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As Barbara Fuller’s recollections suggest, students assign various meanings and attitudes to academic activities —personal meanings and attitudes that arouse and direct their energies in different ways. We call these and their associated energizing and directing effects by the term motivation , or sometimes motivation to learn . As you will see, differences in motivation are an important source of diversity in classrooms, comparable in importance to differences in prior knowledge, ability, or developmental readiness. When it comes to school learning, furthermore, students’ motivations take on special importance because students’ mere presence in class is (of course) no guarantee that students really want to learn. It is only a sign that students live in a society requiring young people to attend school (Seifert and Sutton, 2011).

Motivation —the energy or drive that gives behavior direction and focus—can be understood in a variety of ways, each of which has implications for teaching. Since modern education is compulsory, teachers cannot take students’ motivation for granted, and they have a responsibility to ensure students’ motivation to learn. Somehow or other, teachers must persuade students to want to do what students have to do anyway. This task—understanding and therefore influencing students’ motivations to learn—is the focus of this chapter. Fortunately, as you will see, there are ways of accomplishing this task that respect students’ choices, desires, and attitudes. Like motivation itself, theories of it are full of diversity.

One perspective on motivation comes from behaviorism, and equates underlying drives or motives with their outward, visible expression in behavior. Most others, however, come from cognitive theories of learning and development. Motives are affected by the kind of goals set by students—whether they are oriented to mastery, performance, failure avoidance, or social contact. They are also affected by students’ interests, both personal and situational. And they are affected by students’ attributions about the causes of success and failure—whether they perceive the causes are due to ability, effort, task difficulty, or luck.

A major current perspective about motivation is based on self-efficacy theory, which focuses on a person’s belief that he or she is capable of carrying out or mastering a task. High self-efficacy affects students’ choice of tasks, their persistence at tasks, and their resilience in the face of failure. It helps to prevent learned helplessness, a perception of complete lack of control over mastery or success. Teachers can encourage high self-efficacy beliefs by providing students with experiences of mastery and opportunities to see others’ experiences of mastery, by offering well-timed messages persuading them of their capacity for success, and by interpreting students’ emotional reactions to success, failure and stress.

An extension of self-efficacy theory is expectancy-value theory, which posits that our motivation for a specific task is a combination of our expectation of success and how important or valuable the task is to us. Yet another related idea is self-determination theory, which is based on the concept that everyone has basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness to others. According to the theory, students will be motivated more intrinsically if these three needs are met as much as possible. A variety of strategies can assist teachers in meeting these needs.

For convenience in navigating through the diversity of ideas about motivation, we have organized this topic around major theories or perspectives about motives and their sources. We call the modules Behavioral Views of Motivation; Motivation as Goals, Interests, and Attributions; Self-Efficacy; and Self-Determination. We end with a module, Motivational Challenges in the Classroom, that integrates ideas from the major theories, discusses challenges stemming from students' motivation, and offers best practices for fostering students’ motivations to learn in positive ways.

Further resources

Selected Key Concepts and Examples of Motivation

References

Seifert, K.&Sutton, R. (2011). Educational psychology. Retrieved from the Connexions website: http://cnx.org/content/col11302/1.2/

Much of the material from this topic was adapted from (Seifert and Sutton, 2011).

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Motivation and the learning environment. OpenStax CNX. Mar 27, 2012 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11415/1.2
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