All posts tagged motivation

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.

High Expectations

Games can be hard. And that is alright.images

I once ran a simple one-shot (isolated, episodic) session of Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. I established a hook for them to go and investigate the woods and eventually run into a goblin raiding party and a goblin war camp for some experience. When I was designing the war camp, I realized part way through that the difficulty of the area was beyond a simple group of level 1 adventurers, so in the margins of my notes about the quest, I included some places where a non-player character (NPC) could swoop in and help my friends out.

imagesImagine my surprise when the adventurers, through their cunning alone, decided to set fire to the surrounding forested area, smoke the goblins out, and defeat the war camp boss with no problems and several trophies to bring home and sell for gold. I imagine how bored my players would have been if I had placed their “savior” in the main text instead of the margins-the players would have been put in the margins instead and would not have felt the same sense of accomplishment upon completing the quest. What I did by keeping that NPC in the margins where he belonged was hold high expectations for my players.

Many teachers fall into a very simple trap when they are asked about whether or not they have “high expectations” for their students. I am referring to “high expectations” here as opposed to “high standards,” which is an all-too-common misunderstanding among teachers new and old. So, let’s turn to the dictionary for some help with the difference:

1. Standard: The fourth definition, the one which most closely aligns with education, is “the average or normal requirement, quality, quantity, level, grade, etc.”

2. Expectation: Coming from the word “expect.” The first definition listed for “expect” is “to look forward to; regard as likely to happen; anticipate the occurrence or coming of.”

While these two definitions may be similar, there’s a very valuable difference in expectation. Expectation is the anticipation that students will meet a standard. Therefore, high expectations implies that the teacher believes that their high standards can be met by their students. Belief is absolutely key, and if a teacher doesn’t believe that his or her students will rise to the challenge and accomplish that standard, those students are being set up to not meet those high standards.


Shiny Badges

The world seems to fall in and out of love with the concept of badges in education at an astonishing rate. One minute they’re claiming they represent something tangible that showcases hard work and dedication. The next they claim that it cheapens the process of learning. “Why strive for a badge when you can strive for knowledge?” they scream. 

I’ll tell you why. Because many students don’t make that connection between learning and knowledge. As crazy as that sounds. Learning is what you do at school, and for most students school is a chore. They’re there because they have to be or because their friends are present. Learning is hard and knowledge is nice, but it’s not something that is easily presentable to your peers or parents. You can know loads about a certain subject and be completely in the dark about another. Sometimes kids just need that little piece of flair to enhance their confidence and show others what they know.

It’s like the sticker on a test. Or a test on a fridge. It’s proof. Proof that you learned and proof that you’re proud of it. Most students won’t display a test or a sticker or a badge because they think it’s really cool looking, it’s because they want others to take notice. Look at my accomplishment! Isn’t it great? I’m proud of myself.

Sure, it’s blatantly extrinsic to promote kindness and hard work with badges, levels and experience points, but these are the things students like. Learning to learn is a very hard concept to wrap your head around when you are at a young age. I didn’t want to learn chemical symbols, I wanted to learn how to beat that darn Water Temple. Why? Because it’s fun to succeed and even more fun to show others that you made it. Everyone likes rewards and pay offs. Lots of people love their jobs, but that doesn’t mean they would keep working them if you stopped paying them. As much as humans hate to admit it, we love shiny badges. We love the things that motivate us.

Badges are great for another reason. They may be extrinsic, but they lead to intrinsic thinking. Children may start their quest to learn because there is a reward on the line, but as they mature they realize that knowledge is a reward. The ultimate reward. Getting students to learn, in fact getting ANYONE to learn, by using incentives should not be frowned upon. Hold your badges up with pride and say, “Look at what I did, world. Look at what I know.”

Game Over: Do You Wish To Continue?

mario-game-overIn a previous post, Ben discussed the role that motivation plays in both video games and in the classroom. I was hoping to investigate that more now, through the lens of classroom climate and setting your students up to still succeed even after failure.

