Learning is a process that permanently changes behaviour with the result of experience. (Cherry, 2009) Alternatively, it can also be defined as knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study. Learning, from an individual’s personal experience, can be summarized as a lifelong insatiable process that drives the inner self to absorb anything and everything that one hears, sees or reads for personal growth to make a better person and conducive living. There are five different ways of which learning can be studied.
Learning as a quantitative increase in knowledge- it is a form of acquiring information. Learning as memorising – storing of information that could be used for reproduction later on. Learning as acquiring facts, skills, and methods that can be retained and used as necessary. Learning as making sense or abstracting meaning – it involves relating parts of the subject matter to each other and to the real world. Finally, learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way which involves comprehending the world by reinterpreting knowledge. quoted in Ramsden 1992: 26) (Smith, 2012).
A question was raised, ‘What makes a human acquire knowledge? What makes a human want to learn? ’ The answers varied from it being a necessity, for competition purposes, or simply, the act of curiosity. It may also be of positive motivation from the surrounding environment, but what caught my attention was of it being an instinct upon birth. If learning changes behaviour permanently, what then is motivation? Motivation is defined as a process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviour.
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In our everyday life, motivation is used to define our actions (Cherry, 2012). As an example, motivation drives an individual to resume a pursuit in higher education after a certain succession of time away from the field. Motivation may be delineated specifically into three major components. Primarily, activation initiated the behaviour in an individual to re-enrol in university. Consequently, persistence, a continuous effort that an individual puts in order to overcome obstacles such as to complete tasks assigned before respective deadlines.
The final delineation would be intensity, which is viewed as the concentration that is put in to achieve the goal. Motivation can also be branched out to Extrinsic or Intrinsic (Cherry, 2012). Drawing from personal experiences, when an individual is asked to perform weekend duties at work, the said individual is motivated to complete the said task due to the reasoning that he or she would gain double monetary compensation for that day of attendance. This would be an apt representation of extrinsic motivation due to the external factor of monetary compensation or rewards at the end of the day.
However, if the said individual is asked to complete an assignment, it is not purely for the sake of completing the said task, but due to the nature of curiosity within encouraging the need to obtain more in depth knowledge for personal gratification. With the understanding of the definition of ‘learning’ and the two branches of ‘motivation’, we study the motives of five different perspectives of which psychology extends a say in ‘learning motivation’; psychodynamic, behaviourism, humanism, cognitive and biologically.
Psychodynamic, the first and foremost study in the field of psychology, is the study of the unconscious mental forces (Cliff, 2011). Based on the original theoretical standings of Freud, a psychoanalyst whose theories are clinically derived, a technique called free association to replace hypnosis was developed. He directed his patients to relax and report anything and everything that came to their mind, regardless of how strange it sounded.
He collected data based on what was reported to him during therapy and formulated a theory that a human behaviour and feelings are mostly negative flashbacks from childhood memories (McLeod, 2007). Freud construed that the mind is like an iceberg; the peak of it is the conscious mind, followed by the slightly lower and hidden section from the conscious mind, known as the preconscious mind that stores information which can be voluntarily brought to awareness. The unconscious mind, that makes the base of the iceberg, is hidden deep down in a human’s mind and contains repressed feelings, thoughts, and memories (McLeod, 2007).
This being said, a flashback down memory lane of an individual who was exposed to a variety of starters learning modules comprising of kaleidoscopic colours and a variety of shapes helped triggered the infant’s curious mind to explore the fancy world of art. Along with positive encouragement from the infant’s environment, a desire to achieve succession and to prompt the mind to move forward in this field exposed the infant to a possibility of self achievement. 20 years later, the said individual has established an artistry career out of a small piece of exposure from the infant days.
With such positive motivation from the growth environment, the said individual carries a lifelong of happy memories within to be reminisced upon in adulthood. This eventually creates positive intrinsic growing experience that leads to positive motivation in achieving succession for the future. Alternatively, an infant would be negatively affected should the background history tell us that the individual grew up in a pitiful environment of physical abuse. Take for example a child from the war stricken country of Afghanistan.
