Monday, February 27, 2012

Theory Basis: Motivational Theory


The blog’s first poll indicated a desire to learn more about motivation.   No doubt this is an important subject.  Understanding motivation is a very complex undertaking because there are many inter-related factors that play within the equation, it isn't a simple cause and effect relationship. Here is what I have found useful as a basis for integrating motivation into instructional design:
Human needs fuel motivation. Motivation directs and meters our mental and physical energies. The amount of mental and physical energies directly influences what we learn and how well we will retain it.  Graphically it would look like Figure 1:
 Figure 1: Needs, Motivation, and Learning
Note: Learning and retention are two different processes; a subject of another post.

From Complex to Simple

I had the privilege to attend a Bob Pike seminar in the early 90’s.  Of the many golden nuggets I took away from that seminar was Bob’s basic principles regarding motivation.  They are (1):
1.   You cannot motivate other people
2.   All people are motivated
3.   People do things for their own reasons, not your reasons
At this point you might be thinking:  OK.  So what can I do?  Although it is true you can’t motivate other people, you can create an environment where motivation can flourish or be squelched.

Human needs are innate and we don’t have to create or do anything to modify them.  Our success will depend on how well you address the learner’s needs.  To do so we need to be broadcasting our content on radio station WIIFM, or What’s In It For Me and our focus should be “learner-centered”.  We are like the throttle for the engine of motivation; influencing the energy output.  Adding our role into the previous graphic would look like Figure 2:

Figure 2: Instructor’s Influence on Motivation
Creating an Environment to Foster Motivation
I am going to assume (“Danger!… Danger ! Will Robinson” (2)) that all of you have some familiarity with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  If not, this link will take you to a Wikipedia Article on the topic.   For the initiated, recall, according to Maslow, one cannot reach a higher level until the needs of the levels below it are met.
The following information will be based on two authors: Malcolm Knowles and John Keller.  Malcolm Knowles is predominately known for his work regarding adult learning theory and John Keller for his motivational ARCS model.
Malcolm Knowles (3) provides a number of qualities the learning environment should have in order to support a motivating environment.  These qualities will address needs at Maslow’s levels of Safety, Belonging, and Esteem:
·     A climate of mutual respect.  Don’t talk down to or embarrass learners.
·     A climate of collaborativeness rather than competitiveness; mutual helpers vs. rivals
·     A climate of supportiveness rather than judgementalness.  Be supportive in your own behavior.
·     A climate of mutual trust.  Present yourself as being human rather than an expert.
·     A climate of fun. Use of spontaneous (appropriate) humor.
·     A human climate. Learning is a human activity; treat learners as human beings not objects.

According to John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design, there are four categories for promoting and sustaining motivation in the learning process: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction (ARCS).
·    Attention can be gained in two ways: (1) Perceptual arousal – uses surprise or uncertainly to gain interest. Uses novel, surprising, incongruous, and uncertain events; or (2) Inquiry arousal – stimulates curiosity by posing challenging questions or problems to be solved.
·    Relevance:  creating an awareness of a need to: solve a problem or avoids one, provide an opportunity of increased status, or include professional or personal growth.
·    Confidence can influence a learner’s persistence.  If the learner believes he or she will be successful they will continue to try.
·     Satisfaction:  people are more motivated if the task and reward are defined.
After the instructional content and methods have been determined, it is time to work on incorporating motivational strategies.  I suggest each category can be applied to each learning objective or group of objectives.
A Golden Nugget:   In his article, Development and Use of the ARCS Model of Instruction,  John Keller provides 61 strategies for applying his model.  I keep this article handy whenever I am designing.

Challenge:  One strategy to enhance the learning envrionment is to give them a choice. Review one of your courses and find a juncture to incorporate an opportunity for the learner to make a choice regarding content, methods, or materials.  Share your change in a comment to this blog.
Look forward to your comments,

1.   Pike, R. W. (1989). Creative Training Techniques Handbook. Minneapolis, MN.: Lakewood Books.
2.   1960s’ American television series Lost in Space spoken by voice actor Dick Tufeld. The Robot, acting as a surrogate guardian, says this to young Will Robinson when the boy is unaware of an impending threat. In everyday use, the phrase warns someone that they are about to make a mistake or that they are overlooking something.
3.   Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Cambridge Press.

Suggested Reading or the One Book on the Topic I Would Have on My Shelf
Wlodkowski, R.J. ((1999) Enhancing Adult Motivation To Learn: A comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.
This book is a great blend of adult learning theory and motivational principles interspersed with over 60 strategies on how to enhance adult motivation.


  1. Very good info!!

    Not sure I agree with the statement that you can't motivate someone else. It may be a matter of semantics/motivate vs. influence/ but a belief in the power to motivate another individual is behind Politics, religion, Madison Avenue, or any kind of coaching, including this Blog.

    I also thought the Wiki Criticism of Maslow's Hierarchy/US culture placing individualism at apex of pyramid was valid. Many cultures place apex value on honor and duty-where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. This is highly motivating in high reliability industries at times of crisis.

  2. NRJ:

    Good food for thought. The line between motivation and influence is probably pretty thin. This is where the concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation may help. Intrinsic is most likely related to the areas you mentioned: politics, religion, Maslow’s needs… Extrinsic is more like the carrot and stick. They may work for as long as they are in place.

    Agree with you on the Wiki comment and individualism. It is a cultural thing and currently our culture has the pendulum swinging way toward individualism.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts,