Thursday 2 July 2015

Role of Motivation in Learning

It’s pretty clear that motivation plays a large role in learning. In fact, student motivation is one of the most important factors in the successful transfer and attainment of knowledge.

What is motivation?

Motivation is something that energises, directs and sustains behaviour. When this behaviour is learning a subject, the energy that motivation provides gives the necessary impetus to approach the learning tasks. It gets students going on the learning tasks and helps to keep them going. This assumes that there is a certain inertia that needs to be overcome, otherwise known as resistance. Because learning involves effort, no matter how much the student may enjoy the subject, there is always a certain amount of resistance that needs to be overcome. It may be resistance because there is something more relaxing that the student wants to do, or resistance to a particularly difficult task, or resistance that arises out of physical or mental tiredness. Whatever the resistance, it needs to be overcome in order for the student to begin the task. Motivation provides the impetus and energy to overcome this resistance.

Motivation also directs the energy and impetus in the right direction, helping to identify which tasks to tackle. And once the student has begun the task, motivation helps to sustain the effort, often in the face of distractions or a lack of will to carry on. So the role of motivation is a central one.

Extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation

We can identify two types of motivation: extrinsic (external) and intrinsic (internal). As an example, let’s look at two students studying the same course. Student A is taking the course because it will help her to gain a scholarship at the university of her choice. There is an external motivator that gives her direction and impetus. This is extrinsic motivation.

Student B has a deep interest in the subject and wants to learn as much about it as she can. She wants to develop her skills in the subject and is enjoying learning these. These are motivations that originate within her self, making them intrinsic.

Both types of motivations can be equally powerful, so one is not necessarily better than the other. However, in general it has been found that intrinsic motivation is more likely to produce beneficial effects and to sustain effort. There is a more willingness and eagerness to learn and achieve at a high level. Whereas those who are extrinsically motivated often need more enticement and prodding to continue with the task, and often process information more superficially, doing the minimum to meet requirements[1].

How motivation affects learning

We can identify several effects that motivation has on learning…

Increased energy and effort
Motivation directly influences the amount of energy that is expended towards achieving tasks and goals. A motivated person typically displays more energy and puts in more effort.

Increased persistence
Motivation allows a person to persevere at a task. Students are more likely to tackle a task if they are motivated – if they really want to do it. They are also more likely to persist with the task in the face of difficulties.

Directed behaviour
Individuals who are motivated set goals themselves and direct their actions towards those goals. The need to achieve these goals then becomes further motivation to drive behaviour in that direction.

Enhanced performance
Motivated individuals often display higher levels of performance. Motivation generally leads to improved performance. Due to the increased energy, persistence and directed behaviour we spoke about above, students who are motivated tend to perform at the highest levels in the classroom.

Improved concentration
Motivation increases a student’s willingness and ability to concentrate on the material that needs to be mastered. Motivated students pay more attention and make more effort to understand the material and to learn it in a meaningful way, rather than merely rote learning it, for instance.

Increased reinforcement and reward
When students are motivated they are more likely to experience successful task completion as a rewarding experience and it is more likely that this sense of reward will further reinforce their motivation. A motivated individual is more likely to be proud of an achievement and disappointed at a failure than an individual who doesn’t have the same motivation.

1. (A. E. Gottfried, Fleming, & Gottfried, 2001; Reeve, 2006; Schiefele, 1991; Tobias, 1994).

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