To promote learning, develop intrinsic motivation

Many of the things we need to learn aren’t intrinsically motivating, especially if they’re things we’re compelled to learn for work or for our studies.

In any learning experience, intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivators, such as rewards and punishments often don’t work, or have little long-term effect.

A key aim for learning designers is to maximise the intrinsic motivation in a learning experience. That means fostering self-direction and agency, providing positive feedback on performance, and encouraging perseverance when things get hard (and learning is hard!)

A clear sense of purpose is also important – make sure learners are always clear why they’re being asked to do something, and how it will benefit them.

This apples at whole-course level (establish the why for the course), all the way down to individual activities.

Two important theories of motivation:

Self-determination theory (from researchers Richard Ryan and Edward Deci) suggests that there are three essential ingredients for motivation:

  1. autonomy (we need to feel in control of our learning)
  2. competence (we need to feel like we’re achieving and making progress)
  3. relatedness (we need to see how what we’re learning is relevant to our lives and personal interests)

Ideal future self theory, based on research by Zoltán Dörnyei tells us that if we can help learners to build a clear and tangible vision of who they want to become through learning, then we can help them to develop intrinsic motivation.