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Implications of Learning Theories in Modern World

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Definition of Motivation

Motivation is typically defined as the forces that account for the arousal, selection, direction, and continuation of behavior.

Nevertheless, many teachers have at least two major misconceptions about motivation that prevent them from using this concept with maximum effectiveness. One misconception is that some students are unmotivated. Strictly speaking, that is not an accurate statement. As long as a student chooses goals and expends a certain amount of effort to achieve them, he is, by definition, motivated. What teachers really mean is that students are not motivated to behave in the way teachers would like them to behave. The second misconception is that ne person can directly motivate another. This view is inaccurate because motivation comes from within a person. What you can do, with the help of the various motivation theories discussed in this chapter, is create the circumstances that influence students to do what you want them to do. Many factors determine whether the students in your classes will be motivated or not motivated to learn. You should not be surprised to discover that no single theoretical interpretation of motivation explains all aspects of student interest or lack of it.

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Different theoretical interpretations do, however, shed light on why some students in a given learning situation are more likely to want to learn than others. Furthermore, each theoretical interpretation can serve as the basis for the development of techniques for motivating students in the classroom. Several theoretical interpretations of motivation -- some of which are derived from discussions of learning presented earlier -- will now be summarized.

Top Behavioral Views of Motivation Operant Conditioning and Social Learning Theory

The Effect of Reinforcement In Chapter 8 we discussed Skinner's emphasis of the role of reinforcement in learning. After demonstrating that organisms tend to repeat actions that are reinforced and that behavior can be shaped by reinforcement, Skinner developed the technique of programmed instruction to make it possible for students to be reinforced for every correct response. According to Skinner, supplying the correct answer--and being informed by the program that it is the correct answer--motivates the student to go on to the next frame; and as the student works through the program, the desired terminal behavior is progressively shaped.

Following Skinner's lead, many behavioral learning theorists devised techniques of behavior modification on the assumption that students are motivated to complete a task by being promised a reward of some kind. Many times the reward takes the form of praise or a grade. Sometimes it is a token that can be traded in for some desired object; and at other times the reward may be the privilege of engaging in a self-selected activity. Operant conditioning interpretations of learning may help reveal why some students react avorably to particular subjects and dislike others. For instance, some students may enter a required math class with a feeling of delight, while others may feel that they have been sentenced to prison. Skinner suggests that such differences can be traced to past experiences. He would argue that the student who loves math has been shaped to respond that way by a series of positive experiences with math. The math hater, in contrast, may have suffered a series of negative experiences.

The Power of Persuasive Models Social learning theorists, such as Albert Bandura, call attention to the importance of observation, imitation, and vicarious reinforcement (expecting to receive the same reinforcer that we see someone else get for exhibiting a particular behavior). A student who identifies with and admires a teacher of a particular subject may work hard partly to please the admired individual and partly to try becoming like that individual.

A student who observes an older brother or sister reaping benefits from earning high grades may strive to do the same with the expectation of experiencing the same or similar benefits. A student who notices that a classmate receives praise from the teacher after acting in a certain way may decide to imitate such behavior to win similar rewards. As we pointed out in Chapter 8, both vicarious reinforcement and direct reinforcement can raise an individual's sense of self-efficacy for a particular task, which, in turn, leads to higher levels of motivation.

Top Cognitive Views of Motivation Cognitive views stress that human behavior is influenced by the way people think about themselves and their environment. The direction that behavior takes can be explained by four influences: the inherent need to construct an organized and logically consistent knowledge base, one's expectations for successfully completing a task, the factors that one believes account for success and failure, and one's beliefs about the nature of cognitive ability.

The Impact of Cognitive Development

This view is based on Jean Piaget's principles of equilibration, assimilation, accommodation, and schema formation. Piaget proposes that children possess an inherent desire to maintain a sense of organization and balance in their conception of the world (equilibration). A sense of equilibration may be experienced if a child assimilates a new experience by relating it to an existing scheme, or the child may accommodate by modifying an existing scheme if the new experience is too different. In addition, individuals will repeatedly use new schemes because of an inherent desire to master their environment.

