Just Sugarcoat the Boring Stuff or There’s an M&M for Every Question You Complete

In my last post I looked at John M. Keller’s Motivational Design model. The acronym ARCS explains the four major foci: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction. In this post I want to revisit the a component of the ARCS Motivational Design model and juxtapose it with another earlier post about something I read in the blogosphere. You can read the original post here.

According to Keller, learners need to derive a sense of satisfaction from their learning so that they are incline to continue learning. This, I feel, is something that is often overlooked in education. In my personal practice and from observation, teachers generally do everything possible to motivate learners at the beginning of a study/inquiry cycle. This stage of the inquiry process would be the immersion stage and would relate to the Attention stage of Keller’s model. Through this process of generating interest, I continuously wonder which degree of satisfaction will be achieved by learners and how this satisfaction will motivate them to continue learning.

Curiosity has already been described as a strong source of motivation, but one that can be fleeting. Driscoll (2005)

Teachers, myself included, do everything possible to try and maintain student interest and engagement as students work further in the investigative stage and further until they go public with their inquiry findings. The question that lingers in my mind after every inquiry cycle and at the end of every school year is: “are these students any more motivated to continue their learning now then when we first started? Have I lit a fire in them? Will they continue to explore this or other things that interest them?”

There is definitely a challenge in education today in motivating and ensuring that students are engaged in their learning. The challenge lies in that (and this is by no means a comprehensive list) 1) learners have negative experiences in school that disengage them, 2) learners have negative experiences in their social/family life that disengage them, and 3) when asked, learners would prefer to be doing something else then going to school and learning in a formal education institution. Addressing these issues is crucial in that they act as real barriers to their future learning and interest in learning.

When left to their own, few children would eat broccoli or brussels sprouts and the same is said about school. How many kids beyond grade 5 would actively choose to go to school if there were no one encouraging them and making sure that they were attending and completing the work. As students work further towards completing their grade 12 diploma, the number would continue to diminish until few students remained in school. What’s worse is that a there would be a noticeable difference between boys and girls. Boys are much less likely to feel engaged or interested in their learning. Regardless of gender, what is interesting is that obtaining a grade 12 diploma does motivate students. This I feel is a reality of “frozen futurism” that drives our society and it’s members as described by Professor Smith from the U of A.

Rewards intrinsically interesting practice task performance with unexpected non-contingent rewards, and boring practice tasks with extrinsic, anticipated rewards. Keller

As discussed in the earlier post, my past students would fail me in extrinsic motivation but I would hope that they would say that I never asked them to do something that we all knew was boring. When I read such statements as the one above, I am left to wonder what are the lasting impacts on learners when they are treated, much as Daniel Pink would suggest, like horses with a carrot dangling in front of their heads. The quote is a suggestion from Keller to enhance learner satisfaction. Me, I’m not so sure.

After writing this, I have gained no clarity as to what is going to create the longest lasting effect on learner satisfaction and their willingness to continue learning. I am left with thoughts of my grandfather and his life-long practice of learning and the desire to engage in meaningful work to create a lasting impact on his community. Things that are boring, as stated by Keller couldn’t possibly motivate someone to learn/practice/explore something and in my mind runs the risk of seriously disengaging someone from life-long learning. Humans need meaningful work from which they can derive satisfaction. To me, this idea is simple.

The result, they say, is enhanced motivation on the part of learners, who experience the complexity of problems that is characteristic of real life. Driscoll (2005)

4 thoughts on “Just Sugarcoat the Boring Stuff or There’s an M&M for Every Question You Complete

