Motivation is the key!

The aim of CONNEXT is to empower migrants and refugees to be part of our societies and believe in their own future. Self-determination theory (SDT) –  a theory on motivation –  serves as the basis for all CONNEXT actions: we should support autonomous motivation and game-based learning seems to be a fabulous tool to get there!

While writing the project application, designing learning labs for a CONNEXT training or playing games, the self-determination theory has served as a framework. According to SDT (Ryan & Deci, 2000) different kinds of motivation exists. When there is controlled motivation, a person feels HE HAS to do it, he feels obligated and there is pressure in order for him to get things done. On the otherhand, autonomous motivation means that a person WANTS to do it. Research has showed that autonomous motivation has more qualitative outcomes and is accompanied by more sustainable behavioral changes.

The self-determination theory argues that the quality of motivation is more important than the quantity of motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Thus, the type of motivation is more important than the amount of it. The SDT defines three types of extrinsic motivation (see 1-3 in Figure 1). For example a person can be very motivated by extrinsic rewards such as money or bonuses (see 1 in Figure 1), but that is rather a less effective type of motivation. Not surprisingly, autonomous motivation (including both intrinsic and identified regulation) is most beneficial because people are motivated in their actions because of their own will. They feel psychological freedom and there well-being has shown to be better.  This is in contrary of controlled motivation, where people are obligated and feel pressure (external or internal) to do things.

Figure 1. Different types of motivation; adapted from Ryan & Deci (2000).
Figure 1. Different types of motivation; adapted from Ryan & Deci (2000).

In order to encourage the most qualitative type of motivation (namely autonomous motivation), we need to stimulate three psychological basic needs. These three needs are explained by Richard Ryan (animation by Laura Kriegel) in this short video. They are also visualized in the Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: ABC of the selfdetermination theory, inspired by Aelterman, De Muynck, Haerens & Vande Broek (2017)
Figure 2: ABC of the selfdetermination theory, inspired by Aelterman, De Muynck, Haerens & Vande Broek (2017)

In CONNEXT the aim is to support these psychological needs in a balanced way. It is done by allowing participants to define their role and actions in a game-based learning context themselves. The participants are giving a lot of choices while playing and become owner of their own game process.  They have choice in defining the group roles of each group member, they can choose the order of missions the encounter in the game, their voice is being heard and many more game elements stimulate their autonomy. Additionally it is important to carry out games together. The small group provides support and serves as an opportunity to feel connected to others and so belongingness is stimulated. Commonly, game-based learning in CONNEXT also challenge participants to become and feel competent in new tasks by expecting different challenging tasks to be carried out. In order to win a game they need to make an effort and they are challenged and perhaps even exceed themselves. This is often rewarding for all, because even if not winning, playing a game is useful and fun at the same time!


Text: Liese Missinne, Artevelde University College Ghent

Picture: Unsplash/ Kevin Jarrett


For more information:

Heart Mind Online: The ABC of Self-Motivation at



Aelterman, N., De Muynck, G. J., Haerens, L., Vande Broek, G., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2017). Motiverend coachen in de sport. Acco; Leuven.

Deci, E.L. (1975). Intrinsic motivation. New York. NY: Plenum Press.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The” what” and” why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological inquiry11(4), 227-268.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology25(1), 54-67.

Vansteenkiste, M., Soenens, B., Sierens, E. & Lens, W. (2005). Hoe kunnen we leren en presteren bevorderen? Een autonomie-ondersteunend versus controlerend schoolklimaat, Caleidoscoop, 17, 18-25.