Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness (and Relevance)

Submitted By:
Shanaya Dias, Teachers College, Columbia University, Mumbai, India

3 Ways to Make Learning Relevant to Students by Larry Ferlazzo
Education Week, March 30, 2023

The article delves into the pivotal role of relevance in student motivation and delineates three instructional approaches that educators can adopt to infuse learning with meaning. Self-Determination Theory (SDT), posited by scholars Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, underscores three essential components that fuel human motivation, namely autonomy, competence, and relatedness, with relevance often considered a fourth criterion. Notably, personal relevance has emerged as a particularly salient predictor of student engagement, particularly among those who may harbor doubts about their academic skills. The first strategy proposed in the article is "self-generation," wherein learners identify how their learning can align with their life goals and aspirations. The second strategy, "direct communication," entails teachers underscoring the links between course content and students' lives, although some studies have shown that it might prove counterproductive for some students. Nevertheless, highlighting these connections remains preferable to not discussing them at all, particularly if they have more immediate relevance. The third strategy focuses on real-world problem-solving within the community. Research suggests that learners who engage in community improvement efforts through problem-based learning can elevate motivation by fostering relevance. By using these strategies, teachers of all subjects can make learning more relevant and engaging for students, leading to better academic outcomes and increased student motivation.

Teaching Practice