What Thwarts Interest? Stops Motivation?

giant cukumber B&W, 1950s(?) content and artist unknown

Hmm... I think I want to grow one for myself!

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).

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6 thoughts on “What Thwarts Interest? Stops Motivation?

  1. Pingback: What thwarts interest? Stops motivation? (via Birdie Champ) | A Teacher's Portfolio & Blog by Layne C. Smith

  2. I’m curious as to what WOULD satisfy the learner’s curiosity? I’m not getting what you recommend. Or is that the point? I’m feeling intrinsicly motivated to understand this, yet I need more clarity to fully engage with you.

    • I realize this is a problem statement more than it is a solution, but I stopped here for purposes of brevity, with more to come. It’s such a shame when we loose learning opportunities because we are not in an environment where we can pursue our interests, or we are overly distracted . My oldest son homeschooled for this very reason–he said he never got a chance to learn beyond the surface of a topic in his school–always shallow with many subjects, always switching gears, and he wanted to go deeper. ( Recess was the same. He would tell me the kids only had 20 minutes to socialize, so they would run around frantic, not knowing what to do–he called it ‘waving their arms around like chickens’. The only kids he really got to know were the kids that he played with after school– shallow relationships at school versus deep relationships at home, a subject for another post!)

      My next post(s) are intended to address basic human physiological needs (food, water, shelter) and human psychological needs (competency, autonomy, and relatedness), and how it is essential for these needs to be satisfied before optimal,transferable learning can occur. interests can blossom into motivations, motivations can be the catalyst for actions, and learning becomes the natural precipitate. It’s a matter of educators facilitating environments where learning can occur, providing opportunities for learners to pursue their interests, while satisfying their inherent needs.

      • This will make a great series of posts–it’s a lot of material to convey. I love the topic so I’ll check back.

        We were on a recent camping trip and I watched my son learn how to fish despite hundreds of set-backs along the way. He persisted for HOURS over three days because he really wanted to catch a fish. All three elements of competency, autonomy, and relatedness were apparent; it was spectacular to watch.

        It’s interesting that I found your site. I rarely come across individuals so interested in this subject (and I’m a graduate student in education). I’m in the process of writing about motivation as well….particularly about intrinsic motivation and education. I follow Deci and Ryan’s work and feel that it needs to more attention from educators.

  3. Super! I started blogging on recommendation of a teacher friend I met in Second Life. He pointed out that it was such a waste to have just your professor read your papers! So, one year later, I’m still turning paragraphs and events into blog posts. It has actually been very helpful.

    Love your fishing story. What area of education are you most interested in?

    • I’m most interested in education outside of the traditional classroom (any age), and adult education. For the last two years I’ve really focused on Interpersonal Neurobiology. I love to discuss motivation, attachment theory, and the brain….and of course homeschooling too. The funny thing is that I don’t want to be a teacher (in the traditional sense), but I do want to write about it–yay blogging. I’ll be taking a graduate class on adult education in the fall. I’m sure it will inspire a few blog posts 😉

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