Motivation has been and continues to be a widely studied area across many of life’s domains. Motivation is the energising force that initiates and sustains behaviour and ultimately produces results. Many motivation theories focus on the amount of motivation, with a larger quantity said to result in improved outcomes. However, as educators we shouldn’t focus on generating more motivation from our learners but instead focus on creating conditions that facilitate the internalisation of motivation from within our learners.
Self-determination theory (SDT), an empirical theory of motivation by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, focuses on the degree in which behaviour is self-motivated and self-determined. According to SDT, engaging in activities for their inherent satisfaction and that are enjoyable are said to be intrinsically motivating. Unlike other motivation theories, extrinsic motivation (engaging in activities that lead to a separable outcome) is not a single construct; it exists in four distinct forms according to the extent to which the motivation for the behaviour emanates from one’s self. In other words, extrinsic motivation can be viewed by the degree to which it is controlling of one’s behaviour (external) or allows one’s behaviour to be more autonomous (internal).
Ryan and Deci, 2000.
Organismic Integration Theory (OIT), a sub-theory of SDT, places the four types of extrinsic motivation along a continuum of relative autonomy, depending on the level of control or autonomy. As can be seen in the diagram (from left to right), the types of motivation along the continuum relate to increasing levels of internalisation and autonomy and lower levels of control. Progression along the continuum is not necessarily linear and is subject to contextual factors. However, greater internalisation “is critical for effective psychological and academic functioning at all education levels” (Niemiec and Ryan, 2000, p.138).
How can we help learners to internalise their motivation?
SDT proposes that all humans require the satisfaction of three basic psychological needs, namely:
- Autonomy (a sense of being in control and having freedom),
- Competence (a sense of being able to do something i.e. being competent), and
- Relatedness (a sense of being associated or connected to others).
Contexts that satisfy all three basic needs will help support people’s actions, resulting in more sustained motivation over time and positive outcomes. Learners are not always motivated to complete eLearning modules/courses – it might be a requirement of their job or as part of a qualification. But, if we can use strategies to support their competence, autonomy and relatedness needs we can assist learners to internalise their motivation of these types of externally regulated activities.
What do these support strategies look like in practice?
Here are some strategies that you can apply to your eLearning that can help improve learner motivation by satisfying their basic psychological needs:
- Allowing learners to make meaningful choices that have consequences
- Providing learners with more than one way to reach their end goal
- Allowing learners to customise their environment e.g. choosing a character
- Encouraging learners to take risks and be creative during the eLearning module/course
- Making the rules and goals for learners clear and structured
- Allowing multiple opportunities to complete parts of the eLearning module/course to allow learners to build their competence
- Requiring learners to frequently make decisions to keep the eLearning module/course moving forward
- Measuring learner performance in multiple ways
- Increasing the difficulty as the learner progresses through the eLearning module/course
- Linking progression (the reward) to learner competence
- Providing learners with constant and varied feedback and support
- Allowing learners to review or replay earlier parts of the eLearning module/course
- Recognise learner achievement e.g. experience points or badges
- Providing space/areas for learner interaction and discussion e.g. forums
- Providing opportunities for learner collaboration e.g. a group quest or challenge
Motivation plays an important role during eLearning experiences and our challenge is to create eLearning that our learners want to engage in. As educators, we have an opportunity to assist learners with the internalisation of motivation in the way we design and deliver learning experiences. While it’s not always easy, we need to use strategies that help satisfy the competence, autonomy and relatedness needs of our learners if we want to improve their motivation towards the module or course they are completing.
Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (2008) Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains. Canadian Psychology. 49 (1), 14-23.
Kapp, K. M. (2012) The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. Pfeiffer/ASTD
Niemiec, C. P & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence and relatedness in the classroom: applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and Research in Education. 7 (2), 133-144.
Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000) Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 25, 54-67.
Also, check out this website for more information on self-determination theory: http://www.selfdeterminationtheory.org/
A similar version of this article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine, October 2013 Vol 40 No 5, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development and eLearn Magazine, October 2013.