Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Daniel Pink on Motivation

On his Technology and Learning Blog, Joshua Kim recently had a post about grade inflation and the possibility that grades are a discouraging force in terms of student creativity and originality. In this post, he mentions a TED talk by Daniel Pink on the science of motivation (see presentation above). This is a truly interesting talk about motivation and the apparent mismatch between what scientists have discovered about motivation and current business practices. I invite you to watch Pink's TED presentation and think about how this topic might apply to higher education.


Steve said...

This presentation was interesting and thought provoking on several levels. As to its application for higher education teaching and learning, I think the success of an "autonomous" model is highly variable and depends on the individual student.

At MSU, some students are self-motivated and all they need is opportunity and challenge. Others care little for the subject (or are ill-prepared) and therefore need incentives to bring about some minimal effort. Presumably, in the studies cited by the speaker, the test subjects had some basic interest in, aptitude for, and willingness to complete the challenge. If they simply chose to sit and wait for time to expire, I doubt their performance would be used in the data set. Some of our students simply don't give college enough time and effort.

So it seems to me that these ideas are harder to implement in a "required" class setting where interest may be highly variable. On the other hand, I think this is broadly applicable to upper level and advanced courses where students have a basic set of knowledge and a professed interest in the subject. Isn't this why graduate level study and research is different than freshman service level coursework? Also, these considerations are in play when we think about offering directed study or web-based courses. In those, the students must necessarily be "autonomously motivated" in order to succeed.

As an administrator, this gave me something to think about in my ability to motivate people (faculty) as well. I'm not sure that everyone would agree that rewards are unimportant. I agree that many people are less concerned with an explicit "if you do x, you'll get y" arrangement. But in my experience, if productive employees are not recognized by some sort of reward structure (usually monetary), it is easy for them to become discouraged or apathetic. When people are contributing their time to achieve someone else's goals, they usually expect something in return.

So the trick seems to be to find people whose personal and professional goals are closely aligned with our institutional mission. We have many such people here. I see this daily when faculty serve as mentors to their students. They will often put in extra hours, help them find employment, go above and beyond for a deserving student.
Another example is when faculty members work on a project that is aligned with their passion and interests...something they would do in their spare time anyway. This makes for a successful partnership. I am very interested in ways to help motivate people, and to recognize them for their good work.

Thanks for bringing this topic to our attention.

Steve Cobb

Renee said...

It was interesting to see a business consultant address the virtues of intrinsic motivation as education has been singing this tune for some time. Alfie Kohn wrote Punished by Rewards in 1993 describing the unexpected and negative effect of extrinsic rewards on motivation for completing complex and creative tasks. The research is extensive and I thought Pink did a great job of explaining the central concepts. In addition, Pink’s goals of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose are advocated as Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness by educational researchers who specify that a learning environment must satisfy these psychological needs to promote intrinsic motivation for learning. Human motivation is more complex than a carrot and stick will satisfy.
This is the first time that I have blogged.