  1. I am supposed to be writing my paper but this post got me really thinking. Thank you for that, and not just for the distraction! Do you think becoming a life long learner is about finding one thing that gets you excited, makes you feel passionate to know more, and muck about in it. Just one thing. Because that one thing as we explore it and dig into it leads us to other thoughts, ideas and exposes us to potentially more areas to get excited about. I think it starts to bleed and pushes us further than we could imagine. Is our job to help each child move forward on the path to finding that one thing to start them off, and supporting them in just going at it with abandon? When I taught gifted ed and my students knew the curriculum objectives before I had even taught them, we had time and space to explore their “one thing”. Some came in knowing, at least on a small scale, what got them excited, what they wanted to know more about and what fuelled their curiosity. Others stared at me blankly and wished, I’m sure, that I would just go away. But with time, permission, no limitations on what the “one thing” was, and exposure to others who were passionate and intense in their learning, these students would come to find their “one thing”. And it did expand and become larger, and the energy was almost addictive in a way. I am not saying it transferred to a passion for math when a student loathed math, but it transferred to a bigger picture of loving learning and realizing learning could be motivated from within not prescribed from a curriculum and a teacher. Clearly I am a hard core idealist and this doesn’t answer anything but I do believe a history of positive learning experiences, in any shape or size, breeds a desire for more. It becomes self-propelling. Thanks for inspiring me ponder!

  2. I love this comment, Tannis!

    “I do believe a history of positive learning experiences, in any shape or size, breeds a desire for more. It becomes self-propelling.” Amazing!

    I have thought a lot about what creates a life-long learner and also what the definition of a life-long learner actually is.

    To answer your questions at the beginning of your comment, I have no clue. These are amazing questions that we could explore infinitely as teachers. I know we often feel conflicted because we ponder these questions and feel limited as to what we can accomplish in regards to workload. On a lighter note, the beauty of working with learners is that they are all unique individuals that no single answer could ever encompass all learners universally.

    A personal story about myself, should you care:
    When I was a kid, I didn’t like reading. I hated it. Looking back on it, I think I had weak reading comprehension/preferred to be active/and was “forced” to read stuff that didn’t interest me. Comic books were great but no parent or teacher felt comfortable having me read comic after comic after comic… Now that I am a teacher librarian, my mom laughs at my development as a reader because my introduction to reading longer chapter books was Star Wars novels, something she finds odd because I hated reading and then fell into these 500 page novels and never looked back. (Disclaimer: I no longer read Star Wars novels…)

    As you described in your comment, what was it about these books that created a life-long reader/learner in me? I think I have myself figured out but I am not so sure it applies to all other learners…

  3. A guy blinks, and a beautiful conversation breaks out! You both have made me think…again!

    One of the things about experiencing success and satisfaction with one thing, and the way it generalizes to other things has interested me for a long time — but I don’t have an answer. I’ve wondered whether the generalization is somewhat narrow in a lot of cases. For example, somebody gets some satisfaction from going on an archaeological dig, and they become really interested in the history of the people at that time, or the science around dating artifacts, or languages people in that time period may have spoken. The initial interest spreads, but it is pretty focused on the origin.

    But does the motivation spread, based on subsequent successes/interests along the way? Does it plant the seeds for an inquiring, curious mind? Will that new interest in one language lead to an interest in others? Will the science of carbon dating lead to a broader interest in science — say astronomy?

    I think we know very little about how this “spread of activation” plays out over time, and how fragile the connections are. Yet another thesis topic.

    Maybe the old quote is correct:

    “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

  4. I would agree that success and satisfaction only propel someone so far and that generally it would only marginally generalize beyond. Often, teachers are concerned about trying to get learner passions to spread into different themes or subjects and lament about the limited success they experience. This they do and invest energy in because they want to use initial interest and motivation to further propel the student in different areas of study. I wonder, is this something that could be enhance by explicit talk-aloud strategies and modelling to learners? We can’t expect a group of learners to be able to do anything without support or instruction. Would a teacher explicitly modelling this to learners foster and grow the ability to generalize their satisfaction and excitement for learning beyond origin of initial interest? I wonder…

    I do feel that the positive outcome of meaningful learning contexts is an increase in the inquisitiveness of learners. I love the quote you share and would include my favourite educational quote: “Eduction is the lighting of fires, not the filling of buckets.” If we can light a fire in a person then the curiosity, wonder, and desire to know more has an opportunity to be ablaze.

    Thank you for reading and commenting!

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