This explains why young children can, with no loss of enthusiasm, sing the same song, tell the same story, and play the same game over and over and why they repeatedly open and shut doors to rooms and cupboards with no seeming purpose. It also explains why older children take great delight in collecting and organizing almost everything they can get their hands on and why adolescents who have begun to attain formal operational thinking will argue incessantly about all the unfairness in the world and how it can be eliminated (Stipek, 1993).

Top The Need for Achievement Have you ever decided to take on a moderately difficult task (like take a course on astronomy even though you are a history major and have only a limited background in science) and then found that you had somewhat conflicting feelings about it? On the one hand, you felt eager to start the course, confident that you would be pleased with your performance. But on the other hand, you also felt a bit of anxiety because of the small possibility of failure. Now try to imagine the opposite situation.

In reaction to a suggestion to take a course outside your major, you flat out refuse because the probability of failure seems great, while the probability of success seems quite small. In the early 1960s John Atkinson (1964) proposed that such differences in achievement behavior are due to differences in something called the need for achievement. Atkinson described this need as a global, generalized desire to attain goals that require some degree of competence. He saw this need as being partly innate and partly the result of experience.

Individuals with a high need for achievement have a stronger expectation of success than they do a fear of failure for most tasks and therefore anticipate a feeling of pride in accomplishment. When given a choice, high-need achievers seek out moderately challenging tasks because they offer an optimal balance between challenge and expected success. By contrast, individuals with a low need for achievement avoid such tasks because their fear of failure greatly outweighs their expectation of success, and they therefore anticipate feelings of shame.

When faced with a choice, they typically opt either for relatively easy tasks because the probability of success is high or rather difficult tasks because there is no shame in failing to achieve a lofty goal. Atkinson's point about taking fear of failure into account in arranging learning experiences has been made more recently by William Glasser in Control Theory in the Classroom (1986) and The Quality School (1990). Glasser argues that for people to succeed at life in general, they must first experience success in one important aspect of their lives.

For most children, that one important part should be school. But the traditional approach to evaluating learning, which emphasizes comparative grading (commonly called "grading on the curve"), allows only a minority of students to achieve A's and B's and feel successful. The self-worth of the remaining students (who may be quite capable) suffers, which depresses their motivation to achieve on subsequent classroom tasks (Covington, 1985). Top The Humanistic View of Motivation Abraham Maslow earned his Ph. D. in a psychology department that supported the behaviorist position.

After he graduated, however, he came into contact with Gestalt psychologists (a group of German psychologists whose work during the 1920s and 1930s laid the foundation for the cognitive theories of the 1960s and 1970s), prepared for a career as a psychoanalyst, and became interested in anthropology. As a result of these various influences, he came to the conclusion that American psychologists who endorsed the behaviorist position had become so preoccupied with overt behavior and objectivity that they were ignoring other important aspects of human existence (hence the term humanistic to describe his views).

When Maslow observed the behavior of especially well-adjusted persons--or self-actualizers, as he called them--he concluded that healthy individuals are motivated to seek fulfilling experiences. Maslow's Theory of Growth Motivation Maslow describes seventeen propositions, discussed in Chapter 1 of Motivation and Personality (3d ed. , 1987), that he believes would have to be incorporated into any sound theory of growth motivation (or need gratification) to meet them.

Referring to need gratification as the most important single principle underlying all development, he adds that "the single, holistic principle that binds together the multiplicity of human motives is the tendency for a new and higher need to emerge as the lower need fulfills itself by being sufficiently gratified" (1968, p. 55). He elaborates on this basic principle by proposing a five-level hierarchy of needs. Physiological needs are at the bottom of the hierarchy, followed in ascending order by safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization needs.

This order reflects differences in the relative strength of each need. The lower a need is in the hierarchy, the greater is its strength because when a lower-level need is activated (as in the case of extreme hunger or fear for one's physical safety), people will stop trying to satisfy a higher-level need (such as esteem or self-actualization) and focus on satisfying the currently active lower-level need (Maslow, 1987). The first four needs (physiological, safety, belongingness and love, and esteem) are often referred to as deficiency needs because they motivate people to act only when they are unmet to some degree.

