Motivation and education perfomance

Monday, September 18, 2006

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Definitions, Types and Theories of Motivation.

Definitions. Motivation (motus, movere = to move) has been defined variously by psychologists as: 'the phenomena involved in a person's drives and goal-seeking behaviour'; 'the tendencies to activity which commence with a persistent stimulus (drive) and end with an appropriate adjustive response'; 'the arousal, regulation and sustaining of a pattern of behaviour'; 'the internal state or condition that results in behaviour directed towards a specific goal' (Curzon, 1990). The term will be used in this site as a general sense to refer to a person's aroused desire for participation in a learning process. Dewey speaks of the teacher in their role of guide and director as steering a boat, '. . . but the energy that propels it must come from those who are learning'. The arousal, regulation and sustaining of the student's enthusiasm for learning, that is, the utilization of his power of motivation in the service of the lesson, constitute an important task for the teacher. The harnessing of the learner's drive is to be seen as of paramount importance in learning, for drive is the basis of self-motivation in the classroom.

Types of motivation. Some psychologists concerned with understanding learning have attempted to formulate 'categories of motivation', i.e. groupings of students' motives for learning. Categories have been presented under four headings: instrumental motivation; social motivation; achievement motivation; and intrinsic motivation. It should be noted that more than one category may dominate learner motivation at a given time (Biggs and Teller, 1987.)

Instrumental motivation: This type of motivation, which is purely extrinsic, is in evidence where students perform tasks solely because of the consequences likely to ensue, e.g. the chance of obtaining some tangible reward or avoiding a reprimand. It is in total contrast to intrinsic motivation (see below). In the face of motivation of this nature, the teacher should ensure that the task to be performed is placed in a context perceived as pleasant.

Social motivation: Students influenced by this type of motivation tend to perform tasks so as to please those they respect, admire, or whose opinions are of some importance to them. Rewards are of limited significance even if tangible; the reward here is nonmaterial and is related in direct measure to the perceived relationship between the student and the person whose reinforcement activity (praise or approval, for example) is considered important.

Achievement motivation: This is involved where students learn 'in the hope of success'. Ausubel suggests that there are three elements in motivation of this type:

(a) cognitive drive—the learner is attempting to satisfy a perceived 'need to know';

(b) self enhancement—the learner is satisfying the need for self-esteem;

(c) affiliation—the learner is seeking the approval of others.

Intrinsic motivation: In this case there are no external rewards; the task is undertaken for the pleasure ind satisfaction it brings to the student. It seems to be central to 'high quality involvement' in a task and to be self-maintaining and self-terminating. Curiosity and a desire to meet challenges may characterize the learning of students motivated in this style.

Theories of Motivation

A Humanist Approach to Motivation; Self-Actualisation.

Maslow saw motivation in terms of an individual's striving for growth; he sought to explain it by reference to a 'hierarchy of human needs'. People are 'wanting animals'. He believed that at any given moment a person's benaviour is dominated by those of his needs which have the greatest potency. As their 'lower', physiological needs are adequately satisfied, motives at a 'higher' level in the hierarchy come into play. The hierarchy is made up as follows:

1. Physiological needs, e.g. hunger, thirst, leading to a desire tor food and water.

2. Safety needs, e.g. security.

3. Belonging needs, e.g. friendship and love.

4. Esteem needs, e.g. success, approval from others.

5. Self-actualization needs, e.g. desire for self-fulfilment.

These needs are hierarchical; high-level needs will be attended to only after low-level needs are satisfied. Maslow's basic needs (physiological, safety and belonging) are termed deficiency because they motivate (lead to behavior) when the organism has a deficiency with respect to a need (for example, lacks food or water). The metaneeds (esteem and self-actualisation) are termed growth needs because they motivate behaviors that do not result from deficiencies but from a natural human tendency toward growth. The growth needs will be attended to only after the basic needs are reasonably satisfied. The ultimate need is that of self-actualisation. Self-actualization is a difficult concept to explain. Leclerc et al (1998) in their survey of 26 "experts" indicates a general consensus that self-actualization is a process rather than a state. It is a process of growth—of becoming—evident in the unfolding and fulfillment of self. In a sense it is trying to become the best we can, as individuals, become.

