To Motivate Learners, AMP Up the Learning

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the role of intrinsic motivation in learning. Learning really is a matter of acknowledging the “if I want to component”. We’ll really only learn when we are motivated to learn — when we want to learn. While a certain amount of extrinsic motivation can get the ball rolling, too much of a good thing — like money, ribbons, trophies, stickers, gifts — makes behaviour dependent on those trinkets. Take the external motivators away and the behaviour also goes away.

The key becomes turning that extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation. To help others learn, we need to avoid making them feel like they are being controlled to learn. Instead, we should be helping them to experience learning as a self-directed endeavour.

Last time around I talked about learners owning their learning as a way to create the self-direction needed to feed intrinsic motivation. I also provided a couple of suggestions for helping to move learners from dependent to independent. Along that path to self-direction, learners who have become accustomed to passive learning environments need to awaken certain traits within themselves. To help bring these traits out of learners, those of us responsible for creating learning environments need to ‘AMP’ things up.

To do this, begin with a theory of motivation called Self-Determination Theory (SDT). Developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, SDT speaks to how social and cultural factors either enhance or undermine our sense of volition and initiative. Conditions that support a person’s needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are seen as the highest quality forms of motivation which lead to the most engagement and persistence in behaviours. Let’s look at what Deci and Ryan call the three psychological needs.

Autonomy — The belief that one has control to self-initiate and self-regulate behaviour. It does not mean being independent of others. It is about choice. To help create self-direction, learners need to have choices in their learning — what they learn, when they learn it, how they learn it.

Competence — The ability to master an activity, skill or behaviour. It certainly is easier to feel in control (autonomy) when you are good at learning — when you have both the skill set and the mindset necessary to excel at learning.

Relatedness — The want to interact and connect to others for belonging and attachment. It is also the feeling of having both strong intention and clear purpose. Learners can experience relatedness when they work to learn with others as well as when their learning helps to benefits others.

In his book Drive, Dan Pink talks about SDT and creates his own phraseology for Deci and Ryan’s three psychological needs. Autonomy stays as autonomy but competence becomes mastery and relatedness becomes purpose. When you turn the Pink-named three needs into an acronym you get ‘AMP’.

So how might we create learners who say ‘yes’ to learning? Who say, “I choose to learn this because I want to”? AMP up their learning environment. Provide them with opportunities to experience autonomy, mastery (competence) and purpose (relatedness).