Children are intrinsically motivated to learn and explore their environments according to SDT. Therefore, an important goal of education is to cultivate this inherent interest in learning. Unfortunately, the common focus on grades, awards, and other forms of competition and comparison in schools introduce external pressures. These pressures undermine, rather than facilitate, student’s intrinsic motivation. SDT Research in education has demonstrated these effects time and again.


Both parents and teachers play critical roles in fostering high-quality motivation through basic psychological need support. Autonomy support in particular is associated with internalization of the value of learning, higher-quality engagement in learning activities, improved performance, and a more positive experience of learning. Results of cross-sectional as well as intervention studies support the central role of autonomy support in predicting students’ motivational quality and learning outcomes. Importantly, these effects have been demonstrated across cultures and across all levels of education.

The types of goals for which students strive are also key determinants of engagement and learning. Rather than emphasizing performance relative to other students (performance goals), goals should emphasize developing and learning new skills (mastery goals). Performance goals tend to be associated with controlled motives, whereas mastery goals tend to be associated with more autonomous forms of motivation, driving effects on engagement and learning.

More recently, SDT research has shown that the quality of teacher motivation is also important in determining student engagement and learning outcomes. Too often teachers’ own autonomy is undermined by administrative control, inflexible curricula, and high-stakes testing. This lack of autonomy support for teachers is associated with greater teacher burnout and reduced student engagement. Like students, teachers require basic psychological need support to maintain high levels of motivation and engagement, essential ingredient’s to creating a classroom environment that, in turn, supports students basic psychological needs.


* SDT argues that education must emphasize the satisfaction of basic psychological needs and support for diverse interests OVER narrowly defined “achievement”.

* If we look at the ideal classroom, it’s one in which there’s both a lot of structure (students will know the rules and they know the strategies for getting to the outcomes that they need to get to), but that structure is provided in an autonomy supportive manner and that’s how the best outcomes occur in classrooms.

* And for teachers to be autonomy supportive, they need support as well. What SDT research shows is that when teachers have supervisors, principals, superintendents, that support their autonomy, they’re more likely to engage wholeheartedly in their classroom activities, be more vital and motivated and enthusiastic in the classroom and that translates into more student autonomy in the classroom and ultimately better performance.

* Motivation is not just to issue that applies to students in classrooms, it applies to the whole system of education, all the way from the top down.

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Jang, H.Kim, E. J., Reeve, J. (2012) Longitudinal test of self-determination theory’s motivation mediation model in a naturally occurring classroom context. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4) ,1175–1188

Ryan, R. M., Deci, E. L. (2000) Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25 ,54-67

Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., Ryan, R. M. (1991) Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. The Educational Psychologist, 26 ,325-346

Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., Pelletier, L. G., Ryan, R. M. (2009) Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and Research in Education, 7(2) ,133-144

Ryan, R. M., Weinstein, N., Pelletier, L. G., Ryan, R. M. (2009) Undermining quality teaching and learning: A self-determination theory perspective on high-stakes testing. Theory and Research in Education, 7(2) ,224-233

Eyal, O., Roth, G., Pelletier, L. G., Ryan, R. M. (2011) Principals’ leadership and teachers’ motivation: Self-determination theory analysis. Journal of Educational Administration, 49(3) ,256-275