Posted by: Lena B. | November 26, 2010

Ways to strengthen the motivation for workplace learning according on the self-determination-theory

by Tobias Düsterdick & Monique Mey

Due to the process of globalisation it becomes more and more essential for companies of all branches to be adaptive toward the requirements of the markets. A well-known example for this circumstance is the trade rivalry between the famous companies Apple and Microsoft in order to get the predominance at the global operating-system-market. Therefore are employees needed, who are competent and motivated to learn on their workplaces with the aim to improve the competitiveness of their companies. Furthermore the rapid technical progress is a major part of current workplaces, which underline the exigency of workplace learning.

The results of a great amount of researches imply the value of the self determination theory for workplace learning. That is the reason why techniques like motivational interviewing and the screening instrument for learning conditions (SILC) are based on this approach.

Initially we will define workplace learning and explain the ways how this process can occur. After this we will expose the basic aspects of motivation. Based on this the Organismic Integration Theory of Deci and Ryan will be stated as well as the implications for workplace learning. Afterwards fundamentals and deduction for the given topic of the self determination theory will be clarified. Based on this information the SILC will follows with the development procedure and the structure of the instrument. Subsequently the assumptions and according to these the techniques of motivational interviewing will be presented. Finally the conclusion will be summarizing the significant perceptions in order to solve the given problem.

1. Theoretical backround

In generally workplace learning contains all „ […] processes and outcomes of learning that individual employees and groups of employees undertake under the auspices of a particular workplace […]” in order to improve “[…] knowledge and understandings, and skills that have relevance for a particular workplace.” (Holliday, 1998, p.15)

Eraut (2000) identified tree ways how workplace learning can occur, which differ under each other in their intentionally and consciousness. The most intentional and conscious one is the deliberative learning. In contrast to this is reactive learning, which is noticeable after a specific event, for example a mistake during the work. This kind of learning is predominantly spontaneous and the “level of intentionality” (Deci & Ryan, 2000, p. 71) can vary between people and events. The last way that was identified is the implicit learning, which occurs unintentional and unconscious. Occasionally a person is even not aware about the outcome.

According to Bauer, Rehrl and Harteis (2007) a huge amount of evidence are traceable, that learning in the workplace takes place mostly in the last mentioned way.

The 3 ways of the permanent process workplace learning can be found in formal settings, but rather more in informal settings. These are characterised due to a lack of external control, organisation and guidance. Therefore a high degree of self-regulation is needed, because learning in this setting is mainly self-directed and voluntary. But independent of the way or the setting of learning, they all share one base: Motivation.

Motivation in general is defined as “the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal”. (wordreference, 2010) Therefore it can be seen as a reason for actions with an aim and why they are differing under each other for example in direction and persistence. To sum up the value of this psychological term in the words of Deci and Ryan (2000, p. 69): “Motivation produces”.  One of the most profitable products is the biological, social and cognitive regulation of persons. Due to the fact, that motivation is caused by activated motives, it is the link between these and actions.

It is current common to divide the even mentioned psychological construct into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation, also known under term “high-quality Motivation”(Bauer, Rehrl & Harteis, 2007, p.14), correlate with learning achievement in a positive way.( Schiefele and Schreyer, 1994). This awareness becomes even more crucial due to the already mentioned fact, that workplace learning occurs mostly voluntary and self-directed. Therefore it is especially relevant to improve the intrinsic motivation of a person in order to foster the outcomes of workplace learning.

This kind of motivation is only noticeable when interest, enjoyment and inherent satisfaction are the relevant regulatory processes of people proceedings. That implies that the locus of causality of an action is internal, which leads to intrinsic regulation, which is also known under the term self-regulation. In contrast to this external regulation, for example compliance to other persons, external rewards or punishments, results in extrinsic motivation, because the locus of causality is external.  This causes significant differences in the quality of actions. According to Deci and Ryan (1991) people who are intrinsic motivated, have a higher degree of performance, persistence and creativity in their activities then people, who are extrinsic motivated.

