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Intrinsic Motivation. Applications to Instructional Design. There are many theories of motivation and the psychology of the human experience. Two are most applicable here and worth evaluating: Self-Determination Theory (Ryan and Deci , 2000a) Flow Theory ( Csikszentmihalyi , 2008)

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intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic Motivation

Applications to Instructional Design

theories on motivation

There are many theories of motivation and the psychology of the human experience. Two are most applicable here and worth evaluating:

    • Self-Determination Theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000a)
    • Flow Theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008)
  • Both theories are not rooted in educational theory, but rather are theories of human motivation and psychology with applicability to instructional design.
Theories on Motivation
self determination theory

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) has grown out of the research on motivation performed by Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci both of the University of Rochester (Ryan and Deci, 2000a).

    • SDT establishes three internal needs that we seek to satisfy: competence, relatedness and autonomy.
    • SDT considers both internal and external motivation (Ryan and Deci, 2000).
Self-Determination Theory
extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation in sdt

We are intrinsically motivated to satisfy our needs of competence, relatedness and autonomy.

  • Extrinsic factors can have positive or negative effects on our intrinsic motivation based on the effect the extrinsic factors have on these needs (Deci, Koestner & Ryan, 2001).
    • Verbal rewards (“positive feedback”) can increase a student’s sense of competence
    • Tangible rewards such as grades or prizes can decrease a student’s sense of autonomy (control over their work) and have a negative impact on motivation.
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation in SDT
sdt in instructional design

Students wish to fulfill three primary needs. When instructional design leads to activities that fulfill these needs then learning can be more successful.

  • Competence
    • Students will be intrinsically motivated to perform if they feel they are competent and understand the material at hand.
    • This is best illustrated by the proper scaffolding of lessons so that students can master tasks and feel successful before moving on to more difficult work. (Dirksen, 2012)
  • Relatedness
    • Student engagement is enhanced when the instructional material covered has direct relevance to them (Deci, 2009)
  • Autonomy
    • Student success can be improved when activities allow students a sense of choice and control over the purpose and outcome of their education (Deci, 2009; Cavendish, 2013).
SDT in Instructional Design
flow theory csikszentmihalyi 2008

We are all driven to experience a “flow state” which is the optimum experience that we can have.

    • It is characterized by total awareness of the task at hand and only the task at hand.
    • When in a flow state, the sense of time, awareness of surroundings, and concern for self are dramatically altered.
      • Athletes call it being “in the zone”
      • It is common amongst those playing video games or engrossed in reading, both of which can go on for hours often without any realization of the passage of time.
Flow Theory(Csikszentmihalyi, 2008)
extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation in flow

Flow by its very definition is an intrinsically motivated state (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008).

  • Tasks are performed simply for their own sake. A state of flow cannot be obtained if the motivation for performing the task is extrinsic unless the motivating factor leads to an internal desire to perform the task (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008).
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation in Flow
flow theory in instructional design

We learn most efficiently when a “state of flow” is achieved.

    • This is most likely to happen when a task is challenging but possible given the level of student skill (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008).
    • Much like a video game, proper spacing of new material, reinforcement of old material, and consistent positive feedback can maintain a student’s flow state and enhance learning to optimum levels (Dirksen, 2012)
Flow Theory in Instructional Design
flow a balance of challenge and skills

When the proper level of challenge is balanced against the skill level of the student (this can apply to any flow inducing task, not just education) then a state of flow can be reached (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008; Flow)

Flow – A Balance of Challenge and Skills
instructional design models using intrinsic motivation

There are many models of instructional design (Reiser and Dempsey, 2012)

  • Historically, models have focused on learning outcomes, not students’ motivation (Chan and Ahern, 1999)
  • Two recent offerings use motivation as their central purpose
    • ARCS (Keller, 2013)
    • Malone and Lepper “Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivation” (Rees, 2011)
Instructional Design Models using Intrinsic Motivation
arcs model keller 2013

Developed by John Keller in 1987

  • Based on the idea that resources, procedures and activities should enhance motivation to learn.
  • Contains four categories under which materials and activities fall.
  • Utilizing all four can help to increase student motivation to succeed.
ARCS Model(Keller, 2013)
arcs categories part i keller 2013a

These four categories bear a striking resemblance to both SDT and Flow Theory:

    • Attention
      • The activities must garner students attention and concentration (as in Flow).
    • Relevance
      • Students should be familiar with the material and relate to it (as in SDT)
ARCS Categories Part I(Keller, 2013a)
arcs categories part 2 keller 2013a

These four categories bear a striking resemblance to both SDT and Flow Theory:

    • Confidence
      • Students should be in control of their learning experience (autonomy in SDT; control in Flow), be competent in the material (as in SDT) and the task should be challenging (as in Flow)
    • Satisfaction
      • The task should provide intrinsic reinforcement. This is the same as the satisfaction of completing a task in a “flow state.”
ARCS Categories Part 2(Keller, 2013a)
taxonomy of intrinsic motivation rees 2011

Also developed in 1987, but by Thomas Malone and Mark Lepper.

  • Based on the intrinsic motivation of gameplay (a common theme in Flow)
  • Four key motivating factors that when met improve learning:
    • Challenge
    • Curiosity
    • Control
    • Fantasy
Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivation(Rees, 2011)
motivating factors part 1 rees 2011


    • As in Flow, the right balance between skill level and challenge is key. Consistent positive feedback and clear goals are necessary (also like Flow)
  • Curiosity
    • Students can be drawn in by initial images but are pulled forward by an interest in the material. This is akin to beginning with a small competence level and growing as the material becomes more complex (competence in SDT; challenging, concentration in Flow)
Motivating FactorsPart 1(Rees, 2011)
motivating factors part 2 rees 2011


    • Learners perform better when there is a sense of control over the outcome of the project, success in a game or planning of a lesson (autonomy in SDT, control in Flow) (Cavendish, 2013)
  • Fantasy
    • This is more applicable to game based learning, but it also evokes a sense of control over the environment that the learning (or game) is taking place in.
Motivating FactorsPart 2(Rees, 2011)