The Puzzle of Motivation

As teachers, we certainly want the best for our students. We want them to be actively engaged in class, think critically about the information being presented, and demonstrate their understanding of what they’ve learned. We’re excited about teaching, but sometimes can’t quite spark that interest in learning by a student. Barkley, in her text: Student Engagement Techniques (2010) suggests a number of strategies to promote synergy between motivation and active learning, including creating engaging classroom environments in which both “the teacher and the students perceive themselves as members of a learning community” (p. 25).  Yet, without motivation, a student may not be receptive, no matter the effort expended by the teacher. Motivation is a theoretical construct that explains why we engage in a specific behaviour. It implies a level of interest that makes us want to do something, and for a student this means investing attention and effort into learning (Barkley, 2010).

Have you ever wondered how to teach motivation? It is in fact an acquired competence, developed over time through our experiences with other learning situations. Behaviorists believe that teachers can develop motivation in students by reinforcing desired learning behaviours. Cognitive theorists contend that motivation is a response to needs (with lower level needs such as food and shelter needing to be met before higher level needs can be considered), while goal theorists uphold that supportive relationships encourage students to adopt learning goals instead of performance goals.

After a fair bit of reading, I really am beginning to ponder if we’re going about instilling motivation the wrong way in a classroom setting. Dan Pink presents a very interesting UTube video entitled “The Puzzle of Motivation”.  In it, he shares a number of examples of how autonomy in the work place has led to motivated employees who are contributing significantly to corporate growth, and having fun doing it.

In the video, he shared 2 examples that I think could be applied to the classroom setting:

1. The 20% time concept supported by Google Executives for their employees. Google engineers were allowed to spend up to 20% of their time working on anything they want. This strategy has led to such amazing ideas and production. Does having choice motivate an individual? It would appear so as this team has generated significant ideas and inventive strategies

2. The “no schedule” individuals:  It has been found individuals without scheduled workdays are far more productive. They get their work done, and more, all within the realm of being completely free to choose where, how, and why they get it done. Using this approach, companies consistently report an increase in productivity and satisfaction.

Check out this video by David Pink, a lawyer who discusses motivation, reward strategies that just don’t work, and more! Perhaps we need to try one of these proven approaches when working with adult learners?


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