The Organismic Integration Theory of Deci and Ryan (1985) provides an even more differenced view of motivation, because it is seen as continuum between amotivation, extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Furthermore it emphasizes different regulatory styles as a possible result of external motivation: external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation and integrated regulation. What style appears is caused by the perceived locus of causality, which can differ from external to internal. Due to the fact, that “[…] self-directed learning consist of a set of integrated values, motivations, beliefs and knowledge structures, that where either intrinsic to people or […] internalised “it can be said that integrated regulation is the most important one of the previously mentioned for workplace learning. This most autonomous kind of extrinsic motivation is only traceable, if external regulation are completely assimilated with the values of a person, but they are still caused from external regulation, because “[…] they are done to attain separable outcomes rather there are inherent enjoyment”. (Deci and Ryan, 2000, p.71) Therefore is promoting of the internalization of extrinsic motivation as well as the improvement of intrinsic motivation itself advisable.

2. Self-determination theory

Self-Determination-Theory (SDT) deals with the motivation and the personality of humans. This approach provides information, which conditions must be fulfilled for occurring ones feeling of self-determination. SDT is based on the assumption that every person have inherent growth tendencies as well as 3 initiate psychological needs.
The needs were identified as competence, social relatedness and autonomy. According to White (1959, p. 300), competence means “[…] to being effective in dealing with the environment a person finds themselves in”, whereas relatedness is defined “[…] as the universal want to interact, be connected to and experience caring for others”. (Baumeister & Leary,1995, p. 502). Autonomy “is the universal urge to be causal agents of our own life and act in harmony with our integrated self.” ( Deci & Vansteenkiste, 2004, p.18)

Satisfactions of these are the base for a high-degree of intrinsic motivation or integration of extrinsic motivation, for example for self-directed learning in workplaces settings, because self-determination is perceived. Furthermore lead the even mentioned case to personal well-being, health and to pursue the inherent growth tendencies and personality integration. According to Kasser and Ryan (1993) the reason for this fact is, that satisfaction of the basic psychological needs includes also the achievement of live goals, which have an intrinsic aspiration, like affiliation, generatively or personal development.

The Cognitive Evaluation Theory, a sub-theory of the SDT, emphasizes the crucial role of social context, for example the workplace of a person, for the satisfaction of the 3 basic needs. This implies that workplaces have to provide a learning culture, using “cultural elements […] which are integrated in immediate workplace settings and have direct influence on individual learning conditions” (Bauer et. al., 2007, p.16) that are suitable to satisfy the even mentioned needs. This makes learning in the workplace more probably as environmental conditions, which are not satisfy the 3 psychological needs of a person.

3. Screening instrument for learning conditions at the workplace (SILC)

An instrument called screening instrument for learning conditions at the workplace (SILC) was developed. It based on large analysis of existing literature and the foundation is the self determination theory. The instrument obtains on the features: “[…] “in use” within the workplace and employs the individual employee`s perception of the workplace as the base for the assessment”. (Bauer et al., 2007, p.21).  The Instrument consists two parts:  “the employee`s experience of (1) the quality of task and (2) of the quality of social relationship within a workplace”. (Bauer et al., 2007, p.21) Besides the two variables, the three basics from the self determination theory: autonomy support, competence support and social relatedness, as already mentioned and explained above, play an important role for the SILC.

The two parts “Quality of task” and “Quality of interactions” contain different items. They are specified for the each of the two parts. The items in part one advert to characteristics of the task and in part two all the items refer to the quality of relationships with colleagues and supervisors. (Bauer et al., 2007, p.22)

The part one “Quality of tasks” contains the holistic task, the degrees of freedom, transparency, complexity, exposure to changes, possibilities for reflection and the requirements for interaction and co-operation. The holistic tasks include that the employee achieve his task by participating in the whole action: planning, goal-settings and problem solving. (Bauer et al., 2007, p.22). The degrees of freedom mean that the employees are independent in making decisions regarding their work or themselves. Both items support the feeling of autonomy. Furthermore a crucial fact is the transparency. The task for the employees is to know how important their work for the whole company is. Complexity is similar to the item holistic but in this case it refers to the competence of the employees while holistic tasks are related to the autonomy. Exposure to changes means that the employees can challenge their self. There are always changes in their work and it is important to know how to handle these. Possibilities for reflection demands if the workplace offers possibilities to reflect the done tasks and mistakes. The items transparency, complexity, exposure to changes and possibilities for reflection are supposed to support the feeling of competence. (Bauer et al., 2007, p.23). Requirements for interaction and co-operation denote if the workplace offers opportunities to get in contact with colleagues so that problems could be solved in an interactive way. (Bauer et al., 2007, p.23).

