Motivation

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“ This article should be rewritten. Only use it to grab some ideas and pointers to further reading ... DSchneider

1 Definition

  • Motivation is that which gets a behavior started and keeps it going. ([1]). Motivation is a need or desire to reinforce a behavior or to orient it towards a goal (Myers)

Often, on makes a distinction between intrinsic motivation (desire to do something for personal, internal reasons) and extrinsic motivation (seek recompensation and avoid punishment), but the two are very much linked and difficult to separate.

Why motivation ? It is related to
  • attention level
  • activity level
  • perseverance
  • maximal [cognitive load | mental load] level

See also: Affect, self-efficacy theory, flow theory, student satisfaction

Subpages (scales):

2 History

Maslow (1954) wrote one of most cited articles on lower-level human motivation and that was based on a synthesis of the state of art. He later expaned it to include higher level needs.

According to Huitt (2001), Maslow's model broke down human motivation into a hierarchy of needs

  1. Physiological: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.;
  2. Safety/security: out of danger;
  3. Belonginess and Love: affiliate with others, be accepted; and
  4. Esteem: to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition.
  5. Cognitive: to know, to understand, and explore;
  6. Aesthetic: symmetry, order, and beauty;
  7. Self-actualization: to find self-fulfillment and realize one's potential; and
  8. Self-transcendence: to connect to something beyond the ego or to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential.

This hierarchy is a bottom up structure with need (1) being the lowest level. Each lower need must be met before one can move to the next level

3 A short (chaotic) overview of specialized theories

This is just an outline, mostly based on Motivation by Marilla Svinicki)

3.1 Drive

Drive theories are behaviorist and/or cognitivist in nature and explain behavior as as response to psychological and social needs. The relation between need and motivation can be described as a feedback system. The bigger the need the bigger motivation and the lesser the need, the lesser the motivation. E.g. We are more motivated to eat when we hungry and less motivated after we have eaten. Regarding instruction, learners in these models are rather passive and the environment (materials, teachers, etc.) in control.

3.2 Needs, goals and social interaction.

Needs are cognitively elaborated into concrete motivational goals and means-end structures. Being motivated means striving for goals which are by definition not yet realized at the moment that they are formulated or expresses (Nuttin, 1980). The individuals hopes and expects to reach them at a certain moment in time as a consequence of his actions. There are three degrees of activation: (1) passive action to respond to stimulus, (2) respond actively to selected stimuli and (3) change the environment. At levels two and three, goals and the anticipated outcome are the source of motivation. Good goals are: clear, personally relevant, proximal, progress can be seen, interim successes are possible.

One can distinguish between learning goals (desire to be able to master a task) and performance goals (desire to appear competent or at least better than the others).

3.3 Emergent motivation

  • Motivation comes from engaging in the task itself
  • Motivation comes from new goals that arise as a consequence of interaction with the environment
  • flow (complete involvement)

3.4 Self and satisfaction

For Greenwald (1982), the 'self' becomes involved in an activity in three conditions:

  1. Social evaluation (I want to please the crowd)
  2. Self-evaluation (intrinsic motivation)
  3. Personal values/interests/goals.

Herzberg et al. (1959) identified two main factors of work satisfaction: “hygiene needs, which are influenced by the physical and psychological conditions in which people work, and motivator needs, which Herzberg described as being very similar to the higher-order needs in Maslows (1954) hierarchy theory.” (Furnham et al., 2009). Fullfillment of hygiene needs only can eliminate dissatisfaction but it can't motivate. So let's let just look at motivation. F. Herzberg's 5 factors motivation/demotivation model is based on the idea that motivation is related to internal satisfaction dependent on external factors:

  • achievement,
  • recognition (for achievement)
  • work itself,
  • responsability,
  • social progression (advancement).

This model was extracted from fourteen first-level job factors related with job satisfaction and dissatisfaction: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, possibility of advancement, possibility of growth, salary status, the quality of interpersonal relations with superiors, the quality of interpersonal relations with peers, technical supervision, agreement with company policies and administration, pleasant working conditions, external factors from personal life, and job security. The five factor model defines motivation as a result of the job content (or the learning activity if we dare to extrapolate).

In a more recent publication, Furnham et al (1999) relate work motivation to personality. E.g. they found that extraversion can be related to a preference for Herzberg's motivator factors, and neuroticism a preference for hygiene factors.

