Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 27 seconds

#fedwiki and the Genius of Intrinsic Motivation

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 27 seconds

I have been thinking a lot about intrinsic motivation lately, coupled with the idea of emotional involvement in learning as I posted earlier. I think about it in relation to my own teaching, my learning, my interaction with colleagues, and also very importantly, the way I motivate my own child (this one is EXTREMELY tricky).

I thought I needed to go back to the literature on intrinsic motivation, and what drives informal learning to flourish for some people with some things but not others, and I think there is definitely an emotional connection there. I thought Steve Wheeler might have something to say about this in a concise way, and he does, here. He mentions how in PLE (Personal Learning Environments) and informal learning, we learn because we are interested. We persist because of the intrinsic motivation (although apparently there are elements of extrinsic motivation there, too), and he seems to be suggesting that what we need to attempt to do in formal learning situations is to bring this kind of feeling in. Sort of. I think it has a lot to do with falling in love with a thing as Pappert says in Mindstorms, and focusing on what students will care about, or making sure students care, as Dave Cormier says. I am often confused about how community relates to motivation: is it an intrinsic or extrinsic motivator? I mean, people are external to ourselves, but our enjoyment of them is internal. Do we enjoy them because of some trigger they do or some need for approval we are seeking or some such external thing, or do we just enjoy them because they are? I would guess both?

I remembered while writing this that I had read and written about motivation in educational gaming recently (see, blogging is useful for this kind of thing) and now I am also reviewing a book about computer games for learning (will blog soon). Some of the things pulled from motivation theory in the chapter I was reading include:  attention, curiosity, challenge, relevance, contextualization, giving learners control, confidence and satisfaction, as well as social. (I write more about this in my earlier post so I just pulled some keywords; interesting I am still talking about the social intrinsic/extrinsic today)

I think a lot about this because I know I’m someone who has (for all my life?) been this person who’s always doing extracurricular learning much more passionately than whatever is assigned. This may sound obvious to everyone else, but you need to look around you at people who do NOT use their free time in this way. Who do all sorts of things that don’t obviously contribute to their learning in their free time. Maybe they’re watching TV and learning something from it, or going out with friends (which is important, I am not discounting its value) or facebooking nonsense (now that is a waste of time, I think, but there are worse pastimes) – as opposed to someone like me – when there are no other people around me that I need to pay attention to (e.g. when I am in the car commuting) I’ll probably be MOOCing, tweeting, reading blogs or books or whatever. Before cMOOCs and social media, I still found ways to join something I would learn from, sometimes with a community (there actually were free online courses back in the day, by the way, long before someone called them MOOCs, I’m talking 2003 and Nick Kearney and I met through one of those called Ikarus. I even have the blogposts to prove it).

[Now hang on a second. This only started happening to me when I moved into the field that I was passionate about: education. This was not me when I was working in IT at Procter & Gamble. I did not at the time spend my free time learning about IT stuff. I did read all sorts of psychology and education stuff when I knew this was where I was leaning, though.]

But I think Mike Caulfield is a genius of sorts at tapping into our intrinsic motivation for this #FedWiki happening – to have people who work on this totally foreign thing on their holidays?

Here are some examples of intrinsic motivation in #Fedwiki:

First thing I did this morning when I woke up was edit Frances’ page about how different approaches to our neighborhoods. You could argue that this was extrinsically motivated because Frances asked me to do it, but really, she has no power/pressure over me to do it. I could take it or leave it. But I was interested in what she was trying to do, and so I did it.

After my kid woke up, I got busy with her (but enjoyed reading Alan Levine’s excellent blogpost on the party not being over)

When my kid napped today, I figured out how to add a new external person to my happening folks AND updated the SFW documentation to clarify how it is done (coz the documentation didn’t work for me). Check out my happening folks page to see that i now have David Hale and also the SFW HOW-to-wiki pages 🙂

First thing I did a couple of other mornings was try to hangout with Mike Caulfield. It failed horribly twice, but worked wonderfully a few days ago.


I gotta run!