The child goes through a series of bloodshed throughout the growing process and would carry along such painful memories into adulthood. There are adults who are able to handle such experiences, to be able to positively grow into a better person and to want to achieve conducive living environment for the future generation, such are intrinsic determination and motivation that grew within the individual. Behaviour, on the other hand, is a result of stimulus-response association whereby all behaviour, regardless of the measures of complexity, can be concluded to a simple stimulus-response chain. McLeod S. A. , 2007) Watson, an American psychologist believed that psychology is the science of observable behaviour. (Cherry, Behavioral Psychology Basics - Understanding Behavioral Psychology in 10 Easy Steps, 2009) The environment is regarded as the stimuli and the effect that takes place on a living creature’s behaviour is the response. Hence as Watson quoted, ‘’To predict, given the stimulus, what reaction will take place; or given the reaction, state what the situation or stimulus is that has caused the reaction’’ (McLeod S. A. , 2007)
Classical Conditioning is a study done by Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov on classic experiment that associated his dog to salivate at the sound of a bell repetitively upon a provided meal. Over repeated trial, the dog learned to associate the ringing of the bell with the food and continuously response to a ringing bell even with the absence of food. From Pavlov’s experiment, we can conclude that the stimulus, the bell and food gives off a salivation response from the dog. Operant Conditioning, on the other hand was investigated by B.F. Skinner.
In his experiment with a pigeon, the pigeon would be rewarded with food when it turns to its left. The more the pigeon turns, the more it was rewarded. When a behaviour is repeated by the subject, a reward is presented. Skinner positively concluded that repetition leads to reinforcement and reinforcement then leads to change in behaviour. ‘’With the right tools, we can predict and control behaviour of the world. ’’ (Slomp, 2006) Behaviourism can also be observed in our everyday life.
Take for example, an observation made on a working individual’s lifestyle on weekdays, whereby the said individual performs a routine habit of rising to work, enjoying lunch break, leaving the office, working out at a gym, coming home to continue with the secondary lifestyle of pumping in a few hours of education and retiring for the day. These activities are performed at specific timings scheduled by the individual. There is nothing spontaneous about this, as a matter of fact, it is redundantly blunt.
Such a routine can be classified as classical conditioning whereby the said individual’s mind has already been aligned to perform in such a way, that it almost sounds robotic. With eight hours of working five days a week, targets are to be achieved by and individual which are calculated on a daily and monthly basis (sentence is incomplete). With each target achieved, an individual is then rewarded with monetary compensation at the end of the day. This motivates the individual to achieve beyond the target provided, and with each success, it changes from a necessity to a desire to climb the success ladder at work.
Such case is classified as operant conditioning. The working environment is also a factor that affects the individual’s success. With a positive and encouraging working team mates, a said individual creates such positivism and encouraging attitude within to achieve not just personal growth but to grow together with the company. Should the individual face a stressful environment with unsupportive team mates and negativism from the higher management, the said individual would not achieve the daily or monthly target and would end up being a failure not just personally but also in the company.
In the 1950s, ‘Humanism’ dominated the field of psychology upon rejecting the ideas of psychodynamic and behaviourism as it was deemed too pessimistic (McLeod, Humanism, 2007). Humanism takes into consideration both the observer and the behaving person’s point of view in their study. The emphasis is based on each individual’s capacity for growth and self-actualization (Cherry, 2012). Humanistic approach exercises free will for each individual’s choice made, human values, and the creativity in living life.
The fundamental belief is that each and every individual is innately good. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers regarded that personal growth and fulfilment in life a basic human need (McLeod, Humanism, 2007). Every individual seeks to grow psychologically to continue self enhancement, in other words, everyone seeks self- actualization. This is regarded as a man’s desire to attain self- fulfilment within his potential being, in other words, to become everything one is capable of becoming.
Maslow introduced a pyramid to his concept of self-actualization with five levels of needs, firstly, physiological needs such as vitals basic needs like water, air, food and sleep, secondly, security needs related to a desire to achieve steady employment, health insurance, safe neighbourhood and a shelter, thirdly; social needs, the need for belonging, love and affection, the fourth is esteem needs, to boost self- esteem, social recognition and accomplishments and finally, self-actualizing needs which is at the peak of the pyramid whereby these people are self-aware, concerned of personal growth and interested in fulfilling their potentials to an optimum level (Cherry, Hierarchy of Needs, 2012). Each level must be achieved before moving on to the next level of the hierarchy. That being said, the application of humanism is observable in the process of growth within humans.
Looking back during the cavemen era, humans were exposed to a lifestyle based on purely survival, hence every individual learned survival skills, how to hunt for food, to gain water, and to have a roof above their heads which were caves basically. Slowly, man kind began evolving. From the basic needs of survival, humans began acquiring luxurious items, such as clothes and money. Consequently, education slowly seeped into the picture of mankind evolution. We do not have to go far to study such evolution because from birth, we were taught to eat and it was injected into our infant minds that education is the most important factor in life. With the constant drilling of such facts from infantry days, such attitude is formed that we are to educate ourselves to be a better person, to have good jobs and salaries, to have a better life than our parents had.
