Dan Meyer has just published a blog post called, ‘A response to critics‘. In it, he links to a previous post of mine and suggests that I claim that learning and motivation trade against each other. This is not my claim so let me make this clear. My claim is that motivation and learning can interact in a number of ways:
- You can motivate kids with an activity that does not lead to much learning
- Kids can learn something and not feel very motivated by this
- Sometimes – often, perhaps – learning something and getting better at it can lead to motivation for further learning
So I don’t think they trade against each other. But I do think that motivation is an odd goal for education. I don’t even believe that Dan thinks it is the ultimate goal. I assume that he must subscribe to the notion that if you motivate kids about maths then this should lead to them learning more maths. Otherwise, exactly what’s the point?
My problem is that, having posed this problem about motivation, I see no evidence to suggest that Meyer has the solution. His activities are pretty standard constructivist problem-based-learning activities. I have often seen such activities fail to motivate students as they shuffle around aimlessly or allow a peer to take over a task.
Where is the body of evidence that they actually are motivating?
And, if we accept the premise that motivation leads to better learning then why do we not see clear evidence from educational research that the kind of activities that Meyer promotes lead to greater learning?
I think this illustrates a key problem in education. We are too credulous as a profession. We allow someone to pose a problem and suggest that they have the solution. Then we say, “yeah, that seems kinda reasonable to me,” rather than, “where is the evidence that your proposed solution actually fixes the problem that you’ve identified?”