What do author Dan Pink and Professor of Education Mary Renck Jalongo have in common?
A studied and compelling interest in motivation--and what both inspires and sustains it. Taken together, their core concepts and principles place motivation squarely in the center of learning and creativity. And while they approach motivation from very different contexts--Pink from the world of business and Jalongo from the world of children's education--they offer surprisingly complementary explanations of the nature of motivation--and, equally important, wonderfully complementary answers to the fundamental question: What motivates us to learn?
In his TED International Talk on "The Surprising Science of Motivation," author Dan Pink presents an 18-minute precis of his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In brief, Pink argues that "there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does" when it comes to motivating workers. And what does science know? Well, Pink has done his homework (along with extensive research, citing a staggering array of studies both national and international, including one by The United States Federal Reserve) and he notes that science knows three crucial things when it comes to motivation:
 Traditional extrinsic motivators do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances (i.e., simple, routine, linear tasks that do not involve problem solving or creativity--exactly the sorts of tasks that can be outsourced).
 Carrot and Stick/If-Then Rewards often squelch and even punish creativity. The prospect of a reward or punishment tends to focus thinking to the point of narrowing (or limiting) it and making the consideration of a wide variety of possibilities and perspectives less likely.
 The secret to high performance in 21st century tasks involving problem solving, innovation and creativity isn't rewards or punishments but the intrinsic drive to do things because they are meaningful and they matter.
If what we want is high performance in the area of 21st century tasks--those that involve creativity, problem solving, and conceptual agility and flexibility--then the old carrot and stick approach of reward and punishment is not the way to go. Specifically, Pink identifies three "building blocks" for the "new operating system of business"--building blocks that I believe apply equally well to teaching and learning in the 21st century:
Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives
Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters
Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
Enter Mary Renck Jalongo. Now, Professor Jalongo's Association of Childhood Education International (ACEI) position paper "Beyond Benchmarks and Scores: Reasserting the Role of Motivation and Interest in Children's Academic Achievement" moves far beyond the area of motivation. (In fact, the article contains the basic framework for an entire graduate course of study on translating learning theory into classroom practice. Truth is, if you have time to read only one educational research article this year, you couldn't possibly do better than this one.) But motivation is central to the piece--just as it is central to children's learning. Jalongo writes,
"Motivation refers to the reasons that individuals take action; motivation to learn is a current or recurrent desire to gain information, develop skills , and attain mastery."
Jalongo's analysis and synthesis of the research on the roles of interest and motivation in learning pivot on the following 12 concepts and principles:
· Interest represents "an integration of feelings, motivation, and cognition" and "is arguably the most important form of intrinsic motivation." Interest is a sine qua non of learning.
· Research on interest can be divided into three categories:
Situational Interest: a spontaneous and short-lived interest based on novelty, the child's curiosity or salient information from the experience itself (e.g., dissection of an owl pellet)
Individual Interest: unique to the individual and an enduring preference for a specific subject, topic, concepts or an activity. The basis for this kind of interest appears to be "prior knowledge, personal experience, level of skill and the emotions associated with the learning topic or experience."
Instructional Facilitation of Interest: the relative effectiveness of efforts by educators to engage the learners through attention to situational and/or individual interests.
· "Intrinsic motivation results when the learning activity is rewarding in itself because it is interesting, exciting, challenging or otherwise engaging or meaningful."
· "When learners see themselves as competent--or as capable of becoming competent--at a task, their intrinsic motivation increases."
· "The teacher survival skill of our era just may be connecting interesting tasks to worthwhile academic achievement goals and, by so doing, increasing student motivation to learn."
· Learners are motivated to learn when "they can reconcile the perceived value (i.e., reasons for doing/learning something) with the cost (i.e., expenditure of effort and emotional investment required to accomplish the learning)."
· "When learners are interested, they are better able to focus attention, have more positive feelings about the learning experience, and are more likely to store the learning in long-term memory."
· "The key is to set the level of difficulty at the point where the learner needs to stretch a bit and can accomplish the task with moderate support"--what Vygotsky termed the zone of proximal development.
· "High ability matched with high challenge results in an optimal learning experience, low ability and high challenge results in frustration, and high ability and low challenge results in boredom"--all related to Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow.
· "Rewards have been found to increase motivation and interest in tasks that are of initial low interest."
· "Although it is common to think of motivation as either extrinsic or intrinsic, it actually exists on a sort of continuum ranging from motives that are apart from the self to those that are deep within. . .So intrinsic motivation is not the 'ideal' while extrinsic is the 'real'; rather, the two can be reconciled and work in concert to motivate academic achievement."
· "Instructional designs that promote motivation and interest emphasize three important variables:
1) autonomy--learners are given some options and leeway in the learning process so that they see the connections between their personal values and the environment;
2) competence: learners receive timely and useful feedback on their learning processes and success;
3) social relatedness--teachers accept and respect their students, thereby creating a supportive and relaxed learning atmosphere that encourages loyalty and cooperation."
In a nutshell, when educators focus on students' interests--and, in the process cultivate autonomy, competence and social relatedness--we leverage our students' feelings, motivation and cognition. And it is this combination of feelings, motivation and cognition that is the source of inspiring learning.