Can We Motivate Someone to be Intrinsically Motivated?

joyoflearningThe adult learner is a self-directed learner, driving their own development in the direction that provides most purpose for them as individuals.  What a great idea, huh?  Students love it.  Facilitators love it.  The learning world is running smoothly then, right?  Uhhhh..Nope.

So, where’s the hiccup, then?  If everyone loves the concept, why doesn’t it work as advertised?

First and foremost, it’s not a habit.  Few of us grew up in a self-directed learning environment.  Even as adults, only a handful of Americans seem to have fully experienced the fullness of learning possible when they push others’ directives aside.

As with any habit, it takes time and effort to navigate this change.  And as I described in my post earlier this week, when the discomfort of change emerges, too many of us tuck our tails between our legs and slink back into the pedagogical ways of our pasts.

But along with it simply being a (bad) habit, there’s also the notion that self-directed learning entails allowing oneself to be more personally invested, and therefore more personally accountable, for the results.  And, while I hate to say it out loud, many Americans are not particularly thrilled with the idea of personal accountability.  Perhaps it’s in our upbringing (not just educationally), but we’ve been burned too many times.  We haven’t been brought up in a culture in which failure is an acceptable outcome.  We learned as youngsters that failure was bad, so we avoid it like the plague.  And we avoid most situations in which we could actually be personally accountable for our own failures….better to fail and be able to blame others than to take ownership for them!

Kates-Blog-Brain-Research-and-the-Joy-of-LearningSo, how do we get students to take a “leap of faith” and become more willing to accept both the risk and the reward of their own learning?  How do we get them to accept their own accountability (as the primary owner) of their own learning, to drive their own intrinsic motivation and not rely on a facilitator to motivate them?

It’s interesting how much of my personal life as a parent with two high school daughters aligns with my professional life.  These are questions with which I’m wrestling both as a parent and as a professor.  Perhaps some of the frustration lies in the realization I made as a learner myself in my late 20s, while undergoing immersion Russian language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.  It was there, overlooking the city’s gorgeous marina, filled to the brim with barking sea lions and kayakers, that I experienced the tremendous power of self-directed learning.  I hadn’t felt it in high school, nor in college.

JoyOfLearning_BoyDo I then have too high expectations when interacting with my daughters or some of my students, to want for them the same inspired, intrinsic learning motivation?  Am I in some way trying to extrinsically motivate them to become intrinsically motivated?  Put that way, the approach seems fundamentally flawed.  Hence is the tension between seeking to “shine the light” on the long-term benefits of intrinsic learning motivation within a short-term learning environment (a single class or a single high school year).

How have other learning and development professionals approached this quandary?  Or is it merely a need to come to peace with the lack of total control I have in having such influence over others?  Hmmmm…control issues?  Me?  Well, that’s another issue altogether…..

4 thoughts on “Can We Motivate Someone to be Intrinsically Motivated?

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