Motivation: What is it? 2 Cool Things You Need To Know

What is motivation? Learner centred teaching. Education. Adult Literacy.

What is motivation?

This is part of a series on adult education and learner centred teaching. Motivation refers to our reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.

Dr Damon Whitten on Motivation – Part 1

Check out part 1 on motivation with Graeme and Damon.

Dr Damon Whitten on Motivation – Part 2

Check out part 2 on motivation with Graeme and Damon.

Let’s dig a little deeper

In education, motivation usually involves goals and requires some kind of action. Action requires effort and persistence.

And effort and persistence are things that tutors often report is lacking among some adult learners, particularly those struggling with adult literacy and numeracy issues.

Your learners are either motivated internally or externally. Hopefully, they are motivated to learn. But they may be motivated to do other things.

Internal motivation

The internal – or intrinsic – motivation is the best kind when applied to learning. Self-confidence plays a big part. Here’s the conversation happening inside their heads:

  • “This will make me happy”
  • “This is important”
  • “What I’m learning is significant”
  • “This is going to make me a better person”

External Motivation

External motivation comes into play when a student is compelled to do something or act a certain way because of factors external to him or her. Pressure to complete a course or get good marks are examples of external motivation.

The problem with external motivation is that it often causes anxiety. And anxiety gets in the way of good learning and teaching.

How does this help describe a learner-centred teaching environment?

Because we know that our learners are not always internally motivated, talking about internal motivation allows us to describe a learner-centred teaching environment, as opposed to a more traditional one.

As teachers, we sometimes need to help create the conditions around our learners that allow them to become motivated. And this can be hard.

But it’s important to think about how to do this because many of our learners are compelled to come to our classes.

What about self determination?

This raises another issue – self determination, or tino rangatiratanga. We’ll explore this later too. For now, it’s enough to note that learners who have little or no ability to make choices about what they’re learning and how they’re doing it are more likely to feel like any chance of success is out of their control.

This leads them to feel that they will fail and therefore stop trying. This, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Over time, a vicious cycle of low achievement develops.

Also, some learners who appear to be unmotivated or poor performers may need their motivation to come from a group sense of community, purpose and competence in order to engage. This may be true for Māori, Pasifika and other groups.

A couple of last things…

Let’s get physical

Physical exercise increases motivation. Students (and tutors) who do any kind of exercise are more likely to feel a more positive outlook, have more of a desire to learn new knowledge, have better concentration, experience better retention of information, and

Also, one big advantage that vocational and trades tutors have is this:

  • Contextualising learning increases internal motivation (the good kind).

Contextualising literacy and numeracy is what adult literacy and numeracy education is all about.

What else?

There are several ways in which the human mind can be motivated to learn new things. I will try to explain some of these here, although it is very difficult for us to fully understand motivation:

  1. Curiosity – this refers to having interest about something even when we have no idea what it could lead to or how useful it would be. We just want more knowledge about a particular topic because we find it interesting.
  2. Hedonic motivation – this is when we are motivated to do something because it makes us feel good, even if there is no real point or function. For example, chocolate tastes really nice but that’s about as far as you can take it. It has no other benefits.
  3. Intrinsic motivation – this is when we are motivated to do something because it has value in and of itself. We may then assign extrinsic values (e.g pleasure, money, social status etc) but they come later.
  4. Self-motivation – this is when we are motivated to act in some way without any outside influence. It’s not completely clear how this works: humans can be motivated by their own thoughts, or perhaps even by the absence of a thought.

Interested in learning more about Learner Centred Teaching?

Check out my books on education

What is Learner-Centred? 12 Concepts from Te Ao Māori You Should Embrace to Create Learning Success

Three Simple Approaches You Need for Learner Centred Teaching

Literacy and Numeracy: It’s Not Rocket Science

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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