?

From gold stars that reward positive behaviour and good work, to expensive IT packages with more advanced carrots that are easily recognised by today’s students.   Teaching has fortunately moved on from the stick-and-stick approach, to more subtle forms of classroom control and more advanced techniques than learning by rote.  Is there a concern though, that children are not equipped with the tools to cope with dead ends and to have the self-confidence and motivation to find a solution, when the answer to the puzzle or the information they are looking for, is a little harder to find?  Gold Star
Yet when the answer is but a Google or Wiki-check away, are we just ignoring the inevitable?  Why read an entire book when the Internet holds ready answers to every specific question, the swift end to your homework and your access to the next level? 
I remember being so relieved at finally finishing a certain English text, felt at that time to be perfect for young learners, which took, or seemed to take, an entire academic year to complete.  A new teacher, a new text, but what was this?  Dickens?  Good grief, was the man attempting the world record for the longest, most convoluted sentences (2 House Points away from the first person to Google ‘longest sentence on record’*)?  Several chapters on and I was hooked.  Was it the literature, or was it the class discussions that led to the homework we were given?  I can’t honestly remember, but I do know that those assignments didn’t come out of a textbook and none of the answers consisted of simply the name of a character.
So why not use rewards as a means of encouraging the unenthusiastic learner to get involved, particularly if that may spark a genuine interest?  The challenge then, of course, is how to keep that attention and encourage students to want to extend and develop beyond the programme. The fear, of course, is that the gamification of education inevitably leads to the expectation of rewards rather than imbuing the inherent value of a subject.  Moreover, what happens when the gold stars and secret levels cease?  How do you re-engage a disenchanted child? 
Do I remember more about meandering rivers and oxbow lakes, than Malthus’ theory of population explosion/crash, because I stood, in totally inadequate wellies, and measured such a river?  Do I have more empathy with my grandmother’s generation, forced to write right-handed because writing with your left hand was impossible without constantly elbowing your neighbour, than with a child working day after day in the cotton mills of Lancashire – though hugely sympathetic towards them, of course – because I have sat, chalk in hand, slate before me, with a cane-wielding school ma’am hovering, at Beamish Museum? 
Well, I didn’t get A’ level history for my knowledge of either child’s experience, but I found out that history was real and not just about memorising dates and whilst my geography studies went no further, I can still point out a pyramidal peak, evidence of solifluction or a limestone pavement at a hundred metres.  Why?  Because I was given the opportunity to get up close and personal to all three on a geography fieldwork trip.
Learning outside the classroom is an extension rather than an alternative to good teaching, not a gimmick, but with often immediate results and it can be an excellent means to switching students on to a subject, or extending areas more suited to a hands-on approach.
*Okay, so the contenders are:

  • Nigel Tomm’s one-sentence novel, “The Blah Story” at 469,375 words
  • Jonathan Coe’s novel “The Rotters’ Club” containing a 13,955-word sentence
  • James Joyce’s “Ulysses” with two sentences from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, one of 11,282 words and one of 12,931 words
  • William Faulkner’s novel “Absalom, Absalom!” with a sentence of 1,288 words

The last is the entry from the book of “Guinness World Records”  . . . and yes, I ‘Googled it’, to discover the above on Wikipedia. 

Do you take my point . . . ?