Self-actualization, by contrast, is often called a growth need because people constantly strive to satisfy it. Basically, self-actualization refers to the need for self-fulfillment -- the need to develop all of one's potential talents and capabilities. For example, an individual who felt she had the capability to write novels, teach, practice medicine, and raise children would not feel self-actualized until all of these goals had been accomplished to some minimal degree. Because it is at the top of the hierarchy and addresses the potential of the whole person, self-actualization is discussed more frequently than the other needs.

Maslow originally felt that self-actualization needs would automatically be activated as soon as esteem needs were met, but he changed his mind when he encountered individuals whose behavior did not fit this pattern. He concluded that individuals whose self-actualization needs became activated held in high regard such values as truth, goodness, beauty, justice, autonomy, and humor (Feist, 1990). In addition to the five basic needs that compose the hierarchy, Maslow describes cognitive needs (such as the needs to know and to understand) and aesthetic needs (such as the needs for order, symmetry, or harmony).

While not part of the basic hierarchy, these two classes of needs play a critical role in the satisfaction of basic needs. Maslow maintains that such conditions as the freedom to investigate and learn, fairness, honesty, and orderliness in interpersonal relationships are critical because their absence makes satisfaction of the five basic needs impossible. (Imagine, for example, trying to satisfy your belongingness and love needs or your esteem needs in an atmosphere characterized by dishonesty, unfair punishment, and restrictions on freedom of speech. )

Top The Impact of Cooperative Learning on Motivation

Classroom tasks can be structured so that students are forced to compete with one another, work individually, or cooperate with one another to obtain the rewards that teachers make available for successfully completing these tasks. Traditionally, competitive arrangements have been assumed to be superior to the other two in increasing motivation and learning. But reviews of the research literature by David Johnson and Roger Johnson (Johnson ; Johnson, 1995; Johnson, Johnson, ; Smith, 1995) found cooperative arrangements to be far superior in producing these benefits.

In this section we will describe cooperative-, competitive, and individual learning arrangements (sometimes called goal structures or reward structures), identify the elements that make up the major approaches to cooperative learning, and examine the effect of cooperative learning on motivation, achievement, and interpersonal relationships. Types of Classroom Reward Structures Competitive goal structures are typically norm referenced. (If you can't recall our discussion of the normal curve in Chapter 5, now might be a good time for a quick review. This traditional practice of grading on the curve predetermines the percentage of A, B, C, D, and F grades regardless of the actual distribution of test scores. Because only a small percentage of students in any group can achieve the highest rewards and because this accomplishment must come at some other students' expense, competitive goal structures are characterized by negative interdependence. Students try to outdo one another, view classmates' failures as an advantage, and come to believe that the winners deserve their rewards because they are inherently better (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1994; Johnson et al. 1995). Some researchers have argued that competitive reward structures lead students to focus on ability as the primary basis for motivation. This orientation is reflected in the question "Am I smart enough to accomplish this task? " When ability is the basis for motivation, competing successfully in the classroom may be seen as relevant to self-esteem (since nobody loves a loser), difficult to accomplish (since only a few can succeed), and uncertain (success depends on how everyone else does).

These perceptions may cause some students to avoid challenging subjects or tasks, to give up in the face of difficulty, to reward themselves only if they win a competition, and to believe that their own successes are due to ability, whereas the successes of others are due to luck (Ames & Ames, 1984; Dweck, 1986). Individualistic goal structures are characterized by students working alone and earning rewards solely on the quality of their own efforts. The success or failure of other students is irrelevant.

All that matters is whether the student meets the standards for a particular task (Johnson et al., 1994; Johnson et al., 1995). Thirty students working by themselves at computer terminals are functioning in an individual reward structure. According to Carole Ames and Russell Ames (1984), individual structures lead students to focus on task effort as the primary basis for motivation (as in "I can do this if I try"). Whether a student perceives a task as difficult depends on how successful she has been with that type of task in the past.

