Motivation

While the cognitive and metacognitive factors above focus more on the mind, the motivational factors deal mostly with the heart and will. Successful learners must use and balance all these faculties. Motivation is dependent on having a purpose in life—no purpose, no motivation.

Maslow’s (1971, 1975) hierarchy of needs is related to the hierarchy of purpose and motivation. These needs in hierarchical order are survival (basic physical needs), security (physical and social protection), belonging (social needs), cognitive (to know), aesthetics (beauty, to love), and self-actualization (to will and do). Later Maslow postulated a self-transcendence (spiritual, to transcend) need. Some people’s purpose and motivation is only to survive, the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. The lower level needs only act as motivators when they are absent. The lower needs represent the physical concerns. Our knowing, loving and willing capacities represent the highest levels in Maslow’s hierarchy. The higher order needs become more motivating the more you have of them—the higher the purpose, the higher and more sustaining the intrinsic motivation. Those who reach self-transcendence are at the stage of united and fulfilled functioning.

Extrinsic motivators, rewards and punishments though needed and useful, are limited and can hinder motivation, especially if one is intrinsically motivated (Deci, 1971; Deci, Koestner, and Ryan, 1999; Fehr and Falk, 2002; Kohn, 1999, Shapira, 1976). We should move away from dependence on extrinsic motivators and move toward intrinsic motivations in a deliberate and measured way (Kohn, 1999). Whenever possible and practical, students should be given choices about learning to help develop their volition and intrinsic motivation. If they comprehend the relationship between cause and effect and understand the results of their actions, then they will be motivated to follow the course that optimizes their happiness and well-being. They need to be in charge of their own transformations by making them competent in applying their faculties.

Perseverance is an essential condition to the accomplishment of any task. We seek self-determination and autonomy, which can be negatively affected by others’ manipulation, including rewards (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Motivation is positively related to effort and effort is positively related to relevance. If learners do not see the relevance of learning to their lives, motivation and effort will be negatively affected. School learning is often perceived as not relevant to the students’ lives. It is our perceptions of reality, and of cause and effect relationships, rather than reality itself that often determines our actions and motivations. If our perceptions are not reality-based, than adjustments need to be made.

The law of causality is as true in the mental and spiritual world as it is in the physical world. Every effect has a cause and every cause and effect. Energy must be exerted to create a change of state. We are internally motivated by real challenge and accomplishment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Seligman, 2011). We choose relatively easy tasks when external rewards are given, but more challenging activities when they are not given (Shapira, 1976).

Without effort, little growth can occur. Interactions between self and reality are the cause of growth and development, and can lead to true happiness and autonomy. We can control our responses to the challenges life offers us, but we cannot control the challenges. To respond effectively requires effort and an internal locus of control. As we actualize our potential, we experience cognitive, affective and physical benefits, and are further motivated. Five factors that cause people to flourish: positive emotion, relationship, accomplishment, engagement and meaning (Seligman, 2011) can be fully experienced in teaching and learning. The sense of accomplishment in completing our own goals and following our own values is lost when we are made to feel we are being driven by someone else’s goals and values.

Encourage internal and autonomous motivation and use external motivation with wisdom. Assessments can be motivating when they are used to provide relevant information or feedback, but are demotivating when they are controlling or too difficult. Both teachers and students do less well when external pressure or motivation is applied (National Research Council, 2011).

Achievement motivation is related to our knowing and willing, and affiliation motivation is related to the loving qualities. Effort, related to will, is a combination of all the capacities. It starts with love, desire or attraction, goes to knowing how to fulfill our wants, and results in willing to realize the object sought. Accomplishment requires discipline, self-regulation, goal directedness, activity, personal responsibility and other cognitive, metacognitive and affective factors.

Teachers can first work to develop their inner and outer capacities then bend the energy generated toward whatever may foster the education of their students. They should encourage and counsel their students through means based on love and reason. Verbal and physical abuse affect the character and learning of others negatively, especially children. They can teach resolution, endurance, perseverance, constancy, strength, determination, striving, high mindedness, firmness of purpose and other qualities and traits related to motivation and effort. When we teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of importance that benefit humanity, they will be assisted to accomplish whatever they undertake and become happy and successful individuals.

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is recently retired as a head and professor of the School of Education at Northern Michigan University.
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