Applying Self-Determination Theory to learning

Self-Determination Theory is a technique that encourages students to become motivated.


Applying Self-Determination theory to learning will allow students to engage with the different elements of motivation techniques to improve their work.


In order to know how you learn, it is important to be aware of the three innate psychological needs:


1. Competence

This involves knowing the direction of your learning and focusing on the outcome.

Ask yourself, what is the end goal of this process?


2. Relatedness

Relatedness is about interacting and connecting with others.


3. Autonomy

Autonomy is concerned with the self. It is about being the cause of your own actions and being integrated with the self.


Motivation is divided into 2 main parts:



  • The belief that someone completes a task for their own benefit and satisfying outcome.
  • They look forward to the outcome of their learning, producing a rewarding end result.
  • This type of motivation is concerned with an external factor.
  • For example, revising for an exam, to succeed.



  • This concerns doing something out of enjoyment, rather than for educational benefit.
  • The reward from this motivation is the satisfaction from the outcome.
  • For example, reading a specific genre of book because you like it.


Once you know the reason behind what you are trying to achieve, it is easier to pinpoint which type of learning to use.


If the end goal is to read pleasure, to improve vocabulary, then this is intrinsic motivation.

Studying for a test to succeed in order to excel in education would be extrinsic learning.

Applying Self-Determination Theory to learning also involves applying the innate psychological needs. Identify which psychological need to apply to your type of learning, in order to have a successful outcome.