What’s motivation got to do with it?

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We learning professionals spend a good deal of our energy trying to design and develop learning solutions that will effectively help people learn. Sometimes less energy is directed toward why people want to learn in the first place. In her book, Interface Design for Learning, Dorian Peters suggests that motivation should play a critical role in how we approach the design of our learning solutions. Making sure we understand what motivates learners will help us understand which approaches may work, and which may not.

Two primary types of motivation exist: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is when we do something because it is inherently interesting or rewarding (like learning to play an instrument), while extrinsic motivation is when we do something because it leads to a separable outcome (like earning a degree in music). Which is better? Both types of motivation have autonomy as a central component, and Peters suggests that autonomy is the key to distinguishing helpful types of motivation from unhelpful ones. But because intrinsic motivation is inherently autonomous, it is generally considered the ideal form of motivation for learning. That said, extrinsic motivation can play a stronger role when intrinsic motivation reaches its limits; not all learning can be tied to intrinsic motivation, after all. So how do intrinsic and extrinsic motivation influence the learning solutions you develop? What are some ways that we as learning professionals can make sure we’re designing with motivation in mind?


3 thoughts on “What’s motivation got to do with it?

    Clare said:
    November 17, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is an interesting topic. I like what you said about how not all learning can be intrinsically motivated. As an elementary school teacher I find that I have to rely on a lot of extrinsic motivation. Since we are given state standards in which to create curriculum I can’t always tailor learning to student’s interests. Also, as adults I think it’s easier for us to recognize the need for learning basics as a foundation for learning the more complex. I don’t think many children have the ability to see far into the future about how the skills they are learning are going to help them later on in life. Therefore, using extrinsic motivators for children feels necessary. When designing curriculum I often think about how to make learning interesting and fun in its self in order to motivate.

    pmdelgreco said:
    November 18, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Allan
    Are you familiar with Alfie Kohn’s work? In this older article http://www.alfiekohn.org/managing/fbrftb.htm he challenges the assumptions of using rewards or incentives to motivate workers. He believes what truly motivates employees is “choice, collaboration and content. Choice means workers should participate in making decisions about what they do. Collaboration means they should be able to work together in effective teams. Content refers to the job’s tasks. To do a good job, people need a good job to do.”

    From an ID perspective this could be about using “design thinking.” This design model emanates from the d. school at Stanford. From the standpoint of the “design thinking” you should start with your user in mind. That means the ID should empathize with the learner http://dschool.stanford.edu/dgift/. For example, an ID would observe and ask the employee/learner about the training they are designing. This furthers Kohn’s 3 C’s. Likely to happen, probably no, unless you are fortunate to work in a progressive company. But it is not impossible and may serve to motivate employees and make the training better, too.

      elearnable1 responded:
      November 18, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      I’m not familiar with Kohn’s work, but it reminds me of Dan Pink’s ‘autonomy/mastery/purpose’ ideas…

      Choice is pretty similar to autonomy, I guess – so the two agree there. For ‘content’, since Kohn is talking about “people need a good job to do,” that strikes me about the same as Pink’s idea of ‘purpose’.

      Where they seem to differ is the second item, ‘collaboration’ vs. ‘mastery’. I can actually see both as sources of motivation for myself. What about you?

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