Self-determination Theory > Behaviorism

I see elements of self-determination theory pop up in liberated ed, critical pedagogy, and other places where people have turned away from behaviorism. Self-determination theory is a better lens for understanding human motivation than behaviorism.

Telltales of self-determination theory are the terms autonomy, mastery, purpose, and intrinsic motivation. Daniel Pink’s pop-sci treatment of self-determination theory, “Drive”, helped popularize these terms.

Audrey Watters asks of persuasion and behavior design “how they imagine to leave space for freedom and dignity.” Self-determination theory offers that space, which is why it shows up in progressive education and neurodiversity advocacy.

Dr. Leif Singer has a great introduction to self-determination theory:

Self-determination Theory: Understanding Human Motivation for Fun and Profit

Jonathan Mooney offers an example of autonomy, mastery, purpose, and intrinsic motivation in this brilliant talk. This timestamped link should take you to the right place:

The Past Decade of Unethical and Misguided Ed-tech

Why, it’s almost as if, when it comes to education technologies, you can just say whatever you want in the marketing copy.

The role that venture philanthropy has played in attempting to reshape the American education system is near the top of this list of bad ideas.

Source: The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade

Audrey Watters’ review of the past decade of unethical and misguided ed-tech is epic and essential. Watters is a tech ethics guiding star and a great writer. Her work is necessary reading for educators and tech workers.

Behaviorism is the foundation of education technology.Resist it in all its forms.

Behaviorist Ed-tech — Ed-tech from the 1940s

So, how on earth have we ended up with this many myths continuing painfully from one decade to the next?

I’m afraid the answer is that too much of the training has been stuck in the 1940s. Too much is done by non-autistic people, often ones who happen to know an autistic person in some way (maybe a relative) but seemingly have never asked them about life. I mean ‘asked’ in any communication sense, not just speech. Over a million autistic people in the UK, and too often, such trainers have none of them as personal friends, none of them as colleagues. Isn’t that odd?

Such trainers pass on the ancient myths, generation after generation. They write them down, put them on Powerpoint presentations, and deliver them to you as if they are fact. Research based in part on materials from the 1990s and 1980s, which was based largely on watching groups of profoundly disabled young men in a care home, as far back as the 1940s. As far removed from a balanced view of autism as one can get, in fact.

Worse still, they often expect you to pay for this. It might look slick, with excellent graphics, and the trainer might look like they could pose for a fashion magazine . But…are you really wanting 1940s material?

Source: Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism. Is your training from the 1940s?

The 1940s behaviorism of the autism industry has entered public education via ABA, PBS, Class Dojo, SEL data collection, mindset marketing, and other priorities of private equity. Get this 1940s material out of our schools. Mainstream ed-tech is taking us backwards.

Behaviorism commodifies people. It is the opposite of personalized learning.

Plenty of policies and programs limit our ability to do right by children. But perhaps the most restrictive virtual straitjacket that educators face is behaviorism – a psychological theory that would have us focus exclusively on what can be seen and measured, that ignores or dismisses inner experience and reduces wholes to parts. It also suggests that everything people do can be explained as a quest for reinforcement – and, by implication, that we can control others by rewarding them selectively.

Allow me, then, to propose this rule of thumb: The value of any book, article, or presentation intended for teachers (or parents) is inversely related to the number of times the word “behavior” appears in it. The more our attention is fixed on the surface, the more we slight students’ underlying motives, values, and needs.

It’s been decades since academic psychology took seriously the orthodox behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, which by now has shrunk to a cult-like clan of “behavior analysts.” But, alas, its reductionist influence lives on – in classroom (and schoolwide) management programs like PBIS and Class Dojo, in scripted curricula and the reduction of children’s learning to “data,” in grades and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in reading incentives and merit pay for teachers.

It’s time we outgrew this limited and limiting psychological theory. That means attending less to students’ behaviors and more to the students themselves.

Source: It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn

We cannot replace agency with response to stimuli.

Source: MMCP: Critical Digital Pedagogy; or, the Magic of Gears | Hybrid Pedagogy

I am watching the US education system not very subtly invite punishment back into the mainstream classroom. This appears to be driven by the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

Source: Defining Reinforcement and Punishment for Educators – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?