Self-determination theory (SDT) is one of the motivation theories that has received a great deal of research since it was introduced three decades ago by two psychologists, Deci and Ryan. Many studies that apply self-determination theory have been conducted in various domains such as education, health care, sports and work (Gagne & Deci, 2005). It is a theory of motivation and personality development that is focusing on happiness well-being of individuals. As a macro theory of human motivation, SDT concerns is to get provide evidence about what makes people not only motivated, but also what makes them thrive or flourish. That is, it does not look only on what motivate people but on how they sustain that motivation for optimal functioning and healthiest well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2011).
Ryan & Deci, (2000) argued that people differ in motivation not only on the different amount but also the different kinds of motivation. They argue that an individual may do an action because it is of interest to him and another person may do the same action but expecting some outcomes. Therefore, SDT distinguishes between two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation, doing something because it is interesting and enjoyable and extrinsic motivation, doing an action because it leads to separable outcome. Behaving intrinsically can be much better in terms of performance and the quality of the experience.
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Doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence is regarded as intrinsic motivation. When intrinsically motivated, people engage in activities for the potential fun excitement and challenge. That is, these behaviors are originating from within the self associated with feelings of curiosity and interest, rater than they are influenced by any external contingencies (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). SDT argues that people have natural motivational tendencies and readiness to learn, explore, and grow and to assimilate knowledge and develop new skills. However, these tendencies can be either facilitated and supported or hindered by social contexts (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Prior to the formulation of the self-determination theory, cognitive evaluation theory (CET) was proposed to explain the effect of extrinsic motivators on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsically motivated people do activities because they find them interesting and fun and thus they derive natural satisfaction from the activities themselves. Extrinsically motivated, however, ones do the activities so that they can gain some rewards, tangible or intangible, or to avoid punishment and guilt (Gagne & Deci, 2005). In the intrinsic and extrinsic model advocated by Porter and Lawler (1968), intrinsic and extrinsic motivation were argued to produce total satisfaction which means that they are additive and go in parallel. This made Deci & Ryan (1975); Deci & Ryan (1980) as cited in Gagne & Deci, (2005) examines the effects of extrinsic motivation on the intrinsic motivation, who then proposed CET. Cognitive evaluation theory (CET), further detailed in the following section, does not identify extrinsic and intrinsic motivation as additive (positively or negatively) rather they are interactive. This theory was later incorporated into the self-determination theory as it is much broader in scope theory of motivation.
Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET) is one of the sub-theories incorporated in SDT. The main concern of this theory is the intrinsic motivation and what factors undermine/enhance it. The assumption CET is based on is that people have innate needs for competence and autonomy. One of the propositions that underlies CET is that some external environmental factors, such as tangible rewards, deadlines, and evaluation, tend to diminish the feelings of autonomy and thus undermine intrinsic motivation, whereas, some factors, like giving a choice in doing task, enhance the intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). As cited in Gagne & Deci, (2005) Zuckernman et al., (1978) argued that events that diminish the feeling of autonomy and promote perceived locus of causality will undermine intrinsic motivation, whereas those that promote a more internal perceived locus of causality will enhance intrinsic motivation.
Another proposition that CET suggests is that the feeling of competence; one can master optimal challenges, is a major aspect that enhances intrinsic motivation. It is argued that optimally challenging activities are highly intrinsically motivating by promoting a sense of competence (Gagne & Deci, 2005). That is, when an individual is in an environment where he or she feels optimally challenged, and the individual feels a sense of self-determination, his or her intrinsic motivation will be increased.
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CET suggests the feeling of competence must be associated with the feeling of autonomy and only then an individual will be intrinsically motivated (Deci & Ryan, 2000). To feel competent, one must feel a sense of autonomy and self-determination that will eventually lead to enhanced intrinsic motivation.
So, CET focuses on the needs for competence and autonomy. It only applies to activities that are appealing and offer a sense of novelty, challenge and aesthetic value (Deci & Ryan, 2000). It is not applicable to activities that are not appealing because these activities would not be considered to be intrinsically motivating. It argues that contextual events such as feedback and communication can promote feelings of competence and enhance feelings of capability for that action. It also points out that a perception of competence will only enhance intrinsic motivation when accompanied by a sense of autonomy, Thus, according to CET, people must feel both competent, and self determined before they can be intrinsically motivated (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Due to the fact that not all activities are intrinsically interesting and enjoyable to derive satisfaction from them, an individual needs some instrumental extrinsic factors to get him/her motivated. Extrinsic motivation refers to doing an activity with the expectations of separable outcomes. SDT argues that extrinsic motivation can fall in degrees and as not one category (Ryan & Deci, 2000). To detail the different forms of extrinsic motivation, Organismic integration theory was introduced.
