My interest in learning about motivation in education began many years ago when I started learning about motivation in game design. In order to better understand motivation, in a classroom, while playing a game, and in an online learning environment, I am turning to the body of research that has grown from Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT). This blogpost will be a continuation of my previous SDT Primer and an excellent companion to Chris Lindberg’s Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement series of posts.
While I had intended to use this entry for discussing grades and assessment, an important piece of SDT and its application is understanding the different types of motivation explored by the SDT community of researchers. This post will define and expand on the numerous types of motivation in preparation for a discussion on grades and assessment.
Before we begin, take a brief minute to explore and reflect about what moves you to do something? As an example, what moved you to open this blog post and begin reading it?
The Autonomy-Control Continuum
The types of motivation you might be most familiar with are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable, while extrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it leads to a separable outcome. I might be moved to read a chapter of a novel over lunch because it is inherently enjoyable (intrinsic), or I might be moved to run errands over lunch because of external factors, like visiting the bank or post office due to their limited open hours (extrinsic). While these opposites are often displayed and discussed as an either-or, they are really just two ends of a spectrum that contains more nuanced gradations.
(Gagné & Deci, 2005, p. 336)
The autonomy-control continuum (Ryan & Deci, 2017) is an outgrowth of the intrinsic-extrinsic spectrum, representing the spectrum between autonomous regulation, or a feeling of complete volition and controlled regulation, or a feeling of being externally or internally compelled to act. While intrinsic motivation would fall under the category of autonomous regulation, extrinsic motivation can sometimes come close to the autonomy end of the spectrum for personally important or valued tasks, or can swing all the way to the controlling side with external rewards or punishments for tasks. And on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from intrinsic motivation is amotivation, or the complete absence of intentional regulation. Ideally, we hope that students will feel autonomous motivation, which has also been shown as optimal for learning.
Internalized Motivations: External vs. Internal
Now let’s explore some of the murky gradations between feeling autonomous and controlled. The first step is to compare two degrees of controlled regulations: external vs. internal regulations. External regulation is motivation that is controlled by external factors—a student might experience external regulation when they have to complete a group project in a course. External factors, the instructor in this case, dictates that students collaborate in groups for this project. Internal regulation (or introjection), occurs when internally controlling factors are at play, e.g. shame, guilt, or fear. Continuing with the group work as an example, a student might feel moved to complete a task for the group project by placing internal pressure on themselves, resulting in feeling guilty if they don’t perceive that they’re pulling their weight, or shame in being the last group member to respond to a discussion assignment, or fear that their lack of activity will punish everyone in the group with a lower grade. In both cases, the student feels controlled, either by an external factor or internal pressure.
Identified & Integrated Regulations
As we move closer to the autonomy end of the spectrum, we run into identified regulation, or the acceptance of extrinsic value. Our student from the example above might feel extrinsically motivated to complete the group project, but through the use of a rationale statement from the instructor, might accept the value of this group work, thus feeling more of a sense of autonomy than with external or internal regulation. Lastly, and moving even closer to autonomy, is integrated regulation, or adding the value of a task to one’s own beliefs or sense of self. Perhaps through reflection or a particularly well designed group project, a student comes around and now believes that group work is an essential part of their desired educational experience. While integrated regulation is not the same as feeling autonomous, you might be able to imagine a situation where an identified or integrated regulation would feel more motivating than an external or internal regulation.
How to Begin Thinking About Grades
In a recent Q&A with Richard Ryan, one of the authors and lead researchers of SDT, responded that “there has been no empirical justification for why we have grades in schools at all.” My next blog post will dive deeper into the role that grades and assessment play in SDT and motivation. In the meantime, I would like to pose some questions to get you started thinking about how you use grades in relation to motivation in your courses:
- Do you use grades to create external regulation of behavior in your course?
- Are you grading a behavior or the demonstration of a skill?
- Do you want to emphasize performance goals or mastery goals?
- Are there ways to help students identify and integrate the activities and assessments in your course?
- Do you need to grade this activity/assessment/task?
These are big, difficult questions! And thinking about motivation in terms of a spectrum is complicated! If you find yourself wanting to continue the discussion of motivation in course design, check out the companion blog series mentioned in the introduction above, contact your instructional designer, or keep an eye out for other opportunities to continue the discussion at various upcoming Ecampus events!
References & Resources
- This website is a treasure-trove of resources on SDT and its application in numerous fields, including education.
Gagné, M., & Deci, E. (2005). Self-determination theory and work motivation. Journal Of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331–362.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Press.