Digital & Ownership Motivation


Not just children but people of all ages have been forever attracted to bright shinny things that go “buzz and whirl.” Technology is of course innately eye-catching to most individuals; however it is especially so to young minds, particularly since these young minds have only known a digital world. In other words, it‘s engaging because it‘s what they know, and therefore if much of their modus operandi in school is not digitally-based, it can be considerably challenging for learners to stay engaged. To them, there is no world without digital technologies. So it is no wonder then that student’s engagement and motivation would skyrocket if they suddenly had ubiquitous (found everywhere) or even semi-ubiquitous, access to digital technologies in their daily life as a learner. (Groff, 2013)

Although they may not have a clear vision of the new future of learning with digital technologies and they may or may not expect much variation in how we create learning experiences, it doesn‘t mean there isn‘t a gap often between their outside of school way of being in the world and what they experience in schools as evidenced by challenges with engagement and motivation (Gutnick, A. L., Robb, M., Takeuchi, L., & Kotler, J. (2011).

Digital entertainment supplements and education games, when used in construct with sound education principles and practices can have a substantial impact on student learning. (see: Education Entertainment-based eLearning and Education Game-based eLearning). The educational game Classcraft has effectively motivated learners to keep up with their work because of the immediate results they see when they level up and gain experience points in the game as opposed to waiting for their report card to see their progress (p. 174). Several students involved in this game-based learning initiative even noted the curious effect of decreased game play at home, explaining that playing games at home has become less enjoyable than what they do in school because it lacks the collaborative project associated with the school game play – such as accurately plotting the band‘s budget to ensure success in the Guitar Hero project, or understanding exactly – what was the fish we came across while playing Endless Ocean2 in class (Groff, J., Howells, C., & Cranmer, S., 2010).



A well-established precept of educational psychology is that people are most strongly motivated to learn things they clearly perceive as a need to know (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993). Simply telling students that they will need certain knowledge and skills some day is not a particularly effective motivator (Prince & Felder, 2006). They need to see the “why” of something; the authenticity of it.

To create ownership and be successful, motivation stimuli, as much as possible, should be presented in a way that makes it seems like it is the student’s idea. If the student doesn’t experience an immediate emotional response to a phenomenon it’s up to the teacher to create one using education materials containing motivational elements based on creative stimuli such as riddles, mysteries and/or humor. Riddles, mysteries and humor promote the emotions of joy, excitement, happiness which stimulates critical thinking through curiosity and creativity. Creativity is important as it is one of the basic tenets of intrinsic self-motivation. This is why learning materials should be delivered in an art form format whenever possible (see: Creative Methodology). Teacher Mariel Triggs says:

“I get these students and they will say, ‘I am not good at math,’ and I began to realize that what they were really saying was, ‘I don’t know how to do the problem in front of me.’ So what does she do? “I frame it like a fun puzzle.” she said.

Motivation can be extrinsic and intrinsic. “Extrinsic motivation” is that which comes from outside the task. For example, a person might learn to do something not because she found the task itself stimulating or interesting, but because learning it would give her access to something else she wanted. “Intrinsic Motivation” is self-motivation. It is when the work itself stimulates and compels an individual to stay with the task because the task by itself is inherently fun and enjoyable. In this situation, were there no outside pressures, an intrinsically motivated person might still very well decide to tackle this work. (10) When there is high extrinsic motivation for someone to learn something, schools’ jobs are a lot easier. They do not have to teach material in an intrinsically motivating way because just offering the material is enough. Students will choose to master it because of the extrinsic pressure. (Christensen, et al, 2010)

We all know that becoming a great athlete or a great pianist requires an extraordinarily amount of consistent work. The hours of time required training the brain to fire the synapses in the correct ways and thus honing the necessary muscle memory and thinking required is no different from that needed to learn to read and process information or think through math and science problems. Schools need to create intrinsically engaging methods for learning because unless students (and teachers, for that matter) are motivated intrinsically, they will reject the rigor of any learning task and abandon it before achieving success.

Cognitive Dissonance

Motivation can sometimes be triggered by agitation created by an unpleasant situation like the big test on Friday that the student may feel not ready for. The student wants the satisfaction of doing well but is compromised by the fear of failure – two conflicting emotions. The discomfort we feel when two beliefs or actions contradict each other. Like hunger, dissonance is uncomfortable, and like hunger, we are motivated to reduce it. For example, the awareness that “smoking is bad for me” is dissonant with “I’m a heavy smoker,” so smokers have all kinds of dissonance-reducing rationalizations for persisting in that unhealthy practice (“it reduces stress;” “it keeps me thin.”) The brain likes consonance, and provides a number of biases in perception that foster it: One is the “confirmation bias,” which sees to it that we notice and remember information that confirms what we believe, and ignore, forget, or minimize information that disconfirms it. This will allow us to explain, among other things, how two learners can see the same achievement differently, one perceiving it as a success and the other as a failure, as well as why success does not always increase a learner’s self-confidence. (see: Academic Behavior)