Organismic integration theory (OIT) is another sub-theory of self-determination theory that was introduced to address the extrinsic motivation and its various forms. As the focus of CET is the intrinsic motivation and what factors that can enhance or undermine it, the focus here is on the extrinsic motivation and how it can vary in degree from controlled to autonomous.
Extrinsic motivation was considered to be that people acts because they expect some desirable consequences or to avoid undesirable ones. But this theory explains extrinsic motivation can vary in degree from fully controlled by contingences external to individual, such as expecting reward or avoid punishment (doing homework because students fear their parents' sanctions), to autonomous motivation (doing homework because students perceive it is valuable to their careers) which can be considered as identical to intrinsic motivation. Doing homework because the fear of parents' sanctions and doing it because of its perceived value are still extrinsic motivation but they vary in their degree. What differentiate both behaviors is that in the first one, students are pressured to do so. However, in the second behavior, it involves some sort of endorsement and relative autonomy (Ryan & Deci, 2000). OIT suggests four internalization types of extrinsic motivation. They are: external regulation, introjected, identification and integration. These types range from least to most autonomous motivation. They are outlined below:
It is the least autonomous form of extrinsic motivation. When a behavior is acted because of expecting reward or avoiding punishment is said to be externally regulated. That is, people act with a sense of pressure and having to engage in an activity. It was the type of extrinsic motivation when contrasted to intrinsic motivation. However, there are other types of external motivation that were said to be internalized due to the fact that they are associated with social value and they become a kind of importance to an individual. Internalization refers to people's taking in value so that externally regulated behavior is transformed to internal regulation that become of value to them and does not require the presence of external contingencies. Internalization comprises of three different process; introjections, identification and integration (Gagne & Deci, 2005).
It refers to a regulation that has been taken in by an individual but not accepted as one's own. It describes a type of internal regulation that controls the person because he/she perform actions with the feeling of pressure in order to avoid guilt or to attain ego-enhancements or pride or to feel worthy.
Identification regulation is another process of internalization that refers to the sense of personal endorsement of one's actions. In this process, people feel more freedom and volition because the behavior is more in line with their personal goals and identities.
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Integrated regulation is said to be the fullest type of internalization and the most autonomous form of extrinsic motivation as it considered to share some qualities of intrinsic motivation. It is to say that integration occurs when the feeling of importance, values and identified goals and identities come together and the behavior becomes an integral part of who they are (Gagne & Deci, 2005; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Intrinsic, extrinsic and basic psychological needs
Given the classification of motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic) by self-determination theory and how extrinsic motivation can be further divided into sub-groups, it proposes that people have three universal, psychological needs in order for them to develop and function optimally. These three needs are autonomy, or the perception that one's behavior is self congruent and volitional; competence, or the perception that one is capable of influencing the environment in desirable ways; and relatedness, or the feeling of closeness and connectedness with others (Weinstein & Ryan, 2011). It is suggested that the social contextual factors that provide people the opportunity to satisfy these needs will facilitate intrinsic motivation and the integration (the fullest type of internalization) of extrinsic motivation, whereas those that prevent satisfaction of these needs will decrease intrinsic motivation and the integration of extrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Weinstein & Ryan, (2011), describes the state of individuals whose needs are satisfied or dissatisfied by the social environments. They argued that individuals move towards motivational states that are characterized as self-volitional or autonomous when their environments support their needs. But, if environmental factors don't support the basic needs, motivation is pressured or controlled. These three basic needs are described below:
Autonomy: As mentioned earlier that to be intrinsically motivated, individuals experience a sense of autonomy (choice and volition) and competence (mastery of challenges). When these needs are satisfied, then intrinsic motivation exists. According to Niemiec et.al., (2006), "the need for autonomy is feeling a sense of choice, endorsement, and volition with respect to initiating, maintaining, and terminating behavioral engagement".
Competence: The need for competence concerns the feeling of effectiveness in interacting with the social or physical world. The feeling of competent about doing a certain task that is characterized by challenge but within the capabilities and abilities of an individual, he/she can satisfy his innate need of competence and thus intrinsically motivated. Consequently, tendency for personal growth, well-being, performance are high.
Relatedness: The need for relatedness refers to the feeling of being related and connected to others. It is the perception of belongingness to a certain group; family, peers, mangers or any social group.
Self-determination theory and students' motivation
Self-determination theory can be seen as a powerful motivational theory, especially in an educational setting. It can be observed that students may only be intrinsically motivated for some courses and not interested in some other. Some may like to go to college not because of their own interest but because they are told to do so. Some others will join college because they have a perceived value and expect to have some favorable outcomes. As a macro theory of motivation, SDT looks at all these dynamics and give better understanding of students' motivation. These motivational processes have an impact on the student's performance, engagement, as well as their well-being.
According to SDT, satisfying students' basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence can make their intrinsic motivation sustainable. Both needs are important for maintaining intrinsic motivation. Stated differentially, if one need is satisfied and the other is not, intrinsic motivation can be hindered (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009).