The part two “Quality of relationship” contains 7 items. They are the supervisor conveys autonomy, the appreciation of one`s contributions, the mutual assistance, constructive feedback, respecting other`s feeling and perspectives, mutual trust and informal contact. The supervisor conveys autonomy means if the employees can propose his own opinion and it will be accepts by the supervisor. This item fosters the feeling of autonomy. Furthermore a fundamental aspect is the appreciation of one`s contributions. To honor the work, ideas and competencies of the employee by the colleagues and supervisors improve the feeling of competence. (Bauer et al., 2007, p.23). To support the feeling of competence, social competence, the employees help each other with the problem solving. The item which belongs to this description is called mutual assistance. Constructive feedback sustains the feeling of competence and it signifies that the employees obtain positive and negative comments about their work to improve their knowledge. The 5th item is about respecting different opinions. Varying feelings should be appreciated from the colleagues and the supervisor. This is to strengthen the social relatedness. To sustain the constructive interaction and the group affiliation the item mutual trust is crucial. To have a trustful climate within the workplace makes the work of the employees more successful. The last item is about Informal contact and contains the social integration of the employees at the workplace. It is crucial that the employees have the feelings that they are personally respected.  In order to fulfill the content of the last item “Informal exchange” it is necessary that employees and supervisor interact on a friendship-oriented basis. The exchange is productive for work-related and private issues. (Bauer et al., 2007, p.24). Finally it can be said that it is advisable for managers to provide workplaces, which fulfill the above mentioned conditions of employment in order to strengthen employees’ motivation toward learning on and for the workplace.

4. Motivational interviewing

A great amount of approaches in the domain of applied psychology are based on the self-determination-theory. The concept of motivational interviewing, developed by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick, is the most fruitful one for workplace learning. According to the earlier mentioned people it is defined as “[…] directive client-centred counselling style for eliciting behaving change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence “.(1995, p.325)  Initially it was used in clinical contexts, for example to treat alcoholics.  But nowadays it is traceable in nearly every field, in which changes of behaviour are desirable, for example to motivate employees toward workplace learning.

Motivational Interviewing can be characterized due to very basic assumptions. The most important one is that the relationship between counsellor and employee is rather more like a partnership, in which both sides has the same rights, then an expert-recipient-relationship. Therefore the counsellor has to confirm the employees’ freedom and self-direction, even when this leads to negative consequences for the person himself. This implies the unsuitableness of techniques like direct persuasion or confrontation in order to change the employees’ behaviour. Instead of this it is more appropriate to give advises without commitment toward current situations in the workplace, which make reflective listening and adaptable conversation-structure necessarily. Furthermore it is necessary for counsellor to express empathy, acceptance and affirmation toward the living and working of the employee with help of a non-judgmental and non-confrontational way of conversation between the counsellor and the employee. Therefore the concept of motivational interviewing distinguishes between “good” aspects and “not-so-good” aspects in evaluation-conversations in order to avoid an increasing of resistance toward changing the behaviour. This occurs very probably when aspects are labelled as negative by the counsellor, but the employee does not agree with this. Furthermore the counsellor has to support the self-efficacy of the employee, because a change in the behaviour will only occur, if a person believes in its feasibility. Because of the even mentioned facts is the counselling style of motivational interviewing “generally a quiet and electing one”. (Miller & Rollnick, p. 326, 1995)

Another basic assumption is the need of motivation of a person to change the behaviour. This can be not forced by the other people, but rather more it must a result of values and goals of a person, which leads to intrinsic motivation. Therefore the employees’ frame of reference and the ideal-self must be known by the counsellor in order to reinforce the intrinsic motivation. This has to be done in the beginning of a counselling –process with help of “open-ended-questions”, that means asking in a way, which make answering with less words impossible. Due to this information the counsellor can provides the development of discrepancy “between what they are and where they want to be” (Miller & Rollnick, p.330, 1995). This technique leads ideally to an activation of intrinsic motivation, because people are anxious to eliminate this discrepancy, which resulted in a change of behaviour as outcome.

Changing the own manner is mostly linked with ambivalence, because the current and the desired behaviour provide profit benefits and costs. Despite this fact it is not the task of the counsellor to articulate and resolve these but rather more it is the clients’ one. The counsellor can only alleviate this process, for example to help a person to find ways on their own to elicit, clarify and resolve the given ambivalences. This obstacle must be necessarily overcome for a persistent change of behaviour. Nevertheless the concept of motivational interviewing containing not the training of people, in  order to copy a certain behaviour, because that would lead to circumstance, that the person is a passive recipient instead of an active designer of his or her own. This is the base for long term success.

