Learning & Motivation
What happens when we switch our attention from looking at how people learn to why people learn? We often call this difference motivation.
Motivation is very much a personal, psychological issue, one that resists a grand, unifying theory. Motivation focuses us on a task; it assists us in directing our attention; it helps us persist in our endeavors in spite of obstacles, and motivation aids us in the form of goals by which we measure ourselves and our learning.
In terms of learning, research suggests several strategies that can enhance motivation. These strategies are based on rather fundamental pedagogical conditions such as activity and engagement, learner choice and control, prior knowledge and beliefs, how we approach processing information, our ability to self-regulate, our ability to actively reflect, and often includes a good role model who embodies/demonstrates motivation.
So how do we produce learning environments that meet essential psychological needs and make effective/meaningful learning possible?
Educators make decisions that influence a learner’s sense of efficacy, their ability to make choices (and understand the consequences of their choices), and their ability to make connections on a variety of levels. Since learning is a self-regulated process, educators can only influence student learning, they are not the cause of it.
Educators thus are responsible for five major aspects of the learning environment’s organization: level of participation by the actors (in this case, the educator(s) and students), the context within which learning and interaction takes place externally (which can have internal consequences), the content and intended outcomes (goals), and the strategies used to direct learning. It is also worth noting that surrounding this learning environment is a larger institutional environment and culture that shapes what occurs within the immediate learning environment. Each of these aspects is necessarily porous and intertwined with the others and is greatly influenced by the design of the learning environment.
Motivation is similar to learning in that it involves intentionality, processes, and outcomes. Ideally, we want learners to be self-determining, purposive, and intrinsically directed. We may even infer that the most desirable learning experiences are ones that are not only self-directed, but that involve a sense of discovery.
It must be noted that in formal learning environments, not all learning experiences are intrinsically motivated. We attend school often out of necessity. Researchers such as Levesque et al (2006) suggest that
- [b]y creating learning environments that satisfy students’ basic psychological needs, educators can facilitate students’ natural propensity to integrate their reasons for behaving and move toward more self-determined forms of motivation (p. 101).
Therefore, the authors suggest that the goal of formal educational ecologies should be
- to create environments that facilitate the internalization of extrinsically motivated behaviors instrumental for satisfying the basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Those positive forms of motivation would in turn foster engagement, knowledge transfer, and the development of metacognition in students, which would then lead to positive learning outcomes (p. 101).
In other words, the authors suggest that as we become comfortable with and supported by externally regulated behaviors (that lead us toward achievement and success), we can begin to internalize these behaviors and possibly integrate them within ourselves and our identity, thus making what was once an extrinsic motivation and intrinsic one. When you put it like that, it sounds rather simple, no?
The bottom line
No one make you learn something you don’t want to learn. Yet educators can influence certain facets of the formal learning environment that allow learners to feel empowered, competent, and capable of making positive use of what they’ve learned.
Motivation and educational technology
This is why I am thrilled to see so much energy being poured into educational technologies, computer games, blogs, wikis, informal learning, and other areas that are a part of our world that until recently would never be considered educational. Engagement is key. Interactivity is key. Empowerment is key. Connecting to others both globally and locally can help foster an understanding and an appreciation for “otherness” that currently divides people unnecessarily (i.e., the social in social software).
Now that’s motivating.
[Note: this review of motivation and learning is offered for formal learning environments (i.e., much more could/should be said and studied regarding informal learning motivation).]
Levesque, C.S., Sell, G. R., & Zimmerman, J.A. (2006) A theory-based integrative model for learning and motivation in higher education. In To Improve the Academy V 24 Sandra Chadwick-Blossey & Douglass Robertson (Eds). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.
Originally posted June 09, 2006