4 thoughts on “#fedwiki and the Genius of Intrinsic Motivation

  1. Hmmm… I haven’t read anything substantial about intrinsic or extrinsic motivation – and sorry, have been mainly offline since we broke up from school (which is unusual for me, but I accept it) but I’m just going to add a few thoughts which entered my brain while I was reading your very rich post (and trying to stay in it instead of leaping out through the hyperlinks) – quick, I must jot them down before they dissolve. The first thing I thought was that I’ve always been secretive or at least dismissive of my intrinsically motivated learning (until recently) in case people think it’s weird; why am I wasting my time? I obviously have too much time on my hands; I am not as busy as they are, etc. There was a substantial chunk of time when I was not doing this kind of intrinsically motivated learning – more than a decade for sure – and that was a sterile time for me, for sure. Some people just need it, and possibly can’t live happily without it – whether it’s learning, making, creating, playing – whatever. It’s energising. This is why they spend untold hours daily doing things nobody made them do but with no extrinsic benefit (that most people would acknowledge as being worth it). Some people say that this means the lines between work and play (or whatever) are blurred but how can you stop yourself doing what you want to do more than anything else?
    The other thing I was thinking about is my school. We are a 9-12 selective boys’ school which means that we have some very motivated boys. There’s a good mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for their learning (or performance) at school, and sometimes you can’t really separate it, eg you could say that many of them are brought up by parents who have instilled in them the all-encompassing chalice of learning success, and although that is extrinsic it has also become a part of them, so they believe in it themselves and study so hard, pushing themselves to the limit. Part of me plays devil’s advocate and tries to crumble their well known structure by introducing blogs for writing, thinking and discussing with no assessment, trying to entice them to write in the blog during their holidays when it’s clearly not contributing to their assessment – and this is a big deal to them. I’m not entirely sure of all my motivations for doing this but I feel like I want to help them break out of what is largely extrinsic and just do it for themselves. They are so bright but they are over-tutored and often run to the prescribed guides for things like literature, and I try to discourage them from doing this until they have allowed themselves the space to think and discuss ideas, and to gain confidence in their own ideas and instincts.

    Anyway, this isn’t really going anywhere but your post has brought these thoughts to the surface, and for what it’s worth, I thought I’d share them. I hope to get back to catching up with the myriad of things you’ve been involved in, Maha. Your intellectual energy is inspiring.

    1. Thanks for this, Tania, and great to be back in touch – i would love to hear more about how ungraded assessment has worked out in ur context!

  2. I think distinguishing motivations as internal and external, while perhaps useful in some contexts, eventually leads back to a traditional model of education and human behavior. You write: “I am often confused about how community relates to motivation: is it an intrinsic or extrinsic motivator? I mean, people are external to ourselves, but our enjoyment of them is internal. Do we enjoy them because of some trigger they do or some need for approval we are seeking or some such external thing, or do we just enjoy them because they are? I would guess both?” I think your answer is in your questions. Motivation is both. Education is about the desire to connect, to make connections, which is the natural inclination of the entire universe—thank God—or else none of us would be here.

    I’m writing a post about this now, this desire to connect things and to things, including people. Of course, I’m exploring it from the point of view of prepositions, those tiny grammatical couplers that build the connections within sentences and paragraphs that help us writers map connections among ideas and people mostly—as I am doing in this comment. Everything from quarks to galaxies desires to connect. People are mostly defined by their desires to connect, to couple, and yes, the sexual connotation is there and intentional, but it is not dominant. Connecting, coupling has infinite expressions. Our current educational processes are not adept at recognizing the desires (motivations) of our students or cultivating them in ways that are beneficial for both student and society.

    The first step is to abandon the intrinsic/extrinsic dichotomy. Desire always includes a coupling, a connection, even if the coupling is frustrated. When one oxygen atom seeks to couple with a hydrogen atom, there is desire (motivation) cut perhaps to its simplest form, and the desire is not intrinsic to either atom; rather, it is the dynamic coupling between the two atoms. All our students have desires to connect to their worlds. Children want to taste, look at, smell, stick their fingers into, and hear everything. It seems to me that we spend too much of early education damming/damning up their desires rather than channeling and capitalizing upon their desires. We are mostly just afraid of their desires.

    Of course, desires can lead to both wonderful and disastrous connections, and we must help students channel their desires, but we don’t get rid of desires by repressing them; rather, as Freud taught us, we simply pervert them into something monstrous in the dark corners of our hearts.

    1. Oh Keith u r so right 😉 btw have u seen the post on fedwiki where someone mentions “ideas having sex”? I like the analogy or metaphor in the sense of ideas coming together intimately to possibly potentially produce something other than themselves but still of them.

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