This is the default text

Motivational momentum

In my previous post, I shared some thoughts about the motivation to learn. Today I’m thinking about the momentum that motivation generates.

There are a number of factors that can generate motivation.  These can include:

  • Active participation
  • Intrinsic and prompt feedback
  • Challenging but achievable goals
  • A mix of uncertainty and open-endedness

roller coaster

Active participation in a task allows the participant to materially affect the outcome through meaningful choices.  This personal responsibility instils a sense of ownership whereby success or failure depends on a positive contribution by the learner.  It is not enough to merely observe – the learner must act.  Simply by making a decision, learners are investing in the activity’s conclusion.

Seeing the effects of a contribution makes the participation real.  This immediate feedback, often taking the form of incrementally altered graphics in computer games, illustrates the effect the learner is having on proceedings.  This interim feedback is often an implicit reflection of current conditions before a conclusive summary of performance occurs.

The frequent delivery of feedback encourages learners to overcome challenges that otherwise might be considered too hard but the tasks themselves need to be perceived as achievable if the learner is to remain committed says Stanford’s Carol Dweck in her study, Motivation, In Foundations for a psychology of education ( 1989).  For the activity to be satisfying, it should push the boundaries of the learner’s competency and demonstrate clear development.  While reinforcing existing skills can build confidence, it is the extension of ability that drives longer-term engagement.

However, to be authentic, the outcomes need to maintain a level of uncertainty, if not unpredictability – a foregone conclusion does not engage participants to the same degree as an event determined by involvement.  And, by the same token, if the outcome remains fluid it implies a level of open-endedness.

Although there are concerns about learners being heavily influenced by extrinsic motivational factors like competition and performance goals rather than learning goals, in the short term, the desire to ‘win’ can be very compelling and the triumph over a series of conflicts is a universal motivator.

A highly motivated learner generates a set of conditions that encourages further progress:  motivation creates an environment that is conducive to ongoing motivation.  Although motivation is central to almost all activity, its characteristics are core to learning per se.  Therefore achieving and maintaining motivation should be seen as crucial to the learning experience.

Miguel Cornejo Castro identifies that when a learner is motivated, it can stimulate a number of highly desirable outcomes:

  • Collaborative interaction
  • Peer scaffolding of learning
  • Creative competition or cooperation

What Miguel is saying is that motivated learners seek out the most successful solution either individually or in a group.  Their desire to overcome the challenge presented will often encourage them to work more creatively, look for more effective responses or alternative approaches.  When highly motivated teams work together, they instinctively resort to dialogue to refine their thinking: Gorden Pask describes how one person will ‘teach’ another what they have learnt about the situation (Conversation, Cognition, and Learning, 1975).

The dialogue that occurs during collaboration highlights the relative strengths of the cohort with some participants displaying a better grasp of the issue or an illuminating perspective.  These ‘expert’ peers support their collaborators in raising their understanding, a process Vygotsky calls ‘scaffolding.’

The increased motivation to succeed prompts more imaginative problem solving as learners look for results.  This increased drive encourages higher levels of engagement particularly where there is also some form of competition.

It’s clear that engaging learners and successfully motivating them is key to effective learning but it’s important to remember that engagement alone doesn’t generate improved skills.

Tags: ,