For Maslow, true motivation is intrinsic. In other words, it comes from within, and the more that extrinsic motivators (money, rewards, etc) are used to encourage learning the less our intrinsic motivation to learn will be present. Thus the use of external/extrinsic motivators to encourage learning will ultimatley demotivate the student, because when they are no longer present, or become meaningless there will be little desire to learn. The extrinsic motivators will have replaced the innate intrinsic desire to learn.

Application to education:

The essential point is that from Maslow's persepctive, no learning will take place unless the students basic needs are met. Thus they need to have their physiological needs met along with feelings of safety and also experience a sense of belonging. This makes intutive sense (has face validity) because a student who is hungry will never work well, nor will a student who is being bullied (lack of safety) and neither will the student who feels that they are an 'outsider' and that they have no friends. If these basic needs are met then motivation to learn should be present, especially if the student gains some esteem from their efforts. Indeed, for Malsow, the best motivation for learning will occur when we are attempting to self-actualise, for this is when we will be truly experiencing growth and development. Ultimately any factor which prevents us from self-actualising will be a hinderence to our motivation to learn.

A Cognitive Approach to Motivation;Self-efficacy.

Bandura informs us that self-efficacy has to do with our own estimates of our personal effectiveness. "Perceived self-efficacy," he writes, "refers to beliefs in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments" (1997, p. 3). The most efficacious people are those who are most competent. Accordingly, self-efficacy has two related components: The first has to do with the skills—the actual competencies—required for successful performance; the second concerns the individual's personal estimates of competence.

Personal estimates of competence are extremely important in education. As Zimmerman, Bandura, and Martinez-Pons put it, "Numerous studies have shown that students with a high sense of academic efficacy display greater persistence, effort, and intrinsic interest n their academic learning and performance" (1992, p. 664). Our beliefs about how likely we are to succeed in a given subject or endeavor (our notions of self-efficacy for that subject or activity) profoundly influence what we choose to do, how much effort we are willing to put into it, and how persistent we will be. For example, following a study of 246 students at the end of their eighth and tenth years of school (USA schools) Marsh and Yeung (1997) found that positive self-concepts in specific subjects (the extent to which students expected to do well) were among the best predictors of what students subsequently choose to study. In fact, this research showed academic self-concept he to be a better predictor of future course selections than actual grades in various subjects.

A Behaviourist Approach to Motivation; Reinforcement/Extrinsic Motivation.

Skinner demonstrated how positive reinforcement increases the probability of a behavior when it follows as a consequence of the behavior. Negative reinforcement also increases the probability of a response, but it does so as a function of being removed as a consequence of behavior. See the material on Behaviourist approaches to learning for more detail.

Positive and negative reinforcement are used in virtually all classrooms; teachers praise and admonish students, they give high and low grades, they smile and frown. These and a thousand other indicators of approval or disapproval are examples of reinforcement. When reinforcement is used judiciously and systematically, it can have profound effects on behavior. However we are not simply hungry rats in a Skinner box. If we look into a classroom, we will see that behaviour is not simply driven by external rewards like chocolate bars or gold stars or high marks. Rather behaviour is driven by cognitions and by emotions. It is not surprising that current applications of behavioursit principles to the classroom take thinking into account. As Stipek (1988) notes, the most powerful reinforcers for students are stimuli such as praise, and that given that the effectiveness of these stimuli clearly depend on a student's interpretations of the teacher's behavior, it is apparant that cognition is central to understanding how reinforcement works as a motvator. Thus a simplistic stimulus-response reading of behaviouristic principles will not offer an adequate understanding of the use of reinforcement in the classroom.

Improving Motivation

DeCharms (1984) reports on one ten-week training unit designed to emphasize four major concepts: (a) the self-concept, (b) achievement motivation, (c) realistic goal setting, and (d) the origin-pawn concept. The last goal was important in that students and teachers were taught to see themselves as "origins" (people who can take responsibility and control outcome) as opposed to "pawns" (people who cannot take responsibility and whose outcome is controlled by others). The trained students were compared with a control group who did not receive any training. Results significantly favored the trained group on composite scores of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. The trained students also had fewer absences and less tardiness. DeCharms has conducted other studies to train teachers to see themselves as origins instead of pawns. The most important thing a teacher can do to maximize motivation in educational settings, according to deCharms, is to believe that all students can be origins.

