With the aim of fostering student motivation, systems of rewards and sanctions are prevalent in schools. These are often based on behaviourist principles for changing patterns of behaviour (Brophy, 1981). Payne (2015) proposes that a behaviourist approach can be appealing for educators as it suggests that by rewarding desirable patterns of behaviour, undesirable ones will be eradicated, as according to the behaviourist theory of operant conditioning, rewards and punishments shape future behaviour (Brophy, 1981). In this way, education systems make assumptions about human nature and how it develops, presupposing how it can be changed. Specifically, behaviourism sees human beings as fundamentally passive, and “determined by the laws of stimulus and response” (Daniels, Lauder and Porter, 2007, p.4). Daniels, Lauder and Porter (2007) remind us that in the work of the behaviourist Skinner (1953) for example, human beings are assumed to have no free will. The value implication here is that students should be treated in a paternalistic way, in which their environment for learning is highly structured. However, from this perspective, the concept of passivity of the student is central. Furthermore, it fails to explore further motivators.
Motivation theory has been examined extensively through lenses other than the behaviourist perspective, one of the most extensively cited and most acknowledged being self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 1985). This theory acknowledges the controlling nature of institutionalised schooling, and simultaneously proposes to use strategies to promote intrinsic motivation through the satisfaction of human needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness, referring to the experience of behaviour as volitional and reflectively self-endorsed.
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