Benware & Deci, (1984) conducted a study to test whether students who learn with an active orientation (learn to teach) would be more intrinsically motivated than those who learn with a passive orientation (learn to take exam on the same material given to the active orientation group). The authors used a sample of 40 first year university students. Students were divided into two groups: experimental group (learning to teach), and control group (learning to take an exam). Findings show that students with the passive orientation (learn to be examined) were less intrinsically motivated, had lower conceptual learning score and had lower perception of themselves to be more actively engaged with the environment than the students with the active passive orientation (learn to be teach others). Niemiec & Ryan, (2009) reported that two studies conducted in USA and Japan (Grolnick and Ryan, 1987) and Japan (Kage and Namiki, 1990) found out that evaluative pressures undermined student's intrinsic motivation for classroom topics and materials, as well as their performance in school, whereas, autonomy support facilitated it.
As postulated by SDT that satisfying students' needs is vital for their academic motivation internalization, Jang, Reeve, Ryan, & Kim, (2009) found out experiencing feelings of autonomy and competence enhance intrinsic motivation. They conducted a series of studies testing SDT in a collectivistic culture in South Korea using samples of middle-class students. As it is argued that collectivistic culture does not value autonomy, the authors specifically, wanted to examine whether those students enjoy learning activities that afford basic psychological need satisfactions. Findings also show that the greater the satisfaction of the basic needs, the more satisfying learning experiences and greater academic achievement they experience.
As self-determination is claimed to be universal and that people share three needs; namely autonomy, competence, and relatedness, some studies (e.g., Brickman & Miller, 2001; as cited in Zhou, Ma, & Deci, 2009) suggest that students acquire their needs, values and attitudes from their culture and this cultural element influence students' motivation for learning. Accordingly, children in collectivist cultures are inclined to develop strong need for belonging as these cultures do not value autonomy, where children in individualistic cultures are raised to develop strong need for autonomy. Research has shown that autonomous motivation is associated with positive learning outcomes such as interest in course material, conceptual understanding, and classroom adjustment among elementary students and achievement and adjustment among college students. To be autonomously motivated, the three needs should be met. However, it has been suggested that autonomy is not important for school outcomes in collectivist cultures such as China. Using a sample elementary school students, Zhou et al., (2009) conducted a study, applying SDT, to investigate the motivation for learning of rural Collectivists Chinese children. This study aimed at examining the relationship of autonomous/controlled motivation and three classroom adjustment perceptions including: a) perceived competence (b) perceived choice; and (c) interest. It also aimed at investigating the relations of teachers' autonomy support to these classroom adjustment variables. Interestingly, this study results confirm that autonomy is essential to learning motivation in Chinese culture. Students' perceptions of interest, competence, and choice in the course were uniquely positively predicted by autonomous motivation whereas perceptions of interest and choice were predicted by controlled motivation. Findings also show that students' autonomous motivation was associated with a higher level of interest, perceived competence, and choice, whereas controlled motivation was related to a lower level of perceived choice reduced interest. Further, this study suggests that students' perception of teachers autonomy support positively predicted changes in autonomous motivation, controlled motivation and perceived competence (Zhou et al., 2009).
Engaging students in classrooms setting is very important not only engagement can predict important outcomes such as learning and development but also, it reveals underlying motivation (Guay, Boggiano, & Vallerand, 2001). "Engagement refers to the behavioral intensity and emotional quality of a person's active involvement during a task". In this study, it is has been argued that the congruence between students' self-determined inner motives and their classroom activity is facilitated by autonomy-supportive teachers through identifying and nurturing students' needs, interests, and preference. In contrast, these inner and self-determined motives could be interfere with by controlling teachers as they will shape their agendas of what students should think, feel and do. As teachers agendas are shaped, controlling teachers introduce extrinsic incentives in order to shape students' adherence toward that agenda, which basically essentially bypass students' inner motives.
As engagement of students is very important and beneficial, (Guay et al., 2001) argued that teachers can be autonomy supportive when they are trained to do so. In this study, trained teachers, who participated in an informational session on how to support students' autonomy and who engaged themselves in independent study on the study-specific website, were able to display autonomy-supportive behaviors than the non-trained ones. Further, this study suggests that students' engagement was more promoted with teachers who used autonomy support during instruction.
Students differ in their perception of the learning environment and thus their engagement efforts rely on what they perceive. Hardré et al., (2006) mentioned that students' outcomes are results of systematic interactions of factors that involve students, teachers and their educational institutions. The characteristics that teachers and students bring to their educational settings and culture of that setting interact and affect students' outcomes either positively or negatively. To investigate this interaction of factors, students individual differences (need for cognition & perceived ability), perceptions of classroom environments (based on self-determination theory), and goal structures (based on achievement goal theory), and how these collectively and differentially predict high school students' motivation, Hardré et al., (2006) conducted a study using a sample of 6,539 students from 14 high schools in Taiwan, Asian context. This study concluded that individual differences directly predict motivation as well as through classroom perception (teacher support, peer support, teacher interpersonal style). Also, students' engagement and efforts were predicted by Goal structures (learning goals, performance-approach goals, performance-avoidance goals, future goals).
