The Purpose Motive

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I have just been looking at one of the wonderful RSAnimate videos. It was called “The surprising truth about what motivates us”.

This was an animated part of a longer talk at the Royal Society of Arts by Dan Pink. In the video you can see him explain the research into motivation that a number of eminent academics did a few years ago. They discovered that monetary reward on simple “algorithmic” tasks worked well in that the higher the reward the greater the striving to succeed. On any tasks that required creativity and problem solving though monetary reward actually acted as a disincentive.

Pink goes on to talk about what motivates us as human beings to go to work all day on a highly paid position and then come home and work on something for free… which is where we get Linux and Wikipedia. The answer to the conundrum of why people work for free and distribute their creations for free is that they are motivated by a purpose.

This made me think of a discussion that I had yesterday with a teacher from a secondary school that I am working in at the moment. I have been asked to try and motivate four  classes of children (Year 7 and 8 ) who have been put in the lowest banding of their school in mathematics! (a really easy task you may think).

I told her that I had done some similar work with another secondary school last year and the class teacher and myself decided that a textbook, worksheet approach just didn’t mean anything to the children. We looked at what did interest them and we decided to change the curriculum to reflect their interests. The idea was to give a purpose to what they were studying… to look for the mathematics that exists in so many ways in every aspect of life.. so that they were not learning for the sake of learning some set of algorithms but learning something that made sense, that had a purpose.

We found that the project-based ideas really motivated the children. It was not about rewards like stars or merits but the fact that, like the people who worked on Linux or Wikipedia… the motivation was that there was a purpose to it, they enjoyed it and they could see real world connections.

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