Four Basic Learning Needs

There are four basic learning needs outlined by Ormrod (2011) that serve as the foundation for several different educational theories, including behaviorism and social cognitivism all the way to constructivism and basic cognitive theory. These four needs are Arousal, Competence, Self-Determination, and Relatedness (Ormrod, 2011, p. 365-72). By incorporating gaming as a structure to put around our content, we as teachers can meet several of these needs simultaneously in a way that traditional classrooms may not.

Arousal: The need for arousal is the need to be engaged in an activity. Games have a natural way to engage human beings, because they are actually fun, which some content simply is not for students. Additionally, though, Ormrod (2011) suggests to meet this need that teachers should “plan classroom activities that keep students continually active, either physically or cognitively” (p. 366). I am yet to play a game that asks the player to actively sit still and do absolutely nothing for an extended period of time. By adopting the attribute of activity that games have, you keep your students not only busy but engaged in learning. If they complete the first hurtle, make sure it’s clear that there’s another accomplishment around the corner that they could be working toward.

Competence (or Self-Worth): The need for competence and self-worth is a person’s need to both feel that they can “deal effectively with their environment” and hold the belief that “they are good, capable individuals” (p. 366-8). In a previous blog post, I wrote about the importance of students developing mastery goals for this very reason. In a game, students understand that game over is never really the end of the game, but an opportunity to try again and win the second time around (or third, for gamers with my level of skill). However, in a traditional classroom, students can often feel that they get only one chance at success. By introducing a gaming structure to the classroom, students can understand that one bad grade isn’t really the end, and having the opportunity to work hard to change it improves student self-efficacy, self-worth, and helps to meet the need for competence.

Self-Determination: The need for self-determination is the need for autonomy and self-direction (Ormrod, 2011, p. 368). Many new teachers ask how we can meet this need for self-determination without undermining our own authority and essentially giving power over to the students. Ormrod (2011) suggests a two ways that we can still maintain control while meeting this need: presenting rules and instructions in an informational rather than a controlling manner and provide opportunities for individual work and structured decision making (p. 369-70). Board games teach you how to successfully complete the game. Their rules are there to help the players have fun during the game. In the same way, we should introduce our rules as tools for students to reference to be successful learners. To meet this need, it is just as important that we understand the reasoning behind our rules as it is that our students do.

Relatedness: The need for relatedness is the need to feel “socially connected and to secure the love and respect of others” (Ormrod, 2011, p. 371). Luckily, just by having a gamified classroom, you show even students who don’t enjoy games that you care about whether or not they learn, and build on the students’ social need for relatedness. You show students that you’re willing to show them that you’re willing to geek out with them and reveal those personal interests that you don’t traditionally find in the classroom. In response, many students will feel more comfortable with you as a teacher and be more productive learners as well.

These four needs all have one goal in mind: make the classroom a place where learning is as effective and as efficient as it can possibly be. So, to any teachers reading this blog and having difficulties with a student with whom you have tried everything: I ask you to look back at these four basic needs before you try to introduce a new punishment system to the classroom or making your rules more strict in an unruly room. Is the student interested in any part of the learning process? Does the student feel that he or she can actually meet your standards? Does the student feel like he or she has a voice in your classroom? Finally, does the student feel like he or she is alone in your classroom or a part of the community?

 

Ormrod, J. (2011). Educational psychology: Developing learners 7th edition. Boston: Pearson Education.

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