Monday, November 12, 2012

My New Areas of Study: Motivation, Habits, and Success

I have been in teaching, training, or designing instruction in various capacities for roughly the past 13 years. For the past 6 years, I have studied in the field of educational technology and instructional design and have earned 2 graduate degrees and published several articles in the field. I have found a home in this field, and it has been a great joy to learn what I have about instructional effectiveness.

The Purpose of Education
At the broadest level, one could state that the purpose of education (and by extension instructional design) is to enable an individual to live a successful, meaningful, contributing life. I believe that I have a basic grasp of how to help students gain knowledge and skills, but I believe I have an opportunity to understand more about how I can positive influence students to adopt outstanding habits, build their motivation, and help them move forward with success in their lives.

A Shift in My Research Interests
I am now beginning to feel a shift in my personal research interests. I have realized that some of the most important aspects of a student's success learning do not occur outside of an individual (e.g. the instruction we present to a learner). In the field of educational technology and instructional design we tend to focus on doing something to students to influence there learning and behavior. I know from research and experience that using effective strategies to provide students with learning experiences is vital to helping a student succeed. However, I also believe that the internal motivation, habits, and characteristics of a student are perhaps even more important than the external strategies we use to help instruct them.

Learning About the Internal
All of my own research has focused on what the instructor or instruction (external to the student) does to engender learning. I have asked fundamental questions about what good instructors do, what strategies more effectively help students learn, and what steps designers can take to create effective instruction. I will never stop seeking the answers to these questions; however, there are other fundamental questions about learning that I plan to start to investigate.

My Emerging Interests
Among other things, here are the general topics that I am interested in learning more about. These are areas that I have some knowledge of, though my knowledge is more peripheral and perhaps biased.

  • What are the psychological and neurological features of motivation?
  • What creates the motivation to act in an individual?
  • What strategies can be used used to influence and create motivation in an individual?
  • What are the most effective strategies for influencing motivation in an individual?
  • What are the psychological and neurological features of habits?
  • How are habits formed?
  • How can undesirable habits be eliminated or modified?
  • How can positive habits be created and automated in a person's life?
  • What strategies can be used to help others eliminate undesirable habits?
  • What strategies can be used to engender positive, automated habits in another individual?
  • What are the psychological and neurological features of success?
  • What makes an individual successful in achieving meaningful, difficult goals?
  • What strategies can be used to help an individual be successful in his or her own life?


robmba said...

This is great, Joel. This is actually the direction my dissertation is taking me, looking at student behaviors that result in success. I'll be building models or profiles of different types of students that looks at what opportunities they choose to take advantage of or utilize. Knowing student preferences, we can then make sure to build our instruction in a way that uses what they like or attempts to convince them to use something they don't like but would be effective for them.

joel gardner said...

That sounds like an interesting avenue of research, Rob! I'm interested to read what you come up with. I sometimes think we tend to overlook the extremely important aspect of student motivation and hard work. If students work hard to learn, they learn more, regardless of how well or how poorly the instruction is designed. If we can help them be motivated to work hard and also design well, then they get the maximum benefit. If you think of it, be sure to share your dissertation with me. Thanks, Rob!

Anonymous said...

Some of my classmates at ODU are looking into the same research questions. Some of the addtional keywords are metacognition, self-efficacy, and locus of control.

-Scott Weersing

joel gardner said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Scott! I will definitely incorporate these into my search. (Good to meet you the other day at the AECT Conference, by the way. Hope you are well!)

Kent Slack said...

This is a very interesting shift and I wish you the best in this new line of research. There is a lot of potential here, and it will be interesting to see what you find.

I find myself asking why does field of instructional design and educational technology focus on the learning environment? I think that a major part of the answer is that it is the environment that we as educators can control and manipulate. We can enhance this, tweak that, and redesign our environments to focus on specific goals. One of the trends over that last couple decades has been to make educational technology more of a science, and a major part of that involves doing things that can be controlled and manipulated without crossing ethical lines. (This very thing is also one of the major arguments that has been put forth against instructional design.)

In contrast to the focus on the learning environment, there is the focus on the individual. Their motivation, their drive, their internal state. Psychology and especially educational Psychology have learned much about individual learners. The challenge here is that the focus on the individual is difficult to generalize and empirically define.

These two approaches or views are very different, and at its core it goes back to the classical nature nurture debate that has been raging for millennia. It will be very interesting to see what you can find. My gut feeling is that the next big progression in the field of educational technology resides not in the next new gadget but at the intersection of these two ways of looking at things. We know many of the core principles that can be used to enhance the environment and facilitate student learning. We know a decent amount about what motivates and demotivates students. How can these two approaches be combined so that they work together to provide the optimal chance for success and facilitate optimal learning.

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