Not many people were able to discuss Ryan & Deci, which is a pity because it is, in my opinion, a good example of an educational theory. It starts by remarking on evidence that human beings are, more or less from birth, inquisitive creatures. We have an instinct to learn which can be supported or twarted by environmental factors. What supports the inquisitive instinct is intrinsic motivation, which brings with it interest, excitement, confidence, persistence and creativity (among other matters). A lack of intrinsic motivation leads to depression and poor mental health.
A key question therefore, is ‘what supports intrinsic motivation’? Deci & Ryan argue that the most important factors are a) feedback which enhances feelings of competence, b) a perceived sense of autonomy and c) secure relationships with people who are valued. This point is argued with reference to various empirical studies.
Deci & Ryan also recognise that, for any human being, intrinsic motivation is not always possible: ‘In nearly every setting people enter, certain behaviours and values are prescribed, behaviours that are not interesting and values that are not spontaneously adopted’ (p. 71). In such instances, motivation is inevitably extrinsic. However, they argue that there are various types of extrinsic motivation, ranging from ‘external’ to ‘integrated’ regulation. Here too, feelings of competence, autonomy and relatedness can assist the move from ‘external’ to ‘integrated’ regulation.
For me, this theory has the power to change the way I think about education. It is coherent and carries some predictive ability. In the discussion, Damien pointed out that, in the absence of a Standard International unit of measurement for motivation (or competence, autonomy & relatedness) it lacks the precision that might make it scientific. This is a fair point, which might mark one of the differences between an educational theory and a scientific one.
Anyway – please read it and decide for yourself. Next time, we discuss the issue of ‘identity’ as an analytic lens for educational research. It’s at 2.00 on Nov 18. (Please note the change of time.)