Michael Horn – “Rethinking Student Motivation: Why Understanding the ‘Job’ is Crucial for Improving Education”

The last speaker of the day is Michael B. Horn, best known for his book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation will Change the way the World Learns. He also works for the non-profit think-tank, Innosight Institute. If you would like to see a great interview of Horn about his book, see this blog post: “Rethinking Student Motivation.”

The focus of his talk is motivation… how do we motivate students to learn and take control of their own education? In this country, we have the unique “problem” that even without an education, you can be assured a fairly comfortable and healthy life. In many other countries, education is the means of escaping poverty, taking care of your family, moving up… In America, that has ceased to be a motivator (especially now considering the high unemployment rate of recent college graduates coupled with crippling student debt).

He is addressing the concerns of how do we give kids what they want as well as what they need? Just because someone “ought” to do something doesn’t mean that they will do it – this is why people smoke, over-eat, or a myriad of other behaviors we should change. Just because students “ought” to learn or work in class, doesn’t mean that they will do what they should do.

What are the jobs that students are trying to do?

  • Be successful and make progress
  • Have fun with their friends

School is where students can do this – as is social online media, athletics, music, or, in the negative, gangs, crime, and other infamy. So how do schools compete with these existing elements?

One area he emphasized was Project Based Learning (something I’m exploring in my outside professional development via Professional Learning Practices) as well as online or digital learning (online classrooms, podcasts, iTunes U, etc). These arenas can allow students to feel successful and motivated but not surrender the learning and development. He asserts that student mastery is deeply motivating.

He also argues (and I would readily agree) that students all have different learning needs at different times. What we call them (or rename them) are many:

  • multiple intelligences
  • learning styles
  • talents
  • motivations/interests
  • aptitude
  • depends on subject/domain
  • difference paces
  • ongoing neuroscience research

We need to, as educators, tailor and individualize learning to the students. However, as he is quick to point out, doing that in the current state of education (large classrooms, many students one teacher) that’s nearly impossible. However, digital learning may help us to do that.

This is where he brings in the concept of “Disruptive Innovation.” This is when a new product/service comes in and plants itself into a non-consumer role, filling in the gaps. So why haven’t computers and online learning surpassed ‘traditional’? Because it’s not a ‘technology’ problem. We don’t throw in technology for technology’s sake, but rather think about how we use it. A student-centric model will help us to better harness student motivations and learning.

He focuses on the concept of “blended learning” – where a student learns in part through online methods, but they are in a brick and mortar school.

Online learning can help us to accommodate the different needs of students and allow us to individualize learning. His idea is that in the future, teachers will serve as mentors and motivators, rather than the ‘keepers of knowledge.’ The roles of teachers will evolve over time to meet the evolving needs of students.

2 thoughts on “Michael Horn – “Rethinking Student Motivation: Why Understanding the ‘Job’ is Crucial for Improving Education”

  1. Pingback: Michael Horn at ISAS: Resources, Links, Key Ideas, Action Items, and Conversation Starters « 21k12

  2. Pingback: Featured Blog Posts from Day 1 at ISAS Teacher Conference « ISAS Teacher Conference

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