Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation

Get them early!
Student motivation is obviously an extremely important topic for educators, researchers, parents and so on and we have talked about it previously, in our blog post ‘Gamification in Education’.  Encouraging children's intrinsic motivation can help them to achieve academic success (Adelman, 1978).  Motivation is essentially the drive to sustain, intensify and discourage behaviour (Reeve, 1996) and this can stem from both internal and external factors.  Internal factors include responsibility for learning, values and perceived ability etc of the child (Ainley, 2004).  However, there are also external factors that can affect student motivation.  For example, Ainley argued that types of schooling practices could promote or hinder motivation such as peer groups, tasks and instructional practices.  Educators can’t do too much about the child’s internal motivation, but they can definitely help in external ways.

But are the benefits of motivation that great?  It seems so (bullets from http://www.netc.org/focus/challenges/student.php):

  • High motivation in students is linked to reduced dropout rates and increased levels of student success (Dev, 1997; Blank, 1997; Ames, 1992; Newmann, Bryk, & Nagaoka, 2001).
  • Students are more engaged in learning when they are active and have some choice and control over the learning process, and the curriculum is individualized, authentic, and related to their interests (Anderman & Midgley, 1998).
  • Intrinsically motivated students retain information and concepts longer, and are less likely to need remedial courses and review (Dev, 1997).
  • Intrinsically motivated students are more likely to be lifelong learners, continuing to educate themselves outside the formal school setting long after external motivators such as grades and diplomas are removed (Kohn, 1993).

Intrinsic motivation is not quite the same as internal motivation and therefore, can be encouraged.  Intrinsic motivation is based on enjoyment of the activity rather than completing something simply to gain an external reward (extrinsic motivation).  Teachers can, in most cases, make lessons, subjects, topics etc more enjoyable, which could increase student motivation and yield the above effects.

Technology is one way that they could do this.  This excerpt comes from Alexandra Usher and Nancy Kober’s paper, Student Motivation: An Overlooked Piece of School Reform (2012):

“Creative educational uses of technology hold promise for increasing motivation for a generation of students who have grown up teaching themselves to communicate online, surf the Web, write blogs, or edit photos. Several characteristics of technology make it especially motivating, some scholars contend. Video games can build a mastery-based mindset by gradually increasing the level of challenge, helping students visualize complex concepts, and giving students frequent positive feedback. Interactive and social media technology can stimulate the interest of bored students and the participation of shy students. Web-based instruction can motivate students by creating more opportunities for active choice and collaboration. Educators around the country are incorporating technology into their teaching and a myriad of ways. Examples include using video games to reinforce concepts in math and science or incorporating Twitter into a real-time discussion board during class. Research on the effects of newer technologies for learning is thin, however, and experts caution that how the technology is used is the most critical factor.”

A literature review by Patrick Felicia entitled, ‘What evidence is there that digital games can contribute to increasing students' motivation to learn?’ (2011) also throws up some interesting findings.  It illustrates how some features of video games can promote intrinsic motivation.  The review demonstrates that games are employed to successfully increase motivation on the part of the learners, in a wide range of settings, for different topics (subjects), and to address the needs and specificities of different types of learners (e.g., gender, age, or special needs).  The review shows that games can teach both academic and non-academic skills, and motivate students to collaborate, share information, and increase their attainments.  These ideas are essentially what I was aiming to convey in my blog post ‘Unorthodox Uses of Games in Education’.

However, as we have mentioned in other blog posts (such as ‘Five Things to Think About When Using Games in the Classroom’), Felicia notes that games alone might not be enough.  He argues that additional mechanisms should be employed to engage, teach and change behaviour.  For example, game design (e.g., personalized strategies, adapted challenge or a good balance between educational and entertaining features), and teaching strategies (e.g., briefing, debriefing, and teachers' support).  We have talked about these themes before (for example, in ‘Six Key Principles of Collaborative Games Based Learning’) and both pixelfountain and games-ED products have these ideas at their heart as this page from our website shows.

These ideas are all rather theoretical, but we have blogged before about how these ides work in practice.  For example, ‘Is Game Based Learning More Effective Than Traditional Methods?’ and specific to gender, ‘Boys will be Boys’.  We have also covered these themes in the case studies of using our games-ED learning simulations in schools (Proof of the Pudding parts 1, 2 and 3).

It seems almost common sense to say that motivation can both alter student behaviour and attainment and that it can be encouraged.  However, this is often, as Usher and Kober put it, overlooked.  Motivational techniques also seem to be stuck in the past, which may be why they are less effective.  It seems odd to deprive children of the technology that they have been immersed in all of their lives, just because they are at school.  Children today have been brought up in an extremely stimulating world; it is no wonder that they lack motivation at school if teaching methods are outdated.  Maybe an injection of technology and games based learning is what is needed.  What do you think?


  1. Adelman, H. S. (1978) The Concept of Intrinsic Motivation: Implications for Practice and Research with the     Learning Disabled. Learning Disability Quarterly, 1(2), p.43-54.
  2. Ainley, M. (2004). What do we Know About Student Motivation and Engagement? Australian Association for Research in Education, Melbourne.
  3. Reeve, J. (1996). Motivating others: Nurturing inner motivational resources. Needham Heights, MA, Allyn & Bacon.

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