Written by:

Holly Macdonald


November 14, 2010

After attending TEDxUBC, I wrote about motivation and it is still buzzing around in my head, so here’s a follow up. 

This week, I watched a recorded webinar fromNew Media Consortium called Love to Learn featuring Lynda Weiman, founder of Lynda.com, which was really compelling.  She told her story as a disenfranchised student who discovered A.S. Neill. He offered a different perspective to schooling, based on the premise if you leave them alone, they will become self-directed, unschooling I guess.  She was in high school at the time, but it was formative stuff.  She also went on to a university that offered an alternative approach, which continued to nurture this notion of self-directedness.  Her story is compelling and reminded me how each of us likely has a story.  We might think our own story is pretty mundane, but others might see it very differently.  But, her message, against the backdrop of her own story, is that allowing individuals the opportunity to self-determine their own learning through a project-based approach. 

She shared an example from WriteGirl, which is a non-profit group in L.A. that pairs girls with women, to write.  These girls have the chance to participate in full-day workshops and/or longer term mentoring.  I think this is brilliant. 

I reflected as well on the fantastic William Kamkwamba’s windmill talk, on TED which I watch again and again! 

All coalescing into the concept of motivation.  I took university undergrad level psych, but did not pursue psychology in any real way.  So, as a layperson, I think it must be a combination of internal factors: personality, emotional development, values and external factors: circumstances, relationships, learned behaviour, etc. 

As a learning professional, I know that most of my clients are not as interested in learning (but performance).  Mostly, they want employees to comply with the safety regs or follow the company’s customer service protocols. 

However, as a parent and a human being, I spend a fair bit of time wondering if I can provide something (external factor) that will help my kids – and future generations –  acquire the following and I also wonder if these factors do in fact play a role, maybe a different one, in organizational settings:

  • Determination
  • Curiousity
  • Drive/Self-directedness
  • Confidence
  • Empowerment

How do you foster this?  Do all of us have the capacity to be self-directed?  Do you need to have innate curiousity to become self-directed?  Feedback must play a role here, so how much and when and by whom and in what way?  I also thought about Flip and about Dan Pink‘s Drive, as approaches that are more focused on autonomy as an essential component of drive.  I wondered if the Khan Academy‘s success is built on the premise of self-directedness? 

Lots of thinking, but no real concrete answers.  If you were attracted to this blog post hoping that it contained the answer to “what happens when you leave them alone”, I’m sorry that I don’t have the answer, I suspect that there are millions.

I was struck by a comment in this blog post by Gino Bondi.  Much more eloquent than I have written:

We need to move forward, transforming our delivery but not our core purpose: providing students with enriching experiences, positive reinforcement and enabling them to discover their own admirable purposes.

So, as a parent, that’s what I’ll do.  As a human being, that’s what I’ll do and as an educator, that’s what I’ll endeavour to figure out!