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Enjoying Learning: Motivating Adults through Content (Part 3)

Man sat at desk smiling while workingHaving looked at different types of motivation, and considered what makes different materials motivating, Mark Hancock, co-author of the English Result series, now introduces his taxonomy of intrinsic motivations: the IPEC taxonomy.

What kind of EFL material is intrinsically motivating and most likely to induce ‘flow’? Some indications may be found by looking outside the language classroom. What kinds of things do people do spontaneously in day-to-day life, without looking for extrinsic rewards?

One such potential activity is playing computer games. Malone (1981) presented a theoretical framework for intrinsic motivation in the context of designing computer games for instruction. He argued that intrinsic motivation is created by three qualities: challenge, fantasy, and curiosity.

Challenge involves outcomes which are uncertain and which depend on a combination of luck and skill. Fantasy is the imagined world the player moves in. And curiosity is the intellectual arousal the player feels when they believe their knowledge is incomplete.

Of these three, fantasy is the quality which seems most specific to computer gaming and less obviously applies to the adult EFL domain – which is not to say it is absent, in role-plays and simulations for example. It may be useful, following Malone’s example for computer gaming, to develop a taxonomy of intrinsic motivations specifically for the EFL context, and this is what I will attempt to do in what follows.

My taxonomy can be summarized by the initials IPEC: Interest, Personalization, Entertainment, Challenge. We will look at each of these in turn.

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Enjoying Learning: Motivating Adults through Content (Part 2)

Young man falling asleep holding booksFollowing his post defining and exploring two kinds of motivation in adult learners, Mark Hancock, co-author of the English Result series, continues the series with a consideration of why some material is inherently more motivating than others.

In Williams and Burden’s book Psychology for Language Teachers (1997) they trace back certain theories of motivation to a theoretical assumption of ‘homeostasis’ – namely that animals – and people – prefer not to be in a state of arousal. That is, we would prefer to be in a state of having all our physical and intellectual needs satisfied.

However, experiments have shown this not to be the case, and that even rats are motivated by curiosity and novelty. John McVicar Hunt (1961) identified the motivating force of curiosity: we actively seek material which is surprising, incongruous, or discrepant.

To see what this might look like in more concrete classroom terms, consider the following example from Widdowson (2003). He suggests that there is a big problem with the following pedagogic text, with its accompanying illustration:

This is a man. He is John Brown; he is Mr Brown. He is sitting in a chair. This is a woman. She is Mary Brown; she is Mrs Brown. She is standing by a table. Mr Brown has a book. The book is in his hand; he has a book in his hand. Mrs Brown has a bag …”

Widdowson’s problem is not, as you might expect, that the text is so unnatural and unlike anything in real life. These things are not necessarily problematic. The real problem is that the text is boring. It tells us nothing that we didn’t already know from the picture. The text is ‘simply a device for demonstration. As such, it offers nothing for learners to engage with’. You might say that the text is too stable – there are no loose ends to provoke any kind of curiosity.

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