Finally the concept of motivational interviewing assumes the willingness to chance of the own behaviour not as a part of human being. It is rather more a product of the interpersonal interaction. Therefore it is necessary for the counsellor to keep an eye on the employees’ degree of readiness to change and to think about the reason why resistance exists. Next to this a counsellor has to “roll with resistance” (Rollnick & Miller, 1995, p. 334), because in the concept motivational interviewing is resistance not seen as the reluctance of the employee toward a behavioural change, but rather more as result of expecting a too high degree of readiness to change by the counsellor. In this case it is advisable to explore the frame of reference, encourage the employees in finding the own solutions to self-defined problems in more extended way then before instead of counteracting the given resistance. This implies that the counselling process has a high demand on time.

Due to the abovementioned mentioned techniques the human need of autonomy get strengthened, which is necessary to strengthen the intrinsic motivation toward self-directed workplace learning.

5. Conclusion

After explaining of the basic aspects of motivation, for example the differentiation of this construct into extrinsic and intrinsic, we came to the awareness that workplace learning cannot occur without motivation. After this we stated the self-determination theory, which claim that the 3 basic needs autonomy, social relatedness and competence must be satisfied in order to strengthen intrinsic motivation, for example for learning in and for the workplace. Several approaches toward motivation for workplace learning are based on this theory. Initially we explained the SILC. According to this instrument it can be said that holistic tasks, degrees of freedom, transparency, complexity, exposures to changes, possibilities for reflection and requirements for interaction and co-operation for employees must be given in order to provide tasks, which have satisfactory quality. Furthermore a superior quality of the relationships must be also given. This contains that the supervisor conveys autonomy for the employee and appreciate those contribution as well as provide mutual assistance and constructive feedback. It is also crucial that employees respecting the feelings and perspectives of others and that the employees have a mutual trust under each other as well as informal contact the fulfillment of these conditions is equivalent with the satisfaction of the 3 basic needs. Another presented approach is the technique of motivational interviewing. This client-centred counselling style characterized due to that the relationship between counsellor and employee is rather more like a partnership and that intrinsic motivation, as result of person’s values goals and not external force, is necessary to change the manner. Furthermore assume this approach that is the task of person and not of the counsellor to articulate and resolve the ambivalences which are linked with changing the own behaviour. The last very basic assumption is that the willingness to change the own behaviour is not a part of being, but rather more product of interpersonal interaction. Therefore the counsellor has to be emphatic toward the persons’ frame of reference. Working with this conditions leads to autonomy-supportive environment, which strengthen the motivation toward changing the behaviour in a desirable direction, for example learn in and for the workplace.

6. References:


Bauer,  J., Rehrl,  M., & Harteis, C. (2007). Measurement of learning culture: A motivational approach. In H. Gruber & T. Palonen (eds.), Learning in the workplace – new developments in the relation between learning and working. Turku: Finnish Educational Research Association .

Deci, E. L.  & Ryan, R. (1991). A motivational approach to self: Integration in personality. In R. Dienstbier (ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation: Perspectives on motivation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Deci, E. L.  & Ryan, R. M. (1995). Human autonomy: The basis for true self-esteem. In M. Kernis (Ed.), Efficacy,agency, and self-esteem (pp. 3149). New York: Plenum.

Holliday, R. (1998). Workplace learning.  Wagga Wagga: Charles Sturt University.


Baumeister, R., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529

Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R.M. (2000 b). Self-determination-theory and the facilitation of Intrinsic motivation, social development and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78 S

Deci, E. L., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2004). Self-determination theory and basic need satisfaction: Understanding human development in positive psychology. Ricerche di Psichologia, 27, 17-34

Eraut, M., (2000). Teacher education, designed or framed. International Journal of Educational Research, 3, 5, 557- 574

Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1993). Further examining the American dream: differential correlates of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 280-287

Rollnick S., & Miller, W.R. (1995).  What is motivational interviewing?  Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23, 325-334.

Schiefele, U. & Schreyer, I. (1994). Intrinsische Lernmotivation und Lernen. Zeitschrift für Pädagogische Psychologie, 8 (1), 1-13.or

White, R. W. (1959). Motivation reconsidered: The concept of competence. Psychological Review, 66, 297-333.


Wordreference. (2010). Search for Motivation. Available in (01.11.10)



  1. Keep up the exceptional job !! Lovin’ it!

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