On motivation: How mastery, autonomy and purpose affect edtech

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, April 10, 2014

On motivation: How mastery, autonomy and purpose affect edtech

On motivation: How mastery, autonomy and purpose affect edtech

Mastery, autonomy and purpose can have a huge effect on student motivation. As students engage with technology, they can provide a powerful drive. (Flickr / Marcin Monko)

Some teachers seem to motivate students very easily while others flounder and don’t get the results that others do.

I’m thinking of the Jaime Escalante type of teacher. The type that students would run through a brick wall for, or in Escalante’s case, that East Los Angeles students would learn calculus for.

The topic of motivation came up in the NPR TED Radio Hour, one of my favorite podcasts to listen to, while I was running. One of their guests was Daniel Pink, whose TED talk on motivation (aside from all of Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks) is one of my favorites.

If you haven’t seen it, check it out below when you have 18 1/2 minutes. It’s worth every second. You can see it below or just skip the video for my summary:

Pink’s main claim in the video is that carrot and stick motivation has a very limited reach. He cites several interesting studies where “do this and receive that” rewards produce limited results (or even worse results than people motivated differently).

His suggestion: motivate a different way. He suggests relying on much deeper motivations:

Autonomy — “the urge to direct our own lives.”

Mastery — “the desire to get better and better at something that matters.”

Purpose — “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

These concepts on motivation motivated me to write this blog post very early on (and this one on Pink’s ideas on selling and how teachers sell every day), and they have really driven my thinking ever since.

Students are motivated to learn with these three concepts.

Technology is no different.

Here’s how:

AUTONOMY — Students love the opportunity to choose. Think of a time when you were a student when a teacher chose the mode of learning for you, either “work with a partner to …” or “sit quietly and read.” (Chances are one of them makes you cringe and the other makes you breathe a sigh of relief.)

As students work in their digital realms in our classrooms, we can give them differing levels of autonomy to provide motivation. If the learning goal is the focus, any number of different digital tools could be used to reach the goal.

Presentation slide shows. Podcasts. Video projects. Infographics. Websites.

There are so many ways to demonstrate learning. Why pigeonhole students into just one? Sure, it may take a little longer to grade if you’re not looking at the same project over and over, but where in life is everyone on the team really expected to produce the same product independently?

Autonomy can reach to content matter, too. Genius hour, or 20 percent time, has fascinated me since I learned of it. Students choose a topic that they’re passionate about and spend 20 percent of their day (or week or semester or year) studying it to present to the class.

MASTERY — Our students are already masters at technology. (Well, at least some of them are.) And that scares us a little bit sometimes.

Teachers are so used to being the masters. For decades — centuries! — we’ve been the “sage on the stage,” imparting wisdom to a captivated (or captive?) audience.

Acknowledging that know more than we do about something can disrupt that equilibrium that teachers have enjoyed for years. But in the information age we live in, anyone can become an expert about anything.

Let’s let our students be the experts.

If a student knows a great tech tool that can demonstrate learning in the classroom, what if the student taught it to the class instead of the teacher? (Or what if the students learned it themselves with the student answering questions?)

Let’s take it one step further — to a faculty meeting. What if that same student taught it to teachers during professional development?

Think of how empowered the student would feel. Think of the different perspective everyone would see if professional development was delivered through the student’s eyes.

PURPOSE — Learning for the test has such a limited reach. It’s not really what Pink called “something larger than ourselves.”

Give students the opportunity to leverage their learning for something big and important and it puts a new spin on things.

A nice site for having five extra minutes at the end of class (or for early finishers of a test) is Free Rice. Students answer questions correctly on a number of subjects (different languages, anatomy, chemistry, famous paintings, geography, etc.) and earn rice for hungry people around the world. It gives some students a little more motivation than “study these words.”

Or what about a service project? Plenty of worthy global causes have information and opportunities to help online, and there are needs in everyone’s own local communities. If there’s a way to connect learning to one of those causes — or to use skills learned in the classroom to benefit a cause — that learning takes on a whole new meaning.

Mastery. Autonomy. Purpose.

It may be the fuel that your students’ engines are dying for.

What other applications can you see for mastery, autonomy and purpose? Leave your ideas in a comment below!

(For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links, “like” Ditch That Textbook on Facebook and follow @jmattmiller on Twitter!)

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