Could Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose be the Keys to Motivating Students?

By Dan Pink

Daniel Pink has studied motivation in the business world for a long time and he’s come to the startling conclusion that traditional ways of motivating employees with financial incentives doesn’t work. In study after study, social scientists have found that external rewards narrow the focus and restrict possibilities, making it difficult for people to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. The only time incentives worked, in fact, was when the problem was mechanical and the path to the solution was straightforward.

Instead, companies around the world have shown that employee motivation increases when people have autonomy, a driving purpose and the desire to perfect their craft. While his TED talk is framed in the language of business, it’s easy to see the parallels in Pink’s argument to schools and learning. Teachers are preparing students for a world in which the jobs increasingly require problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. Many schools are trying to mirror that sort of thinking in the classroom to give students practice confronting messy problems, but many students have very little autonomy, mastery or purpose with which to develop intrinsic motivation .

 

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