Motivation and eLearning
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 people but instead focus on creating conditions that facilitate the internalisation of motivation from within people.
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. It’s one that’s struck a chord with me because of its usefulness, applicability and it’s backed by extensive research.
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. According to SDT, engaging in activities for their inherent satisfaction and that are enjoyable are said to be intrinsically motivating. This is because the motivation to engage in the activity is coming completely from within the person – it’s been fully internalised. The SDT continuum shows various forms of motivation from no motivation (amotivation) to intrinsic motivation which leads to self-determined behaviour.
Video Game Play – An Intrinsically Motivating Activity
Every year globally, people spend huge amounts of money and time playing video games. Most people who engage in video game play choose to do so voluntarily, because it is fun and they enjoy it, thus making game play an intrinsically motivating activity.
Research by Ryan, Rigby and Przybylski into the motivation to play video games (regardless of the game type) found that motivation is accounted for by how well the game satisfies our three basic psychological needs:
- Autonomy – the extent to which the game provides flexibility over movement and strategies, choice over task and goals, and rewards that provide feedback and not control.
- Competence – the extent to which tasks provide ongoing challenges and opportunities for feedback.
- Relatedness – the extent to which the game provides interactions between players.
In addition to need satisfaction, their research also found that:
Presence – the extent to which the player feels within the game environment as opposed to being outside the game manipulating the controls, and
Intuitive controls – the extent to which the controls make sense and don’t interfere with feelings of presence, were also important as they allow players to focus on game play and access the need satisfaction provided by the game.
What’s that got to do with eLearning?
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, imagine if we could replicate the motivational pull of video game play and apply similar techniques to eLearning courses. Imagine if people wanted to complete them. 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.
Here are some ways that you can apply to your eLearning that can help improve learner motivation by satisfying their basic psychological needs:
1. Allowing people to make meaningful choices that have consequences.
2. Providing people with more than one way to reach their end goal.
3. Allowing people to customise their environment e.g. choosing a character.
4. Encouraging people to take risks and be creative during the eLearning module/course.
1. Making the goals clear and structured.
2. Allowing multiple opportunities to complete parts of the eLearning module/course to allow people to build their competence.
3. Requiring people to frequently make decisions to keep the eLearning module/course moving forward.
4. Measuring performance in multiple ways.
5. Increasing the difficulty as people progresses through the eLearning module/course.
6. Linking progression (the reward) to competence.
7. Providing people with constant and varied feedback and support.
8. Allowing people to review or replay earlier parts of the eLearning module/course.
9. Recognising achievement.
1. Providing space/areas for interaction and discussion e.g. forums.
2. Providing opportunities for collaboration e.g. tasks.
Motivation plays an important role during eLearning experiences and our challenge is to create eLearning that people want to engage in. As educators, we have an opportunity to assist people to internalise their motivation in the way we design and deliver learning experiences. While it’s not always easy, we should use strategies that help satisfy the competence, autonomy and relatedness needs of our people 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/