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Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose: Motivation

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The debate on how to motivate students has been a topic that has been wildly discussed since education was created. Modern education has attempted to rely heavily on immediate concrete rewards based off productive and success. Dan Pink, in his Ted Talk called “Puzzle of Motivation,” brings to attention a different way to motivate. This way to motivate is based off autonomy, mastery and purpose. Throughout this essay the reader will learn different ways to motivate students both with immediate rewards and more unorthodox ways in today’s standards.

Pink’s TED Talk brings to light some very interesting concepts of motivation that many people today have not considered. He tries to debunk some of the common misconceptions and antique strategies that workplaces tend to use to motivate. These same ideas are also used in most schools around the country and Pink believes that they are doing the workers and students a great disservice. One of the most interesting things in this video is how Pink brings up how immediate rewards for people based on productivity greatly reduces the actual result. He brings up a study where people who had a monetary reward performed worse than people who did not have a reward. This is not only an interesting study, but also an important one to consider in a school setting. Often schools will do things such as A. R. goals and lunches with the principal based on academic performance. Pink would argue that sometimes these goals work, but often they just lead to many kids’ motivating factors ignored and the results are lessened.

Pink has a different idea on how to motivate besides concrete rewards. He believes that a person can be highly motivated based off three things. These three things are autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is a person’s personal drive and desire to do a task. The mastery is if they believe they are good at the task and equip enough to preform it. The final motivator is purpose, this means that a person believes that the task at hand is worth doing and interesting enough. Pink gives an example of Wikipedia vs Encarta which are both encyclopedias online. Encarta is a company that is based off success and productivity-based pay and Wikipedia is a freelance encyclopedia which is volunteer based. Encarta was scraped in 2009 after many failures while Wikipedia is still thriving and extremely successful. Both companies had the same goal but approached it in very different ways.

Pink does give the traditional motivation some credit. This is because he believes that rewards for tasks that are very narrow and focused can have concrete rewards. He does, however, say that for jobs and tasks that are long term and more creative, concrete rewards will only be counterproductive. He makes a very interesting point that is directly related to the classroom. This point is when he said that many jobs today that are focused, and narrow are outsourced to other countries while jobs that are based off creative productive are in very high demand. This is important for teachers to realize because many of the jobs their students will have are creative and they need to have different motivators.

Another main topic in Pink’s talk is talking about how many jobs in the future will have a very different setting then how jobs were in the past. He is talking about how jobs like Apple and other software jobs are configured as more open, relaxed, “get your work done on your own terms,” kind of jobs. Pink hints how the “nine to five” cubicle jobs are starting to disappear, and more free-flowing jobs are becoming increasingly more popular. One of the main reasons for this is again, outsourcing and automation through technology.

This information is all very important and can be a great asset to teachers and educators, but the main problem is dismantling the traditional expectations. If you ask most parents, teachers, and principals how they motivate many will say concrete rewards or discipline. Pink wants people to shy away from these traditions and try to motivate others intrinsically. He believes that a person will be much more willing to learn and work if they are genuinely interested in the topic. They will also be more productive if they believe they have a say in what they learn and can tailor their studies based off what they want instead of standards everyone follows. While this may sound great, many people will have their doubts, which Pink even had a rebuttal. He gave the example that was previously noted about Encarta and Wikipedia. He also said that traditional management is great if you want compliance and simple tasks completed, but if you want more complex creative solutions you need self-direction and hands-off managers. This can be directly applied to teachers, if a teacher only uses scare tactics and a reward as a grade or a prize then students will give up much quicker if they are not succeeded.

A student will not try and go above and beyond and find solutions outside of the box because they may get punished for it. Pink gives many examples of Tech companies that have the outside the box thinking and the success they have had because of it. This topic is gravely important in today’s academic setting because as pink said many of the jobs will be based more off overall creativity rather than jobs where a person is at an assembly line. This is important for teachers to realize and to try to adapt in one’s classroom. The future of business and the workplace is much different than the past so teachers must be willing to adapt as well. This is easier said than done because many people are traditionalists, but research proves that both motivators have their place. It also becomes important because it could help reach the kids who are not as successful in the traditional methods. Quoting D. Ariely, “Once tasks call for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a large reward led to poorer performance”

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