According to (Katz & Assor, 2007), offering choice in classrooms is not motivating by itself, rather teachers should offer choices that meet their students' needs. That is, choice should be constructed to support students' autonomy, competence and relatedness. To support these basic psychological needs, choice should be constructed to match students' interest and goals, autonomy support, to match their abilities, not very complex nor too easy, competence support, to match the values of students' families and their original culture, relatedness support. Also, they suggested that when choice is offered in a non-controlling environment it will contribute greatly to enhancing students' functioning and development. This means that, choice if not provided in a manner that matches or at least does not threaten students' needs, it may reduce motivation.
Lack of motivation toward learning among students is one of the pressing issues in academic contexts. students loss the desire to do task assigned to and thus feelings of frustration and discontentment arise and their productivity and well-being can be encumbered (Legault, Green-Demers, & Pelletier, 2006). Generally, various positive outcomes are associated with self- determined motivation and negative outcomes are associated with less self-determined forms of extrinsic motivation. In academic context, boredom and poor concentration in class, higher perceived stress at school, poor psychosocial adjustment to college while studying, and high school dropout have been associated with Amotivation (Legault et al., 2006). Amotivation defined as a state in which students lack the intention to learn. Amotivated students are not able to sense the connection between their behavior and its subsequent outcome (Deci & Ryan, 2000).
Little attention has been made to amotivation and factors affecting it where as motivation has been extensively studies (Legault et al., 2006). Amotivation has been treated as one-dimensional where as it is believed to be multidimensional. Legault et al., (2006) conducted three studies to explore and validate this claim and to determine the factors that give rise to academic amotivation. Four dimensions were identified: (1) ability beliefs, (2) effort beliefs, (3) characteristics of the task, and (4) individual values relative to the task. Results show support and validation of the four sub-dimension of amotivation. It also showed distinct classes of reasons that give rise to students' amotivation. These include lack of belief in their ability, lack of belief in their effort capacity, unappealing characteristics of the academic task, and finally lack of value placed on the task (Legault et al., 2006). This study further showed that non adequate social support (from parents, teachers, and friends), give rise to amotivation, and thus negatively affect students' academic outcomes (e.g., achievement, academic self-esteem, intention to drop out).
High school students' motivation to attend college varies significantly. Some students may want to attend college because they place high value for it so that they will do it volitionally. Others don't want to attend but their parents will affect their decisions to go to college. In SDT, context surrounding an individual have great impact on their decisions. In the case of adolescents, parents are the closest persons to them. If their basic psychological needs are supported by parents, they will be more autonomous in their decisions. To investigate effects of perceived need support from parents on their adolescents' autonomous self-regulation for academics, and the adolescents' well-being, Niemiec et al., (2006) conducted study on high school students to explore this relationship. This study demonstrated that parents have an impact on predicting adolescents' wellbeing, mothers being more influential (Perceived need support). Further, results showed that the higher the autonomous self-regulation for attending college reported by those high school students, higher well- being (vitality, life satisfaction) and lower ill-being (depression, externalizing problems). Another study conducted to examine the effects of students self-regulation and perceived teachers' autonomy support on their adjustment and performance among college students (Black & Deci, 2000). Finding showed that the higher the reported self-regulation for learning organic chemistry, the higher the students perceived themselves as competent and course materials as interesting and enjoyable, as well as lower anxiety they experience. Also, same interesting outcomes were experienced when they perceived their teachers as autonomy supportive.
In their review of SDT application to education, Niemiec & Ryan, (2009) concluded that intrinsic motivation and autonomous types of extrinsic motivation are essential to students' engagement and optimal learning in educational contexts. They also, reported that students' autonomous self-regulation for learning, academic performance, and wellbeing are facilitated be the perceptions of their teachers' support of their basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Students' academic performance was also found to be influenced by their perceived autonomy and competence (Fortier, Vallerand, & Guay, 1995)
Just recently, an interesting study was conducted to examine SDT theory in educational workplace (Klassen, Perry, & Frenzel, 2012). This time, the concern was on teachers' relatedness with their principle, colleagues and students and its impact on their engagement and well-being. The study revealed that the more the teachers perceived autonomy support from principle, the higher the relatedness with colleagues and students they display. Their relatedness with students showed higher work engagement and lower lower anxiety, anger and emotional exhaustion. Also, Autonomy support enhanced teachers' psychological needs which in turn are associated with higher level of engagement and teaching enjoyment.