Cooperative goal structures are characterized by students working together to accomplish shared goals. What is beneficial for the other students in the group is beneficial for the individual and vice versa. Because students in cooperative groups can obtain a desired reward (such as a high grade or a feeling of satisfaction for a job well done) only if the other students in the group also obtain the same reward, cooperative goal structures are characterized by positive interdependence. Also, all groups may receive the same rewards, provided they meet the teacher's criteria for mastery.

For example, a teacher might present a lesson on map reading, then give each group its own map and a question-answering exercise. Students then work with each other to ensure that all know how to interpret maps. Each student then takes a quiz on map reading. All teams whose average quiz scores meet a preset standard receive special recognition (Johnson et al., 1994; Johnson et al., 1995; Slavin, 1995). Cooperative structures lead students to focus on effort and cooperation as the primary basis of motivation.

This orientation is reflected in the statement "We can do this if we try hard and work together. " In a cooperative atmosphere, students are motivated out of a sense of obligation: one ought to try, contribute, and help satisfy group norms (Ames; Ames, 1984). William Glasser, whose ideas we mentioned earlier, is a fan of cooperative learning. He points out that student motivation and performance tend to be highest for such activities as band, drama club, athletics, the school newspaper, and the yearbook, all of which require a team effort (Gough, 1987).

We would also like to point out that cooperative-learning and reward structures are consistent with the constructivist approach discussed in Chapters 1, 2, and 10 since they encourage inquiry, perspective sharing, and conflict resolution.

Top Suggestions for Teaching in Your Classroom: Motivating Students to Learn

  1. Use behavioral techniques to help students exert themselves and work toward remote goals.
  2. Make sure that students know what they are to do, how to proceed, and how to determine when they have achieved goals.
  3. Do everything possible to satisfy deficiency needs physiological, safety, belongingness, and esteem.  Accommodate the instructional program to the physiological needs of your students. b. Make your room physically and psychologically safe. c. Show your students that you take an interest in them and that they belong in your classroom. d. Arrange learning experiences so that all students can gain at least a degree of esteem.
  4. Enhance the attractions and minimize the dangers of growth choices.
  5. Direct learning experiences toward feelings of success in an effort to encourage an orientation toward achievement, a positive self-concept, and a strong sense of self-efficacy. . Make use of objectives that are challenging but attainable and, when appropriate, that involve student input. b. Provide knowledge of results by emphasizing the positive.
  6. Try to encourage the development of need achievement, self-confidence, and self-direction in students who need these qualities. a. Use achievement-motivation training techniques. b. Use cooperative-learning methods.
  7.  Try to make learning interesting by emphasizing activity, investigation, adventure, social interaction, and usefulness.

Top Resources for Further Investigation

Surveys of Motivational Theories In a basic survey text, Motivation to Learn: From Theory to Practice (2d ed. , 1993), Deborah Stipek discusses reinforcement theory, social cognitive theory, intrinsic motivation, need for achievement theory, attribution theory, and perceptions of ability. In Appendix 2-A, she presents a rating form and scoring procedure with which teachers can identify students who may have motivation problems. Appendix 3-A is a self-rating form that teachers can use to keep track of how often they provide rewards and punishments.

A useful summary of motivation theories and techniques can be found in the Worcester Polytechnic University's WWW site for teacher development, at http://www. wpi. edu/~isg_501/motivation. html. Top Motivational Techniques for the Classroom Motivation and Teaching: A Practical Guide (1978), by Raymond Wlodkowski, and Eager to Learn (1990), by Raymond Wlodkowski and Judith Jaynes, are a good source of classroom application ideas. Motivating Students to Learn: Overcoming Barriers to High Achievement (1993), edited by Tommy Tomlinson, devotes four chapters to elementary school and four chapters to high school motivation issues.

Two sources of information on motivation techniques and suggestions for teaching are found at Columbia University's Institute for Learning Technologies, which contains documents, papers, and unusual projects and activities that could be used to increase student motivation; and at Northwestern University's Institute for Learning Sciences Engines for Education on-line program, which allows educators to pursue a number of questions about students, learning environments, and successful teaching through a hyperlinked database.

