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Different perspectives of learner motivation

Motivation affects many aspects of human behaviour and helps to explain why people chose to do certain things. Understanding self-motivation can be challenging, but understanding what motivates others is more complex.  Motivation can be defined as a ‘driving force’ to achieve goals, fulfil a need or uphold a value.

‘Needs’, ‘values’ and ‘goals’ are fundamental in turning motivation into actions. ‘Needs’ are basic physical or psychological necessities, such as shelter. ‘Values’ are what an individual considers important, for instance, education. ‘Goals’ are outcomes that an individual is working towards, for example, GCSE grades. Thus, a learner’s needs and values help to create their goals, which are translated into action through motivation.

To understand a learner’s motivation in education, there are three accepted approaches psychologists have taken to view motivation; the trait-centred view, the situation-centred view; and the interactional view.

The trait-centred view states that motivation is the outcome of an individual’s characteristics and personality. Therefore, motivation is sourced intrinsically rather than extrinsically and is determined by the personal needs and goals of a learner. This explains why certain learners are extremely dedicated and focused on achieving their goals.

A teacher can be influential in developing goals and creating a motivational environment. Therefore, the trait-centred view overlooks the influence a situation may have on motivation. This suggests that individuals can also be motivated by their environment and the situation.

The situation-centred view suggests that the situation and environment determines motivation. For example, learners may display higher levels of effort when doing practical work than when having to complete paperwork tasks. The teacher plays a vital role in developing a motivational climate in working environments. A teacher may give motivational speeches and encouragement as a short-term strategy but this does not lead to long-term motivation. In addition, some learners will remain motivated even in negative environments. Therefore, the situation-centred view may not be reliable in understanding motivation. The third view provides a broader perspective on motivation by combining both the trait-centred and situational concepts.

The interactional view suggests that when a learner’s personality and their environment interact, they produce a more precise calculation for performance and behaviour. Consequently, to achieve the best results from a learner it is important to consider their personality and the situation. As a teacher, it is important to understand that different personalities will respond differently depending on the environment. For example, applying the ‘carrot and stick’ method can be successful with some learners, but not all. Teachers who criticise and use sanctions to motivate will meet some resistance and defiance from their learners. In contrast, teachers who continuously offer learners rewards will eventually lose their appeal.

Motivation is not a personality characteristic that remains stable and levels will tend to fluctuate due to influential factors, such as mood, energy levels, and experiences. Hence, effective teacherss will look to understand an learner’s needs and create a climate that naturally motivates their personalities.

As highlighted, there are a variety of ways that learners can be motivated and influenced, and how those factors can change. Some of the key items mentioned and noted are energy levels, the environment and mood which can all greatly affect how people achieve goals through various attempts at motivation. Reliance, solely, on self-motivation and external-sourced motivation does not feature highly and external influences on decreased motivation can also be seen. Regardless, as previously mentioned, successful teachers are able to develop motivational climates, which are differentiated to meet an individual learner’s needs. This can be achieved through effective goal setting techniques.

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