Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Carrots, sticks and all of that...

Most people are pretty familiar with the two main types of human motivation, extrinsic - the performance of an activity / task to achieve an external, separate outcome - and intrinsic - the internal drive that comes from the individual's inherent interest and enjoyment of the activity / task, itself.
In Drive, Daniel Pink makes the case that a reliance on extrinsic motivation to improve the performance of people [in workplaces, schools, etc.] has been the staple of "Motivation 2.0" and that we now need to move to "Motivation 3.0", which instead focuses on intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation

We are increasingly motivated by intrinsic drives because of the changing nature of our work. Algorithmic, routine, single-solution work was common and important right up until late last century. Nowadays, it is the more 'heuristic' forms of work that are becoming - not only more common - but more valuable, too - "Routine work can be outsourced or automated; artistic, empathic, nonroutine work generally cannot."
Extrinsic motivators can be effective when the work is inherently uninteresting or dreary... Now that more of our work is "more creative and less routine... more enjoyable", we need to shift to the form of motivation that is more effective for this type of work - i.e. motivators that 'tap into' the greater sense of inherent interest and joy that we can potentially derive from working creatively, solving problems and working with other people.
Pink builds a lot of his theory from the work of Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, who identified three key elements of intrinsic motivation - autonomy, competence and relatedness. Pink, too, identifies three key elements - autonomy, mastery and purpose.

  • Autonomy refers to our desire to be self-directed and our capacity for choice in how we work.
  • Mastery refers to our natural urge to get better and our capacity to apply and extend our skills.
  • Purpose refers to our beliefs about whether our work matters and contributes to something important. Whether the organisations we work for stand for something... 
If these three needs are well satisfied, people are likely to work with greater creativity, innovation and engagement - all traits that are becoming increasingly desirable in a world that relies less and less on people to do routine, algorithmic, instruction-manual-type work... 

Extrinsic Motivation

Relying on extrinsic forms of motivation is far less sustainable and effective in the long run. They can excessively narrow our focus [to achieving the external reward, itself] and can devalue the task / activity being performed [hindering long-term performance].
That said, there are some circumstances where extrinsic motivators are appropriate and effective - namely, when the task is of the routine, rudimentary, single-solution, low cognitive-effort variety. Not all tasks that we need to perform are inherently interesting and enjoyable... 
Another point to be wary of when applying extrinsic motivators is the distinction between 'if-then' rewards and 'now-that' rewards.

Contingent motivators - 'if you do this, then you get that... ' - amplify the negative effects of extrinsic motivators, with people directing their focus to the end reward.
Rewards that are unexpected, after the event, etc, are less likely to take away focus from performing the task, but still allow for recognition and reward for effort and good performance - 'now that you've completed this task well, you get this... '. These sorts of rewards can also help facilitate aspects of intrinsic motivation. eg: An unexpected, 'now-that' reward can improve one's sense of mastery [they know they've done a good job... ] or purpose [they know they've done something important for the organisation... ].

As a teacher, I need to take care in how I use extrinsic motivators. I think they have a place, as not everything we ask and need students to do is inherently fun, interesting and enjoyable [although this should be a high priority when designing learning experiences!]... They can also help facilitate intrinsic motivation, when used in a targeted fashion [an obvious example being the awarding of positive feedback upon progress being made, or an important task being performed... ]. But, as much as possible, I need to be conscious of not having the reward be the reason that the student performs the task.

Schools, themselves, need to focus on creating working conditions for teachers that facilitate intrinsic motivation - teachers should have autonomy over how they do their work, be encouraged to constantly be pursuing mastery and be clear about their purpose within their school.
We need teachers to be working collaboratively, with creativity and with innovation, so schools need to create conditions that best allow for this.

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