03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Chocolate Can Teach Us about Curriculum

Imagine you are at your son or daughter's play with a distracting hankering for a piece of chocolate. After much internal debate, you decide to satisfy your sweet tooth by allowing yourself exactly one piece of chocolate. In the lobby, students are offering two options--a Lindt Truffle for $0.14 or a Hershey Kiss for $0.00. Which do you choose? How much does price factor into your decision?
Thanks to the research of behavioral economist Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, we can put a bit of concrete data to this scenario...

A couple of years back Ariely and his team set up a table in front of a public building to sell chocolate at various price points to test how price impacts consumer behavior. In their first experiment they charged the following and got the following responses:

  • Lindt truffles:0.15 (73% of customers chose this option)
  • Hershey's kisses:0.01 (37% of customers chose this      option)

In the battle of quality versus price, it appears that "quality" won out. Now, in the second experiment they discounted each option by a penny:

  • Lindt truffles:0.14 (31% of customers chose this option)
  • Hershey's kisses:0.00 (69% of customers chose this option)

From the first experiment we can see that Lindt is clearly the preferred brand of chocolate. Even when Ariely and company priced truffles at 26 cents and Kisses at a penny in subsequent experiments, Lindt still won out. Yet, the moment FREE! was introduced into the equation, Kisses won the battle of consumer choice by a landslide. Why? Ariely writes, "Zero is not just another discount. Zero is a different place. The difference between two cents and one cent is small, but the difference between one cent and zero is huge!"
Moving back to our school play... Which will you choose, the relatively "expensive" Lindt Truffle or the free Hershey Kiss? Now, what if you have the option of a Lindt Truffle ($0.14), a Hershey Kiss ($0.00) or a piece of your neighbor's infamous triple chocolate fudge ($0.00)?
FREE! fudge sounds quite lovely, doesn't it? Especially knowing that your neighbor has been cooking fudge for years and is a real expert in the realm of chocolate... Getting hungry?

Where am I going with this? Well, for the past four years the organization I direct, Curriki, has provided access to tens of thousands of lessons, units and learning objects to people across the globe free of charge via the Web. With nearly 90,000 registered members of our site, we know Curriki is providing a valuable service to educators in need of the right lesson at the right time and at the right price point for their classrooms.

Now to date, that price has been FREE!, but as Curriki aims to sustain itself over the next ten years and beyond, we are wondering if our pricing structure and product are in need of a revision.

The content on Curriki is not the expensive and polished Lindt chocolate that the major textbook and supplemental providers represent. Nor are we the lower grade but wildly abundant "edutainment" web sites that share the same instructional value as a Hershey's Kiss. Instead, Curriki is that rich, time-tested fudge that your neighbor makes. Like the fudge, the quality of the educational resources on Curriki is the product of years of experience. What is exciting about Curriki is that it leverages the collective experience of educators around the world, giving them a place to share ideas, content and best practices. By harnessing all of this institutional knowledge, Curriki is inverting the publishing paradigm. Rather than relying on publishers to create content, Curriki empowers classroom teachers to build and share their best work.

We believe that breadth, depth and the classroom tested nature of the resources on Curriki give them substantial value. As Curriki now explores creative ways to sustain itself and find the right product/market fit, we again need the input of the education community. Teachers, administrators and parents, help us out by responding in the comments section below!

  • In light of the financial pressure that most schools are under, how comfortable are you moving from a polished textbook to a repository of teacher-created content?
  • What does high-quality educational content mean to you? Has it been tested? Is it comprehensive? Is it research-based? Is it problem-focused? Is it aligned to standards and learning objectives?
  • Does the price tag on a piece of content impact your perception of its quality? Does an expensive textbook feel of higher quality than FREE! teacher-created content?

As Ariely states in Predictably Irrational, "Most people don't know what they want unless they see it in context". Given the context above, share your thoughts with us! Are you excited by a world with abundant teacher created, classroom-tested curricula? If so, what value (or "price") would you give for its access? If that value is greater that $0.00, why not take a moment to promote Curriki and the sharing of content internationally!

Barbara Kurshan

Executive Director, Curriki

P.S. Still thinking about chocolate? Check out this excellent teacher-created unit on the history and science of chocolate courtesy of Curriki member Sarah Wostbrock.