Many theorists and researchers believe that Autonomy contributes greatly to nurturing intrinsic motivation. This section begins an examination of Autonomy and its related concepts (Freedom and Self-determination) and their application to motivating students. First some experts speak:

“When adults see themselves as the locus of causality for their learning, they are much more likely to be intrinsically and positively motivated.”  –Raymond J. Wlodkowski, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn

“It has long been recognized in all domains of human activity that when people play a role in deciding what to do and how to do it, they will be more committed to carrying through on the decision.”  –Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do

“Students’ need for a sense of autonomy or self-determination significantly influences their intrinsic motivation to learn in the classroom. Whatever their grade level, students want the freedom to decide for themselves what activities to undertake and what behaviors to adopt…The single most important strategy for building a sense of autonomy in students is to provide them with choices.  It is learning to make choices that leads to commitment, and it is commitment that leads to responsibility.”  –James P Raffini, 150 Ways to Increase Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

APPLICATION: How can I structure the learning environment so my students experience autonomy?

AUTONOMY-SUPPORTIVE BEHAVIORS (Domain: Modeling): In his book Motivating Others, Johnmarshall Reeve recommends that teachers use the following five behaviors to support students’ autonomy:

  1. Teacher acknowledges the students’ points of view.
  2. Teacher encourages students’ choices and initiatives.
  3. Teacher communicates rationale for any behavioral limits or constraints placed on students.
  4. Teacher acknowledges that negative emotion is a valid reaction to teacher control.
  5. Teacher’s communication style relies on noncontrolling, positive feedback.”  

NQA COUPONS  (Domain: Policies & Rules): Print a tear-off “No-Questions-Asked Coupon” on your course hand out (syllabus). Any time students choose, they may attach the NQA coupon to a late paper with “No Questions Asked.” Each student decides when/whether to use coupon.  Some teachers give bonus points to students who do not use their NQA Coupon during the semester. I have had students ask me if it was all right if they turned an assignment in late; when I reminded them they could do so without a penalty by attaching their NQA coupon, they suddenly figured out how they could turn in the assignment on time rather than “waste” their coupon. By the way, to avoid a black market on NQA coupons, tell students “One coupon per student” and add an expiration date.

–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshop,

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