A learner can have direct interest (in a giant cucumber) and even be motivated to engage in activities (I want to learn about genetic modification of cucumbers, and become a famous cucumber farmer). The problem for educators, however, is though learners may have both interest as well as motivation to pursue that interest, they may never actually engage or continue with actions or behaviors of learning. This could be for one of three reasons:
- First, there are no means of learning in the given environment with which to manifest the motivation into action (e.g., I can’t pursue my interest in cucumbers while I’m in Math class).
- Second, some other stimulus occurred of greater interest (e.g., as I googled ‘giant cucumbers’, I was distracted by the familiar ping of a chat request on Facebook).
- Third, the initial actions taken resulted in negative consequences (e.g., I tried reading an advanced article about genetics, and felt pretty stupid).
Of all the potential actions a learner could take in order to learn more about cucumber farming, there are some that will lead to negative consequences, ending any intrinsic motivation to learn more. These would be actions that make the learner feel incompetent (e.g., trying to read scientific journals beyond my ability), or actions that are forced (e.g., being required to watch a long, antiquated film about the history of cucumber farming while in social studies), or actions that will ostracize learners from their peers (e.g., being ridiculed for tending my cucumber garden after school, or feeling lonely because no one shares my interest enough to join me). This is because none of these actions satisfies the learner’s inherent psychological needs of feeling competent, autonomous, or related to others; these three needs are what constitute the self-determination theory of motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000).