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December 19, 2007

Psychology of motivation

I today attended a continuing education class for librarians at our university on "Motivation in the Classroom". It was taught by two psychology professors who had specialized throughout their careers (they are emeriti now) on psychology and teaching. I thought this might be an opportunity to learn more about psychological theories of motivation, and get some ideas of new ways to provide incentives in design to motivate people interacting with technology or with each other through technology.

The assigned reading was a nice introduction: "Motivation in the Classroom", by Barbara K. Hofer, in W. McKeachie and M. Svinicki, McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 12th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

Hofer writes:

Researchers typically consider three indices of motivation: choice, effort, and persistence; achievement is an outcome of these variables. Accordingly, students who are motivated to learn choose tasks that enhance their learning, work hard at those tasks, and persist in the face of difficulty in order to attain their goals.

She then suggests that many human beings have a fundamental need for autonomy and self-determination (citing Deci & Ryan, 2000), and thus, by offering meaningful opportunities for choice and by otherwise supporting autonomy, we might increase their motivation.

She cites Ryan & Deci (2000) on research indicating that providing external rewards (extrinsic motivation) may diminish intrinsic motivation by undermining self-determination, though she thinks that on balance recent research supports a mix of intrinsic motivation and external rewards.

She then discusses expectancy theory. Citing Wigfield & Eccles (2000), people

direct their behavior toward activities that they value and in which they have some expectancy of success.

In a loose sense, motivation is the product of these two factors (if one is absent, the motivation is zero).

Motivated behavior is directed towards goals. Hofer identifies two types of goals especially pertinent to teaching: mastery and performance goals. Mastery goals concern a desire to learn and understand the material. Performance goals concern a desire to perform well relative to one's peers (e.g., if the course is graded on a curve). It's not immediately obvious to me how to use this distinction in incentive-centered design, but she suggests various implications for teaching to students of one type versus the other.

When individuals experience an unexpected outcome, they seek to explain it by making attributions about the probable causes. Hofer cites Weiner (2001) to suggest that attributions can be characterized along three dimensions: locus, stability and responsibility referring respectively to whether the cause is internal or external, stable, controllable. When someone explains a negative outcome with internal, controllable attributions ("I know I didn't prepare adequately for the test") she is likely to be motivated to do what it takes to do better next time. If she uses a stable, uncontrollable cause ("I will never understand statistics") she will probably be less motivated to change. Thus, for example, providing system feedback that guides users to attribute problems to internal, controllable causes is more likely to motivate them to improve.

Hofer also briefly discusses social motivations, drawing on social psychology. For example, she suggests people want to be socially responsible and form social relationships with peers (citing Patrick et al. 1997; Wentzel & Wigfield, 1998).

Hofer then offers a number of recommendations specific to teaching, which are too specific to that context for me to include here, but which exemplify ways in which these psychological principles of motivation can be incorporated in design.

Posted by jmm at December 19, 2007 12:30 AM

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