Mar 272011

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about motivation. How do we get students to begin playing the game in the fall? How do we keep them engaged over the long term? There’s been a lot of excellent research and writing on motivation over the past few years, from Deci & Ryan’s groundbreaking work on self-determination theory to Daniel Pink’s engaging and accessible book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us — and most of it tells us that in both work and education we’re doing it wrong. We tend to focus on extrinsic rewards (like money and grades) rather than intrinsic rewards (a sense of accomplishment and pleasure in our work).

A recent Harvard Business Review study by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer provides more evidence for the importance of intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. Most of the original article is behind a paywall, but this newspaper article summarizes the findings:

“On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak,” they wrote in the Harvard Business Review early last year.

“On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.”

Those findings are highly relevant to what we’re trying to do with “Just Press Play”–providing our students with that tangible sense of progress in their educational process, and giving them support to help them overcome obstacles. It’s nice to see more support for the basic premise of the project, though there’s still a lot of work to be done in determining exactly how to provide them with that evidence of progress and support for their endeavors.

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