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        • Work in Progress *****


Proposed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in 1985, when applied to education primarily relates to students confidence in their own capacities and attributes, how much they value the education (or learning) that is taking place, and also their interest in learning the topic at hand. Self determination theory looks at what engages a student in an activity, or causes some action to be performed. It separates actions that are entered into by the student freely of their own choice vs. actions that are compelled by an outside source (like a teacher).<ref name="Deci">[1], Deci, E., Vallerand, R., Pelletier, L., Ryan, R., "Motivation and Education: The Self-Determination Perspective", Educational Psychologist, 26:3, 325-346</ref>

Self Determination theory postulates that there are basic psychological needs that are important for all people. Three of these needs are focused on when talking about self determination in education. They are competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Competence is the ability to attain goals (either internal or external) to the person, and being efficacious in the attainment of those goals. Relatedness is more of a social goal and speaks to the personal connections made in such a way that the student feels safe and satisfied with others in their social context. Autonomy is the ability to control both the actions you take, as well as regulating the self through various tasks.<ref name="Deci" />

General Theoretical Underpinnings

Research Examples

Swiss and German Mathematics Lessons

In 2008 Hugener et al published a paper "Teaching patterns and learning quality in Swiss and German Mathemetics lessons". The authors postulated that self generated thoughts, feelings and actions that are orientated towards the goals of the instruction would be a contributor to student success. The study used videos of 19 Swiss (German speaking) schools and 20 German schools. A pretest, a video of a three lesson series on pythagorean theorum, and a post test were used to gather data.

The video lessons were coded based upon predetermined teaching patterns that looked at the social form of the lessons (whole class instruction, working in groups, pairs or individual work), content related activities (proofs, problems, theoretical background, etc), the type of introduction to the lesson that was observed, and aspects of the learning sequence (who presents, shares information) were coded. These observations helped break the class lessons into one of three groups: lecturing pattern, developing pattern (questioning from the teacher leads to understanding) and discovery pattern.

Each video was rated also for student cognitive activation (engagement in the material being presented) and the students were asked to complete a questionnaire on their perception of their own learning quality. There was a Self-Determined Learning Motivation scale as a part of the questionnaire. In order to control for prior factors, students were also asked about their prior attitude towards the teacher.

In the analysis the attitude toward the teacher significantly predicted all the dependent variables. Hugener also found that the discovery pattern students had more negative emotions and tended to assess their positive emotions lower than students in the lecturing pattern.

Although Hugener et al found negative correlations between the pattern with the most student choice (which according to self determination principle should have positive impact on motivation and emotions), they postulated that this was in line with what Krapp in 2005 found when looking at the basic needs and development of interest in intrinsic motivational orientations. Perhaps this paper serves as the best warning to us as educators that all things should be taken in moderation and that self determination without confidence or knowledge is not beneficial.

Hugener, I., Pauli, C., Reusser, K., Lipowsky, F., Rakoczy, K., Klieme, E., "Teaching Patterns and Learning Quality in Swiss and German Mathematics Lessons", Learning and Instruction 19(2009) 66-78

Intrinsic Motivation for Math

Organic Chemistry and Autonomous Motivations