Many factors can feed a child’s potential to fail to participate in the learning process, one of which is a fear of failure. I refer to the fear of failing students experience under the pressures to meet the expectations placed on them by their parents, their teachers, their peers, and themselves. Often enough, this fear creates something called a performance-avoidance goal in a student. Performance-avoidance goals motivate children to do exactly what it sounds like-to avoid performing due to a fear that they will embarrass themselves by answering a question incorrectly or will appear inferior in front of their peers for attempting.

This is just one type of student achievement goal in educational psychology. Two other types of goals for students that contrast include performance-approach goals and mastery goals. Performance-approach goals act the opposite of performance-avoidance goals. These students know that they know the answer, they raise their hands with it prepared, and deliver it to receive a reward, often times in the form of praise from the teacher or self-satisfaction. The other, mastery goals, motivate students to not only provide the correct answers, but to actually grow from the challenge of addressing difficult problems, including those problems challenging enough to leave the student with a very real possibility of failure.

While students driven by performance-approach goals and even performance-avoidance goals can still have healthy academic experiences and learn well in the classroom, our students should always be encouraged to adopt the mindset of mastery. This is one beautiful effect of the ClassRealm experience system. In video games, experience is awarded to indicate improvement, not just performance in the game. And by using experience, our characters can become stronger, faster, smarter, and more successful later in the game. Sure, I could import my level 100 Charizard from my Fire Red to my Leaf Green, breeze through collecting badges, and defeat the Elite Four, but it wouldn’t give me nearly the same satisfaction as working hard to level up a whole new team to fight tooth and nail down Victory Road, getting even better after every battle.

gameover_continueVideo games don’t just give us opportunities to fail, but encourage us to with an extremely simple concept: the checkpoint. When you face the final boss and lose your last hit point, does the video game explode, taking every last bit of time and effort you’ve poured into it with it? Some may delete your save file, but nine out of ten video games ask you a simple question, sometimes displayed in a single word: “Continue?” Then, suddenly you’re back at your last checkpoint ready to grind, get better, and retry until you can return the favor for every time that boss has knocked you down into the dirt. The goal of every class, ClassRealm or traditional, is to instill an orientation toward mastery goals in our students—to improve for them, not to perform for us.

I thought that this would be a prudent subject to tackle as the first post on the ClassRealm blog that I make and the first one published here in almost a year. I’ve read through Ben’s blog posts after I read an article on Gamification and found my way to ClassRealm. I think that it’s time to hit the switch and retry from the last checkpoint. If we expect our kids in the class to do it, we should make the effort to model it ourselves.


Ormrod, J. E. (2011). Educational psychology: Developing learners. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Innovation in Motivation: Part Two

Welcome back to the ClassRealm blog, the best (and only) blog about ClassRealm, the up-and-coming classroom management tool built by teachers and gamers alike. In Part One of Innovation in Motivation I briefly touched on why gamers play games and how the gaming mentality applies to many students in this day and age. Today I’ll be talking about the epic battle between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Let’s get to it.

Intrinsic Motivation is motivation that comes from within, hence the prefix “in”. It’s motivation that is driven by your enjoyment of the activity and not to achieve some physical reward or outcome. Confidence is a huge part of intrinsic motivation, if you aren’t confident you probably aren’t accomplishing a task purely out of enjoyment.  Students who have intrinsic motivation are those who want to learn simply to gain knowledge, as opposed to getting good grades. It is hard to find students who have intrinsic motivation in grades K-12, not to say they don’t exist. This being said, all teachers should strive to make their students intrinsic learners.

Extrinsic motivation is motivation that is influenced by external outcomes. External rewards include report cards, trophies, money, and not getting in trouble. One does things, not because they enjoy it, but because they want a specific outcome. Sadly, most people in the world are pushed by extrinsic motivation when it comes to their jobs. They do it simply to get the money and buy what they need to live. Most (not all) students are also pushed by extrinsic motivation. They work hard, show up on time and are kind to others because it will ultimately pay off with that perfect report card, a compliment from the teacher, or the admiration of classmates. Many believe extrinsic motivation leads to overjustification, the mentality students can get when they believe they should be rewarded for everything they do. Overjustification can lead to a severe lack of intrinsic motivation in the future, though not all extrinsic motivation causes this.

