Self-Determination Theory (SDT)

Self-determination theory (SDT) posits that motivation is affected by intrinsic and extrinsic sources, including the intrinsic factor of self-regulation. Therefore, a person’s level of self-regulation may also affect his or her willingness to attend to the learning experience. These motivational theories can be directly applied to support a person’s success in the learning process.

For example, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can support cognitivism, as attention to stimuli is a major factor in successful learning. Consider a student who has not had breakfast sitting in her morning class. Her working memory may be filled with thoughts of survival—of sustenance. Thus, cognitive load limitations might suggest that she is too distracted by thoughts of hunger to attend to the new knowledge that must move successfully from WM to LTM.

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Self-determination theory suggests that the negating of three key variables, autonomy, competence, and belonging, can affect the level of self-regulation individuals apply to their behaviors, including learning (Deci & Ryan, 1985). If a person does not believe they can learn a new language (competence) and their Spanish class does not provide the support necessary to create more positive beliefs, the learner may not have the self-regulation to continue to do the homework for the Spanish class, and less successful learning will take place.

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