Differences in competence, autonomy, and relatedness between home educated and traditionally educated young adults.

Author:Riley, Gina

Richard Ryan and Edward Deci define intrinsic motivation as performing an activity solely for inherent satisfaction. (1) An intrinsically motivated individual is energized about the task they are performing, and upon completion, feel a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment. The concept of intrinsic motivation can be understood within the theoretical framework of Deci and Ryan's Self Determination Theory (SDT). (2) According to SDT, the source of intrinsic motivation is innate and refers to the "natural human tendency to learn and assimilate." (3)

Although research points to intrinsic motivation as a quality humans are born with, the maintenance and enhancement of this motivation is somewhat dependent upon social and environmental conditions. (4) Deci and Ryan's Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET), a sub theory of SDT, specifically addresses the social and environmental factors that facilitate rather than undermine intrinsic motivation and points to three significant psychological needs that must be present in the individual in order to foster self motivation. These needs are competence, autonomy, and relatedness. (5)

The purpose of this study is to assess whether home schooled young adults' needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are better satisfied as compared to young adults who were not home schooled. This study comes at a time when home schooling is quickly joining the ranks of private schools and charter schools as an acceptable alternative to public education. (6) The words alternative or choice are frequently associated with home schooling in regard to both curriculum decisions and future plans. (7) In many home school environments, to a large extent students choose what they want to learn, (8) while parents serve as facilitators, rather than conductors of the students' educational experience. Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper have previously linked the nature of choice to intrinsic motivation. (9) It has become evident in recent years that the American government's idea of educational reform rests in increased test scores and better grades. (10) However, according to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan's Self Determination Theory, a more salient reform may be to instill in students a love for learning and a yearning for authentic, self-chosen success. (11) Motivational orientation is associated with academic, occupational, and social success, (12) and a collection of motivations can influence behavior. (13)

This study focuses on intrinsic motivation and its facilitation. If the three tenets of competence, autonomy, and relatedness are required to facilitate intrinsic motivation, then it becomes important to study whether or not home schooled young adults' need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are better satisfied as compared to young adults who were not home schooled. Hence, the research question for this study is, "What, if any, differences exist in the current competence satisfaction, autonomy satisfaction, and relatedness satisfaction of young adults who were home schooled compared to young adults who were not home schooled?"

The first section of this study will provide a brief review of the literature on Self Determination Theory, Cognitive Evaluation Theory, and Home Schooling. The second section will discuss the methodology and statistical results of the study. Finally, a brief discussion regarding the results of the study will be presented, along with a summary of the importance of intrinsic motivation and self determination in educational environments.

Significance of Study

According to Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, intrinsic motivation is an innate concept. (14) It is an energy orientation, a display of the positive attributes of humanity which include curiosity, vitality, and self-determination. It is the opposite of apathy, a trait both children and adults can exhibit. (15) Extrinsic motivation is the desire to engage in behavior for external reasons. (16)

Curiosity and engagement are essential to academic success. (17) How to encourage those traits within an educational environment is an issue of great debate. Mainstream educational institutions seem to rely on the use of rewards and/or incentives as a way to enhance student performance and motivation. (18) Students are frequently given rewards for good behavior in class, high test scores, and academic achievement or improvement. (19) Recognition, competition, and grades are all highly valued within the academic arena. For some students, extrinsic motivation can be important, giving the individual something to aim for when a specific task does not create internal enjoyment. (20) Many educators believe that extrinsic motivators may work more quickly and powerfully than intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation creates a different forum for learning. Instead of learning for the grade or the recognition, students begin to learn because they desire the knowledge. Due to curriculum and time constraints, intrinsic motivation may be difficult to facilitate within traditional classrooms. It is this predicament in contemporary education that persuades some parents to home school their children. One of the most impressive strengths of home education lies in the fact that, in many cases, the entire process revolves around a child's intrinsic motivation to learn.

The benefits of intrinsically motivated learning are seen in the home schooled population, as their academic accomplishments tend to be better than or equal to their traditionally schooled peers. (21) Michael Cogan concurs, stating that home schooled students tend to have stronger standardized test scores and higher graduation rates as compared to their traditionally schooled peers. (22)

Some researchers have already examined why parents choose to home school, (23) while other researchers have explored the academic and life outcomes of home schooled graduates. (24) However, this particular study is the first to compare levels of competence, autonomy, and relatedness in those who have been home educated compared to those who have been educated through the traditional school system.

Self Determination Theory

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan state that motivation is what moves individuals to think, act, and develop. (25) The central focus of Deci and Ryan's research is intrinsic motivation and the conditions and processes that enhance performance, increase persistence, and facilitate growth. The concept of intrinsic motivation can be understood within the theoretical framework of Deci and Ryan's SDT. (26) According to SDT, the source of intrinsic motivation is an innate pattern of development and assimilation. (27)

Not all psychologists or educational researchers believe that intrinsic motivation exists. According to Edward Deci, Richard Koestner, and Richard Ryan, the term intrinsic motivation is somewhat abstract to those who subscribe to behavioral theory. (28) For example, Angelique Akin-Little and her colleagues state that intrinsic motivation is an unobservable construct and that "a definition of intrinsic motivation that all can agree upon has yet to be written." (29) She also writes that the term lacks clarity, primarily because it cannot be observed or measured in a purely scientific sense. (30) Steven Reiss agrees, calling intrinsic motivation an "invalid construct" in many cases. (31)

It is difficult to discuss intrinsic motivation without referring to extrinsic motivation. According to Robert Vallerand, extrinsic motivation can be defined as doing something as a means to an end, or doing something for reinforcement or reward. (32) Extrinsic motivation is frequently used within mainstream educational institutions, as most classroom teachers use incentive systems based on reinforcement. (33) These reinforcements include grades, "gold stars," and token economies. Some districts even award cash incentives to students for high achievement test scores, an idea which is gaining momentum across the United States. (34) Multiple researchers support the effectiveness of rewards, stating that rewards may increase achievement and behavior. (35)

In one study, Edward Deci provided a comparison of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. (36) He utilized a puzzle game called SOMA to measure intrinsic motivation in college students. He promised one group an extrinsic reward--money--for solving the puzzles; the second group was promised nothing. Deci and his team measured intrinsic motivation by recording the amount of free time the students spent doing the puzzles after the experiment was deemed over and the researcher left the room. According to the results, the group rewarded with money spent little or no time with the puzzles, while the unrewarded group seemed intrigued by them. (37) For the first group, the promise of money succeeded in shifting their view of the puzzle from a satisfying activity in its own right to an activity that was instrumental to obtaining a reward. (38) This free choice measure is a classic experiment on the construct of intrinsic motivation. (39)

SDT has evolved since its beginnings in the early 1970s. (40) Early SDT focused on the difference between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. In recent years, there has been more research and discussion on what Deci and Ryan call the "continuum of SDT." (41) The continuum proposes six motivational states, ranging from amotivation (completely lacking self-determination) to intrinsic motivation, with four different types of extrinsic motivation making up the middle of the arc. These four types of extrinsic motivation are external regulation (controlled type), introjected regulation (moderately controlled type), identified regulation (moderately autonomous type), and integrated regulation (autonomous type). (42)

The two types of motivation that gain the most attention within Self Determination Research are autonomous motivation and controlled motivation. (43) Autonomous motivation involves doing something with a full sense of choice...

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