So. Intrinsic good. Extrinsic bad. Right? Not entirely. Although ultimately I want my students to become intrinsic learners, the thought that they will reach that mental state on their own is unrealistic. Students are shaped by the world around them. Their parents, their teachers, their friends – all factors that affect who they are and who they become. I believe students need an extrinsic push, one that promotes knowledge as well as gives students their desired outcome. In my mind extrinsic motivation can lead to intrinsic motivation over time.

Example Number One – When I was little I would read books for school assignments and in the summer because there was a reading program at my local library where one could win prizes for completing books. I read because I wanted a good outcome, an A on my report card or an awesome prize from the library. Eventually I realized that I didn’t care so much about the prizes and grades and that reading could open my mind to new worlds (and other cliché phrases you see on posters). To this day the majority of my reading is for enjoyment, but I may have never gotten to this point had it not been for the extrinsic factors dealing with reading.

Example Number Two – I ran track in middle school, high school, and college. Why did I run? I wanted to beat the other kids! I wanted to get medals and ribbons!  Track has brought me years of teamwork, friendship and priceless memories, but that’s not why I wanted to run originally. As time progressed running became more about the enjoyment I felt than the medals I received. I don’t run competitively any more, but I still run. I run because it makes me happy.

Does ClassRealm offer extrinsic motivation? Yes, it does. Is that a bad thing? No, it isn’t. Extrinsic motivation can be used for good. It can be used to point students in the right direction early on in life. As students mature, their minds are able to grasp new concepts, subconscious concepts like the fact that learning is its own reward. We just need to push them there. This is why ClassRealm, although full of extrinsic motivation, is about the quest for knowledge. Putting students on the right path isn’t hard, you just have to give them the right map.

Innovation in Motivation: Part One

Why do gamers play video games? Why do gamers beat video games? Why do gamers buy video games? Motivation. But what motivates gamers to do these things?

Pride – When you complete a game all you get is a virtual trophy, a high score, or possibly an alternate ending. Even though these rewards aren’t physical they still push players to obtain them. Achievements in video games are a source of pride. Sure, it took you hours and hours to get that one achievement, but you can show it off to all your online buddies. I caught all 150 original Pokemon in the late 90’s, and I told everyone I knew, even if they didn’t care.

Competition – Video games are usually more fun in a group. I am an avid Super Smash Bros enthusiasts, and let me tell you, it’s more fun with friends. Hundreds of games, from iPod to Playstation 3, feature online play or online leader-boards. Friendly competition is best of all, because you get to share in your friends victories.

Fun – Another reason gamers game is purely for entertainment. It’s fun! I love my life and everyone in it, but it’s still exciting to step in to Link’s boots and rescue Zelda. I can’t run around with a sword slaying enemies and collecting rupees in real life without the local police getting involved, so I pick up a wiimote and escape in to the world of Zelda. Many students don’t want to be at school. They may not hate it, but they’d rather be elsewhere. Why not make school a place where students want to be? Learning can be fun, but so can just about every other aspect of school. Even when the material is less than desirable in the students eyes you can still make them strive to learn.

ClassRealm is about motivating students. Rewarding them for good deeds and hard work. Making them want to learn. They will gain achievements and experience points that only exist in ClassRealm. You don’t have to bestow a crown on them or honor them in parade, they get a virtual medal that they can be proud of. Like gamers, most students like the feeling of achievement and strive to reach their personal goals, whether they be athletic, social, or educational. Take yourself back to 6th grade. You just got all A’s on your report card! You also earned the “Ultimate Badge of Awesome Excellence”! Which one of those are you going to brag to your friends about? ClassRealm puts a fun and magical face on normal classroom rewards. Whether students are pushed by pride, competition or fun is up to them, the important aspect is that students want to learn and they continue to learn. Making school attractive to students is one of our biggest goals.

Look for part two later this week where I will delve in to “Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic” motivation.