This blog was inspired by two young boys. The first, an 8 year old, really wanted a cheeseburger, so he went to YouTube and taught himself to drive. He drove past four intersections and some train tracks with complete control of the vehicle–perhaps even more rule-abiding than the average driver. He wasChild riding tricycle caught at the drive-through window, his four-year-old sister happily accompanying him in the passenger seat. Did I mention he wanted a cheeseburger? (If you don’t believe me, read more about the story here: 8 year old drives to McDonald’s).

The second boy, a 10 year old living in the Netherlands, recently rerouted an online video conference I was having with his educational technologist dad. He heard his father speaking to me in English, and he wanted to know if he could talk to me. His father didn’t even know he could speak English. It wasn’t until I had been speaking to the boy for 30 minutes that the father said he was blown away by the amount of English his son was able to understand. He then told me that his son hadn’t yet started learning conversational English in school, so he learned all of his English from YouTube and Minecraft. This boy really wanted to learn English, so he sought out these English-rich environments, including my video conference! (Not complaining here–I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. It left a smile on my face the rest of the day.)

What do these boys have in common? Motivation, drive, and resources. They wanted to learn something to fulfill an intrinsic desire, they willed themselves to learn, and they had the technological resources to learn it.

Based on Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory (see link here: Self-determination theory), a scale of intrinsic to extrinsic motivation (Guay, Vallerand, Blanchard, 2000) is partly based on how much individual control a person has over their own destiny vs. the regulation given by outer forces. As informational technologies increase, individuals have more options for taking control of their own learning. At the same time, society and institutions tend to regulate learning through external forces such as policies, seat time, accreditation, and grades.

Herein lies one of the biggest difficulties for modern educational environments: How often do we suppress intrinsic motivation with our policies, grades, and teacher-led instruction; and alternatively, how can we use more intrinsic motivation to drive student learning?


Guay, F., Vallerand, R., and Blanchard, C. (2000). On the assessment of situational intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The situational motivation scale (SIMS). Motivation and Emotion, 24(3), 175-213.