Learning for Life, Learning with Fun: Igniting Students' Intrinsic Motivation to Learn in the Classroom

Project Number
OER 39/09 JW

Project Duration
June 2010 - February 2014


The educational landscape in Singapore has been changing rapidly, in the last few years the Ministry of Education has been moving towards a more flexible and diverse system, to provide students with greater choice and ownership in their learning. The aim is to cater to every child's abilities, interests and aptitudes, and help each develop to his/her fullest potential. There is a lot of autonomy in terms of policy such as the setting up of private schools, autonomous schools, integrated programmes, just to name a few. Alternative curricula and qualifications (e.g. International Baccalaureate) are also offered in some schools. At the top level, the MOE is guided by the mission of ''Thinking Schools, Learning Nation'' (TSLN) in providing the direction of the transformation of the education system. Phrase like ''Teach Less, Learn More'' (TLLM), ''From Extrinsic Motivation to Passion'' are some guiding principles used at the ground level to guide practices. In MOE's term, ''TLLM aims to touch the hearts and engage the minds of our learners. It reaches into the core of education - why we teach, what we teach and how we teach''. However, without a theoretical framework to guide practice, all the initiatives are subject to different interpretations. At times, there may be negative consequences for poor implementation (many practices are still outcome-focused). From a psychological perspective, it is obvious that MOE is focusing on the motivational issues in schools. The education system seeks to help our students to become creative thinkers, life-long learners, and leaders of change. In order to achieve that, motivation to learn is the key. All the investigators in this project are experts in one of the most influential motivational theory, i.e. Self-Determination Theory (SDT). As such, this project is put together to help MOE understand the underlying processes of promoting intrinsic motivation in school. SDT states that intrinsic motivation (doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable), and thus higher quality learning, flourishes in contexts that satisfy human needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Students experience competence when challenged and given prompt feedback. Students experience autonomy when they feel supported to explore, take initiative and develop and implement solutions for their problems. Students experience relatedness when they perceive others listening and responding to them. When these three needs are met, students are more intrinsically motivated and actively engaged in their learning. Based on SDT, the present study aims to develop and evaluate the utility of a school-based intervention to change students' motivation in selected academic subjects (Maths and Science). A 5-week intervention will be conducted to promote student's intrinsic motivation for the subjects. A cluster randomized design targeting 480 pupils from 6 schools with schools as the unit of randomization will be adopted. The intervention programme will be delivered by teachers teaching the subjects (total number of teacher = 12). The cluster will be allocated to a control or treatment condition by simple random allocation. 6 teachers inthe treatment group will be instructed to adopt an autonomous inter-personal style during lessons and the other six teachers in the control condition will be instructed to communicate in a more controlling inter-personal style. The present study compares the effectiveness of two interventions: an autonomy-supportive intervention that provide rational, feedback, choice, and acknowledgement and a more controlling intervention where the teachers do not provide these factors in the environment in class.

Research Themes
Applied Cognitive Development & Motivational Studies

Funding Source

Related Links
SingTeach Issue 48 2014: From Theory to Practice
ReEd Vol. 15 2014: Motivating Regular Exercise
NIE Research Briefs No.15-012: Learning for Life, Learning With Fun: Igniting Students’ Intrinsic Motivation to Learn in the Classroom

Related Projects