The Institute for Learning Technologies is found at http://www. ilt. columbia. edu/ilt/. The Institute for Learning Sciences is found at http://www. ils. nwu. edu/. This was excerpted from Chapter 11 of Biehler/Snowman, PSYCHOLOGY APPLIED TO TEACHING, 8/e, Houghton Mifflin, 1997. For more information on "Motivation" in Gage/Berliner, EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 6/e, Houghton Mifflin Co. 1998, see Chapter 8, "Motivation and Learning" For more information on "Motivation" in the Grabes' INTEGRATING TECHNOLOGY FOR MEANINGFUL LEARNING, 2/e, Houghton Mifflin Co. , 1998 see page 97 for "the role of motivation in drill and practice," pages 51-55 for "the role of motivation in meaningful learning", page 163 for "the role of motivativation in writing," and pages 398-99 for "learning styles and social and motivational preferences. " Teaching Implications of Learning Theories The best college teachers] have generally cobbled together from their own experiences working with students conceptions of human learning that are remarkably similar to some ideas that have emerged in the research and theoretical literature on cognition, motivation, and human development (from Ken Bain’s book, What the Best College Teachers Do). Theories of learning, whether explicit or tacit, informed by study or intuition, well-considered or not, play a role in the choices instructors make concerning their teaching.

The major trend  in understanding how students learn has been a movement away from the behaviorist model to a cognitive view of learning (see Svinicki (below) for an overview of learning theories). Implications for teaching practice of some key ideas from  learning theories 1. Learning is a process of active construction. Learning is the interaction between what students know, the new information they encounter, and the activities they engage in as they learn. Students construct their own understanding through experience, interactions with content and others, and reflection. Teaching Implication

Provide opportunities for students to connect with your content in a variety of meaningful ways by using cooperative learning, interactive lectures, engaging assignments, hands-on lab/field experiences, and other active learning strategies. 2. Students’ prior knowledge is an important determinant of what they will learn. Students do not come to your class as a blank slate. They use what they already know about a topic to interpret new information. When students cannot relate new material to what they already know, they tend to memorize—learning for the test—rather than developing any real understanding of the content.

Teaching Implication Learn about your students’ experiences, preconceptions, or misconceptions by using pre-tests, background knowledge probes, and written or oral activities designed to reveal students’ thinking about the topic. 3. Organizing information into a conceptual framework helps students remember and use knowledge. Students must learn factual information, understand these facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application in order to develop competence in a new topic. Teaching Implication

Support students by using concept maps, flowcharts, outlines, comparison tables, etc. , to make the structure of the knowledge clear. 4. Learning is a social phenomenon. Students learn with greater understanding when they share ideas through conversation, debate, and negotiation. Explaining a concept to one’s peers puts knowledge to a public test where it can be examined, reshaped, and clarified. Teaching Implication Use Cooperative learning strategies, long-term group projects, class discussions, and group activities to support the social side of learning. . Learning is context-specific. It is often difficult for students to use what they learn in class in new contexts (i. e. , other classes, the workplace, or their personal lives). Teaching Implication Use problem-based learning, simulations or cases, and service learning to create learning environments similar to the real world. 6. Students’ metacognitive skills (thinking about thinking) are important to their learning. Many students utilize few learning strategies and have a limited awareness of their thinking processes.

Teaching Implication Help students become more metacognitively aware by modeling your thinking as you solve a problem, develop an argument, or analyze written work in front of the class. Teach metacognitive strategies, such as setting goals, making predictions, and checking for consistency. Focus attention on metacognition by having students write in a learning journal or develop explanations of their problem-solving processes.

Resources on Learning Theories

  1. Bransford, J. D. , Brown, A. L. , ; Cocking, R. R. (Eds. ) (1999).
  2. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington DC: National Academy Press. Donovan, M. S. , Bransford, J. D. , ; Pelegrino, J. W. (Eds. ) (1999).
  3. How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. Washington DC: National Academy Press. Learning Theories Knowledgebase. (2008, May).
  4. Index of Learning Theories and Models at Learning-Theories. com. Svinicki, M. D. (1999).
  5. New directions in learning and motivations. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 80 (Winter), 5-27. http://cte. illinois. edu/resources/topics/theories. html
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