A Comprehensive Framework For Student Motivation
by Terry Heick
When researching student motivation and gamification late last year, I came across the most comprehensive gamification framework I’ve ever seen. Developed by gamification expert Yu-kai Chou, it was an ambitious effort that distinguished black hat gamification (which is “bad”–think Farmville and Candy Crush) from white hat gamification (which is “good”–think Minecraft or even an ACT score). (It’s also copyrighted, but they graciously allowed us to use it.)
While it is designed not as an educational framework, but rather as a way to demonstrate gamification and its many strands, gamification is about human encouragement and motivation. For educators, student motivation is one of the pillars of a academic performance. While the terms are sometimes misunderstood–and risk becoming cliche as we continue to talk about them topically rather than specifically–student motivation and student engagement are prime movers in the learning process. Without either, teaching is an uphill battle.
So what began as a post about gamification became more a matter of student motivation–what motivates students in the classroom and why. If we can nail down those factors–those characteristics that drive student motivation–we can, at worst, be more attentive to them as we design assessments, lessons, units, and even learning models.
8 Core Drives Of Student Motivation
1) Epic Meaning & Calling
Yu-kai Chou explains, “Epic Meaning & Calling is the Core Drive where a player believes that he is doing something greater than himself or he was “chosen” to do something. A symptom of this is a player that devotes a lot of his time to maintaining a forum or helping to create things for the entire community (think Wikipedia or Open Source projects).”
Educator takeaways? This is easy to reduce to “get good grades to get into college to “become” whatever you want to “be,” but while they wait to “become” something (i.e., a “professional” of some kind), they need meaning from their work that is a matter of self, knowledge, and personal development (see Development & Accomplishment below).
What if…we continued to build on the ideas of problem-based learning, place-based education, and scenario-based learning, where students have the ability to interact with authentic–and hopefully local–problems, designing solutions to problems they see on a daily basis.
2) Development & Accomplishment
Yu-kai Chou explains: “Development & Accomplishment is the internal drive of making progress, developing skills, and eventually overcoming challenges. The word “challenge” here is very important, as a badge or trophy without a challenge is not meaningful at all.”
Educator takeaways? Right now, letter grades, certificates, and in cases, digital portfolios are tasked with communicating a learner’s measure of performance, progress, and accomplishment. The visibility of this development and accomplishment is also limited and completely academic.
What if…the development of a “learner identity” was a matter of choice and authentically-sourced, rather than universal and academically-derived?
3) Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback
Yu-kai Chou explains: “Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is when users are engaged a creative process where they have to repeatedly figure things out and try different combinations. People not only need ways to express their creativity, but they need to be able to see the results of their creativity, receive feedback, and respond in turn.”
Educator takeaways? Learning feedback is different than grades, and grades are different than assessment, and assessment is different than learning results–offering feedback that promotes learning while encouraging creativity (part of the root of the word encourage is courage)? How can we give learners the space and emotional support to experiment with complex ideas and data sources without letting them flounder, or “play and experiment badly”?
What if…play was at the core of learning while married to an authentic feedback loop, and lessons and units and projects ground to a halt without creativity?
4) Ownership & Possession
Yu-kai Chou explains, “This is the drive where users are motivated because they feel like they own something. When a player feels ownership, she innately wants to make what she owns better and own even more.”
Educator Takeaways? Space, place, voice, and choice are among the principles of student-centered learning. A sense of agency can be both empowering and overwhelming for students.
What if…Students “owned” their learning experiences in connection with mentors outside the school?
5) Social Influence & Relatedness
Yu-kai Chou explains, “This drive incorporates all the social elements that drive people, including: mentorship, acceptance, social responses, companionship, as well as competition and envy…Also, it includes the drive we have to draw closer to people, places, or events that we can relate to. If you see a product that reminds you of your childhood, the sense of nostalgia would likely increase the odds of you buying the product.”
Educator takeaways? How can we design learning so that students need to connect to clarify a need for knowledge, to create knowledge, or to share knowledge? Pushed further, how does social influence change the knowledge and competencies we choose to value?
For example, how has social media–twitter for example–altered social currencies? In a physical environment, charisma can be a matter of aesthetics, height, voice tone, or verbal linguistics. In a digital realm, the ability to communicate concisely, to use hashtags effectively, and to time your messages properly all give the appearance of charisma. The lesson? Unique spaces create unique conditions for influence and value.
What if…we created a classroom where the social influence was both a cause and an effect for curiosity and an authentic need to know?
6) Scarcity & Impatience
Yu-kai Chou explains, “This is the drive of wanting something because you can’t have it….”
Educator Takeaways? Choosing what to make scarce, and how to build want in students is a matter of design with a few simple bullet points. Traditional academia has scarcity built in already–extra-credit, choice, opportunities for self-selected grouping, personal technology use (BYOD), course selection (in K-12) and more are all “scarce,” and thus have value.
Education also withholds permanent markers of performance (i.e., final letter grades) until the end of a semester to both motivate students as well as provide the image of authority and control. Using “Scarcity & Impatience” becomes a matter of being selective in what is made scarce, and how that scarcity and requisite need-for-patience impacts student learning.
Put another way, what are we withholding, and to what end? That which is scarce–but still integral to a larger process–has embedded value. How can we use that?
What if…what we wanted students to value was a matter of personalized learning—this value for this student in this community based on this circumstance?
7) Unpredictability & Curiosity
Yu-kai Chou explains, “Generally, this is a harmless drive of wanting to find out what will happen next….The very controversial Skinner Box experiments, where an animal irrationally presses a lever frequently because of unpredictable results, are exclusively referring to the core drive of Unpredictability & Curiosity, although many have misunderstood it as the driver behind points, badges, and leaderboard mechanics in general.”
Educator Takeaways? Learning without curiosity is like a fire without heat. Unpredictability is one source of curiosity, but there are many sources of curiosity. So much of a classroom is a matter of process and routine, which places a premium on predictability and procedural knowledge.
What if…instead, our classrooms were learning spaces that were charged with possibility, connections, creativity, and student-sourced emotion? And what if, by some matter of design, created intellectual chaos rather than worried about behavioral chaos? How would we need to design access to content, feedback loops, learning models, and outward visibility to make this work?
8) Loss & Avoidance
Yu-kai Chou explains, “This core drive is based upon the avoidance of something negative happening. On a small scale, it could be to avoid losing previous work. On a larger scale, it could be to avoid admitting that everything you did up to this point was useless because you are now quitting.”
Educator Takeaways? As a profession, we tend to design learning experiences that discourage risk-taking and punish mistakes. “Loss” has been at the core of academia since its inception. If you don’t do this work by this date you lose this desirable alphanumeric symbol (letter grade) and may even fail the course outright (i.e. lose “progress” and credit and be forced to repeat).
This driver of student motivation has not been effective historically in K-12 education for many students because it requires students to value the loss, which requires them to see the long-term consequences of that loss. Unlike adults, students live in the now.
What if….we could somehow design a unit, for example, that “forced” the student to “start over” if they made certain mistakes, but through other principles of student motivation outlined above, they were somehow motivated to do so?
A Comprehensive Framework For Student Motivation; image copyright Octalysis and Yu-kai Chou