Motivation: the power of autonomy support and structure

Self-determination theory (SDT) was developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. They are now among the most-cited psychologists in the world. SDT is the best-researched and most influential motivation theory today. We discuss the value of the SDT for education, showing how important autonomy support and structure are for good motivation.

The power of autonomous motivation

SDT distinguishes two important forms of motivation:

  • Controlled motivation: this arises from external or internal pressures, such as the lure of a reward, seeking others' approval, or avoiding punishment or guilt. This is a relatively poor quality of motivation that is accompanied by tension, anxiety, lower performance, failure to persevere and the tendency to cheat.
  • Autonomous motivation: refers to behavior that one feels is chosen out of personal volition and support. This is the best quality of motivation and is associated with feeling good and functioning well.

Autonomy support

Providing autonomy support is an important part of the SDT. This means that teachers give students choices, make expectations clear and provide meaningful rationales for these expectations, recognize and accept students' negative feelings, and use inviting language. Providing autonomy support helps students feel more valued and not overly controlled, thereby boosting their internalized motivation and intrinsic motivation.

The importance of structure

While offering autonomy support, it's equally important to provide structure. This involves clearly communicating expectations, providing step-by-step guidance and assistance, monitoring and adjusting tasks as necessary, and providing constructive feedback. When structure is provided in an autonomy-supportive way, it strengthens students' self-confidence and sense of competence and their involvement in the classroom.

Importance of preventing need frustration

Needs frustration arises when students' basic needs (for autonomy, competence, and relatedness) are not met. This can lead to amotivation, dissatisfaction, oppositional behavior, and dropout. Therefore, it is important to provide an environment where students feel safe and their needs are met.

Autonomous motivation of the teacher

The autonomous motivation of the teacher is also important. Teachers who are autonomously motivated enjoy their work more and are often more involved with their students. A teacher with autonomous motivation has more freedom to shape his or her lessons in a creative way and can deal better with unexpected situations in the classroom. This ultimately leads to more job satisfaction and better performance for both the teacher and the students.

Summary and conclusion

Autonomous motivation is of great importance, because this form of motivation leads to more interest, involvement and performance of students. Providing autonomy support and structure are two important aspects that can help with this. In addition, preventing need frustration is crucial to ensure that students remain autonomously motivated. Finally, it is vital for teachers to be autonomously motivated as it fosters greater job satisfaction and enhances performance for both educators and students.