A program developed by McCombs (1982) attempts to develop motivation not only by changing students' attributions to internal causes like effort, but also by teaching cognitive strategies and metacognitive skills. As students become more adept at the management of these skills and strategies (as they learn more about learning) it follows that they will also begin to realise that they can exercise a great deal of control over learning and achievement—that it isn't just a matter of luck and faith. In most school related tasks, luck should have little bearing on performance. Teachers can exercise some control over the other three major categories to which performance outcomes can be attributed (effort, ability, and task difficulty), but luck can only be left to chance.

Motivation Issues: Attribution Theory and Learned Helplessness.

Attribution Theory.

Bernard Weiner (1984) developed a theory about student's attempts to know why an event occurred, particularly in relation to the student's achievement. He argued that causal attributions (ideas about why we succeed or fail) are produced when there has been either an unexpected outcome or an aversive outcome. Students generate a variety of explanations for these unexpected outcomes. Some of the ways students explain their success or failure are that it has been caused by -

(a) high or low ability or aptitude

(b) good or poor effort

(c) task ease or difficulty

(d) good or bad luck

(e) effective or ineffective strategies

(f) help or lack of help from other persons.

The student who succeeds or fails, according to Weiner's (1984) attribution theory, will base the cause on either internal or external factors and stable or unstable causes. The internal factors are ability (i.e., level of or skill) or effort (i.e., degree of work or self-discipline). In effect, the student sees success or failure as related to ability, to effort, or to both. The student who is externally oriented will attribute performance outcomes to luck or task difficulty. Stable characterisitcs would be psychological phenomena such as personality; unstable characterisitcs would be factors such as amount and quality of revision undertaken and luck. For example, I did well in the exam because I am a discplined student (internal) who knows how to revise (stable). Or, I did not do well in the exam because the teacher did not help me (external) and the exam paper covered all the wrong topics (unstable).

This can be related to Rotter's concept of Locus of Control, by which we tend to view control of events in our lives as either occuring because of some feature of ourselves (internal Locus of Control) or factors outside of ourselves (external Locus of Control). If a student considers success to be related to controllable factors, they will assume responsibility for the success and therefore experience pride and satisfaction (internal Locus of Control). If on the otherhand, success is thought to have been brought about by an uncontrollable factor, the student will feel gratitude toward that factor. If failure is viewed by the student as caused by some uncontrollable factor, the student may feel anger or self-pity (external Locus of Control). Thus the attributions student make about where control is located in their lives will effect the type and extent of motivation they have towards their studies.

Learned Helplessness.

Seligman and Maier (1967) conducted studies in which dogs that had no control over events in the experimental situation where more likely to show apathetic behaviours than dogs which had had a degree of control over events in the experiment. Seligman refered to this apathetic behaviour as learned helplessness because it was through continued experience of failure that these dogs did not bother to show appropriate behaviour in later experiments. Presumably this was because their previous experience had informed them that it would be unlikely for a positive outcome to occur even if they bothered to do anything. Thus they had learned to become helpless.

This theory is based largely on some pretty nasty animal experiments, that the experience of being put in a position in which there is no possibility of escape from harm or pain can lead to an overall fatalism and resignation, in which it is believed that there is no point in trying to improve the situation. More generally, learned helplessness can describe a belief in one's own powerlessness, which makes any attempt to learn, futile. Typical experiments include the demonstration that dogs, confined in a cage where they have no possibility of escaping shocks from an electrified floor, no longer attempt to escape such shocks when the opportunity is presented.

This type of behaviour could be conditioned into a student if they experience continued failure irrespective of any learning behaviours they show. They would get into a 'why bother' frame of mind, due to their past experiences of percieved failure. However this would be made worse if the student makes external attributions about why they do not succeed (e.g. I get no support from my parents so how can I expect to do well) . Internal attributions make encourage them to try harder in the face of continued adversity. Learned helplessness provides an elegant account of disaffection among students, who have "given up" on the formal educational process as a way of learning anything. They have lost (or never gained) any sense of the connection between their efforts in school or college and any meaningful achievement, and therefore the major task for them is to re-establish this link.