My daughter was incredibly eager and excited when she started school at age six. To her, homework was a very important sign of being ‘big’. She started out with a lot of energy, doing her very best to please the teacher – as girls often do. But within a few months, she got bored, and before she reached second grade, homework was a nuisance. A situation which I’m sure many of you have experienced with your children. She simply didn’t get the point, and often asked me why she had to learn this or that. She began to lack motivation.

There are several of theories about motivation. I will use the perspective of Daniel H. Pink as he describes it in his book Drive (2009). Pink says we have three different groups of motivators in our lives: biological drive (as known from Maslow), Sticks and Carrots (as known from most companies and school systems) and intrinsic motivation (the joy of the task itself).

The first is still the most important, the second does not work, and the third is the most important when it comes to solving complex tasks. Science proves, says Pink, that three factors play an essential role in motivating people when it comes to solving complex tasks.

  • Autonomy – our innate need to direct our own lives
  • Mastery – not a specific skill, but the need to and joy of learning and creating new things
  • Purpose – to do better by ourselves and our world

How do we use this in our education programmes?

Our main tool we use is the Design to Improve Life Compass – a four phase-model that structures an innovative Design to Improve Life process. It comprises of a catalogue of techniques and structures that teachers can choose from when planning their lessons. The Compass can be used in various ways depending on your focus. Working with the Compass always starts with a challenge and students then create human centred innovative and sustainable solutions to this challenge by using the structures of the compass. The main drivers when working with the Compass are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Teachers act as facilitators, not as experts. This means students have greater influence on the subjects and the tasks, while teachers guide them through the process using the techniques and the framework of the Design to Improve Life Compass. These techniques both help teachers and students stay on track, and at the same time, leave space for independent decisions and creativity.

While occupied with addressing challenges, students feel the need for more knowledge and are motivated to seek it and put it into practice. They experience the power of learning and acting in a context that is not structured like a traditional lesson. Learning is no longer something you do simply because your teacher says so. Learning turns into an engaging way of developing and applying new practical skills while having fun.

All this takes place in a meaningful context. The fact that working with the compass always starts with a real life challenge makes it meaningful to work towards a solution. To students, it’s very empowering to know that they can actually create positive impact as they address real life problems, and not constructed or hypothetical situations designed just for the classroom. Nothing is decided beforehand, there are many correct answers, as well as a never-ending number of smart solutions just waiting to be created.

When students work like this, they tend to forget that they’re school, they have fun with their classmates, and homework no longer becomes a chore but an enjoyable and highly rewarding experience!

This article was part of the 2015 Design to Improve Life Education Update. To read more about the event, click here.


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