When one explores the notion of learning we invariably look for what motivates our learners to achieve. Traditionally, higher education learning institutions have operated as gatekeepers of knowledge and qualifications without which students were unlikely to receive the rewards they sought (specialist employment, access to higher degrees and eligibility to professional organisations). Compulsory schooling has also adopted a similar approach with most of its students captive to the system until age 16, or older if they do not have employment. In the final years of school the need to either find acceptable employment, or gain university entrance is a strong external motivator.
However, the knowledge economy has begun to alter this monopoly with the rapidly growing, readily available authoritative knowledge “online”. Information that was once only available in textbooks, conferences and journals is now making its way onto the World Wide Web. Students are now commonly regarded as consumers and come to learning institutions with expectations of a quality learning experience. If they (or in the case of schools, their parents) experience anything less than what they want, there are other institutions that are willing and able to accept them.
Up until recently, the concept of external motivators has worked well enough for schools and universities who use the lure of certification to ensure that most of their students apply themselves and attain the institutions’ requirements for a qualification. But what about the intrinsic motivational factors that can be found in some students? Is it possible that these could be more powerful drivers for student performance?
We know from much of the educational research that meaningful real-world learning provides high levels of intrinsic motivation (McCombs & Marzano, 1990; McCombs & Whisler, 1989; Deci and Ryan, 1991; Mills, 1991; Mills, Pransky & Sedgeman, 1994; Paris, Newman, & Jacobs 1985). We also know that intrinsic motivation enhances inquiry and can lead to high levels of learning engagement (Salmon, 2002). So how do we develop the kinds of intrinsic motivation that will result in high levels of performance, given the decreasing effect the more traditional incentives are having on our learners?
In 1969 McMaster University in Canada introduced Problem-Based Learning (PBL) into its medical school in an effort to provide a multi-discipline approach to medical education and to promote problem solving in its graduates (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980). The PBL approach sought to embed small groups of students in the role of a professional and present them with a messy, ill-structured, real-world problem, based within the context of the profession, to solve. Students are then guided by cognitive coaches through the problem solving process and develop high levels of generic skills and attributes, along with the content specific knowledge and skills they require. PBL practitioners often claim that their learners are more motivated and independent in their learning. Most often the problem scenarios in PBL classes, while based on real cases, are contrived and somewhat hypothetical.
It would appear from some of the literature that intrinsic motivation and learning engagement are linked. Kearsley, and Shneiderman (1998) propose that by asking students to interact with a complex real-world problem, create a solution and then donate that solution back into the real world, learners in Information Communication Technology learning environments become more engaged. This proposition is similar to the PBL model except that the problem solution is actually donated to the real world for feedback and review. Could this approach provide high levels of learning engagement in learning environments other than ICTs?
In most cases assessment is used to measure students’ learning (summative) and/or to provide useful feedback to the student on their progress throughout the course of study (formative). Assessment design is most often developed as an external measure and can be seen as an add-on to the course materials supplied. We know that with many courses assessment is a powerful extrinsic motivator—most students want to perform well and not fail. Kearsley, and Shneiderman (1998) demonstrated that donating solutions to the real world increases students’ intrinsic motivation, so what would happen if that became part of the assessment? The assessment would be both authentic and integrated with the learning tasks.
Currently, there has been little in the way or research published that seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of combining PBL, engagement theory and integrated and authentic assessment. Given that individually they all appear to contribute to the level of intrinsic student motivation, what would be the result of measuring the effect of having all of these approaches combined into a single learning design?
Barrows, H. & Tamblyn, R., 1980. Problem-based learning: an approach to medical education. Medical Education. Volume 1. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M.(1991). A motivational approach to self: Integration in personality. In R. Dienstbier (Ed.). Nebraska symposium on motivation: Vol. 38. Perspectives on motivation (pp. 237-288). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Kearsley, G., & Shneiderman, B. (1998). Engagement theory: a framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38(5), 20-23.
McCombs, B. L., & Marzano, R. J. (1990). Putting the self in self-regulated learning: The self as agent in integrating skill and will. Educational Psychologist, 25(6), 51-69.
McCombs, B. L., & Whisler, J. S. (1989). The role of affective variables in autonomous learning. Educational Psychologist, 24(3), 277-306.
Mills, R. C. (1991). A new understanding of self: The role of affect, state of mind, self-understanding, and intrinsic motivation. Journal of Experimental Education, 60(1), 67-81.
Mills, R. C., Pransky, G., & Sedgeman, J. A. (1994). POM: The basis of health realization: The founder monograph. LaConner, WA: Psychology of Mind Training Institute, Inc.
Paris, S. G., Newman, R. S., & Jacobs, J. E. (1985). Social contexts and the function of children's remembering. In M. Pressley & C. J. Brainerd (Eds.). Cognitive learning and memory in children (pp. 81-115). New York: Springer-Verlag.
Salmon, G. (2002). Send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance!. Net*working 2002. [http://www.atimod.com/research/presentations2002.shtml, accessed 23 May 2005]