The intrinsic desire of achieving all these is planted within us and with each level of completion, graduation with a Masters, we move on to seeking jobs and on to a nice roof to surround ourselves and a mating partner. This is all simply a life process that humanism studies. Once the hierarchy is completed, mankind maintains the wonderful life achieved. Just like a game of snake and ladder, humans learn to achieve self actualization with the right mindset, and to learn from mistakes too by sliding down when we land on a snake spot, that is, a failure. From failures, we are motivated to grow, we learn from mistakes made and improve them. At the end of the day, it is the completion of the hierarchy created within and the wisdom achieved that makes life worth living. Cognitive psychology is the modern scientific study of the mind. Cognition means ‘’knowing’’.
It is the study of mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired or in other words it is how a human processes information (stimuli) and reacts upon it (response) (McLeod, 2007) Cognitive psychologist emphasizes on how our thinking influences our behaviour. Piaget studied child cognitive development by applying natural observation on his growing children and clinical interviews and observations of adolescence. Piaget believed that children think differently than adults and stated that they go through four universal stages of cognitive development. Development is biologically based and changes as a child matures and cognition therefore develops in all children in the same sequence of stages.
There are four stages of cognitive development that were summarized by Piaget. McLeod, Jean Piaget, 2009) Firstly, sensorimotor which takes place at the age of 0-2 years old is described as an infant builds up direct knowledge of the surrounding world with reflex action and perceptual movement and to relate the pysical result to the perceived results. Secondly, the preoperational stage takes place between the age of 2-7 years. It explains that a child is mentally able to represent events and objects and engage in symbolic play. Their thoughts and actions are purely egocentric which Piaget believes where a child is able to view a situation from another person’s point of view. Consequently, from the age of 7-11 years, concrete operational stage takes over egocentricism. At this stage, a child begins to develop a cognitive logical or operational thought but is only able to apply the logic to physical objects.
The final stage of development would be formal operational which takes place from age 11 onwards. At early adolescents stage, manipulation of ideas without the dependence of concrete manipulation takes place. A child is able to combine and classify items in a critical, analytical and creative way of action solving. Cognitive psychology also views people as being similar to a computer that is used to process information. A human brain and a computer processes information, stores the data and has input and output procedures.
The initiative to learn leads to cognitive response like when an individual who takes an interest in learning a new language woud be intrinsically motivated to master the language. The individual would be motivated to pick up the new language skills due to the high level of interest towards the subject matter. This allows information to be collected, stored for future usage and would be retrieved once again when needed. When there is a high level of interest in learning something new, or simply a curiousity that grows within an individual to know more of a certain subject matter, this allows cognitive process to take place easily compared to an individual who is forced to take up a new language skill with low level of interest. The environmental surrounding is also a factor that relates to cognition process.
When an individual with high interest of learning a new language is surrounded by people who are as motivated as him and have positive attitude, it motivates the individual to lean further into the subject matter. Psychologist from the biological perspective studies the interrelation of behaviour and experience with the chemical processes that takes places in the nervous system of the body. The electrochemical activities between the neurons in the nervous system and the brain cause humans to react such as to think, to feel, to eat, and basically any other behaviour that makes up an individual’s daily life. (Sammons, 2009) The study of biological psychology can be categorized as, firstly, comparative method whereby different species of animal can be studied and compared. This helps in the understanding of human behaviour.
Secondly, physiology which is the study of the functionalism and relation between then nervous system, hormones and brain function and how a sudden change in a stimulus such as the environment can change an individual’s behaviour. Lastly, inheritance, which is the study of genetics, ways in which genes affect an individual’s behaviour. (Mcleod, 2007) In regards to this, we can study how the stimulus affects the chemical processes that take place in a human’s mind to understand the teory of learning motivation in a human. The exposure to stimulus of learning would trigger a response, for example in a case of nicotine addiction in a family trait.
A pregnant mother who has a serious addiction of nicotine is likely to transfer such chemical process and gene to her newborn child as the bloodstream within the mother and the newborn is infiltrated with nicotine. They are often adviced to inhibit the intake of nicotine during pregnancy to avoid genetics defects in their newborn. However, we can often see that parents who smoke in front of their child during the early stages of the newborns life, are likely to impact the newborn at an early stage of nicotine addiction too. It is also due to the stimulus surrounding of the infant that would trigger such response from the growing child. Behavioral traits from parents are passed down to their children too and hence would have a generation of nicotine addicts in that family.
We can see that this is an intrically motivated biological behavior of learning how to pick up a cigarette stick directly from the parents themselves to influence the future generation to be addicted to nicotine too. In conclusion to the study of learning motivation in aspects of five perspectives of psychology, we can see that each perspective is interrelated with the study of behavior and environment as factors that separate an intrinsically or extrinsically motivated outcome. A wise man once said, ‘Your life is simply within your mind’s control. Trick your mind into thinking positive and you shall have a prosperous life, or treat it to negative seeds and you shall bare the fruits of negativity in your daily life response. ’
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