3.5 Human information processing and the task environment

Warr (????) describes motivation as a cognitive process that concerns future planned actions and that can be based on a set of reasons:

  • Intrinsic desirability of immediate results
  • Intrinsic desirability of further outcome
  • Social comparison
  • Social pressure
  • Career and development aims
  • Expected subjective probability of a "project"
  • Habits
  • Other current desires and potential actions
  • The structure of the action

A similar model concerns the characteristics of the task and the job environment (Hackman and Oldman, 1976): Factors influencing motivation are:

  • Variety of tasks (and accordingly of skills, abilities, talents used)
  • Does the job require completion of tasks ? (task identity)
  • Meaning of tasks, i.e. its impact on the immediate or external environment (significance)
  • Autonomy, i.e. how can the person organize tasks and select appropriate procedures.
  • Feedback on activities, i.e. to what degree does the worker receive useful comments but also to what degree can he observe results of his work.

These theories had important impact on how work should be designed. In simple terms, work is more motivating if tasks are varied and meaningful, if the worker can exercise control. On the other hand task also should lead to results that are acknowledged by the environment. According to many studies, these models don't work for everyone but best for people who do have "growth needs".

3.6 Attribution

How does the actor/learner explain what happens to him ? How does he explain the outcome (e.g. success and failure). Dimensions of causes that learners attribute can be:

  • internal / external cause:
    • e.g. talent, effort, intellectual power, learning strategy vs. difficulty of the task, competence of the teacher, etc.
  • stable / transitory (unstable, variable)
    • permanent vs. random or changing because of various external factors
  • controllable / not controllable
    • students believes that can do something about it.
  • local / global
  • intentional / non-intentional

Of course the pedagogical design and the teacher can influence these perceptions. In empirical studies these factors also show up in combinations related to given issues and affect. Philipp Dessus (2001) summarizes Crahay, 1999, p. 284 and Archambault & Chouinard, 1996, p. 110):

Location Stability Control Issues Affects
Internal stable Controllable Learning strategy Gratitude/anger
Internal stable not controllable intellectual Aptitudes Proudness/Shame, despair
Internal unstable Controllable Effort Proudness Culpability
Internal unstable not controllable Sickness
External stable Controllable Support courses (?)
External stable not controllable Level of difficulty, program Disinterest, Anger
External unstable Controllable Perceptions of the teacher
External instable not controllable Chance, Affective state of the teacher Gratefulness, surprise, resignation

3.7 Expectancy/value theory

  • Motivation increases as expectation to succeed and value of task increase.
  • Ways to influence expectancy for success
  • Ways to influence value of task

3.8 Self-determination theory

Motivation equals the degree of perceived control. Influencing factors are: choices, impositions by others through threats or controlling statements or being watched, getting feedback, getting extrinsic rewards

3.9 What about extrinsic rewards ?

Most authors agree that immediate extrinsic rewards don't contribute much to motivation. Long term extrinsic rewards do play a role. E.g. studies about job satisfaction (e.g. Herzberg et al, 1969) identify recognition for achievement and social progression as critical factors that could be called extrinsic. Achievement, work itself and responsability are rather intrinsic.

The informal management literature often makes similare statements. E.g. “Rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin. And it is a coin that does not buy very much” (Kohn, 1999). Or more explicitely “Drawing from hundreds of studies, Kohn demonstrates that people actually do inferior work when they are enticed with money, grades, or other incentives. Programs that use rewards to change people's behavior are similarly ineffective over the long run. Promising goodies to children for good behavior can never produce anything more than temporary obedience. In fact, the more we use artificial inducements to motivate people, the more they lose interest in what we're bribing them to do. Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery.” (Punished by Rewards). Daniel H. Pink's (2010) Drive book makes similar statements.

3.10 Task value

Task value can be defined as interest that participants show for given tasks. E.g. Children's interest in math can be be assessed using the Task Value Scale for Children (TVS-C; Aunola et al., 2006; Jõgi, Mägi, & Kikas, 2011). “The interest scale consisted of three items measuring children's interest in or liking of math (i.e., “How much do you like math tasks at school?”). Children were asked to mark one of five circles (from the smallest and lightest — I do not like it at all/I dislike doing those tasks — to the largest and darkest — I like it very much/I really enjoy doing those tasks) that best reflected their thoughts.” (Jögi et al, 2015)

Artino and McCoach (2008) [1] found that task value is negatively correlated with boredom and frustration and positively with elaboration and metacognitive self-regulation. Task value was found to be a much stronger predictor than self-efficacy.

4 Complex constructs and learning

Konrad (2005) argues that in an educational context we should complete sociological, psychological and interactional models with a decision making approach where “ learners are seen as decision makers, who more or less consciously analyse their past experiences, current life and work situation, and future expectations, and base their decisions to participate or not on these complex elements which form the motivation structure.” (Konrad, 2005:7).

Manninen (2004:4) also points out that different stages of the learning process may engage different motivations. “ Motives activate, direct and maintain the learning activity (Ruohotie 2000, 8). Therefore motivation and its factors should be defined keeping in mind in which part of the process they belong. For example, activating elements are more general factors which are more or less stable personality elements (like curiosity, learner self-image), while directing factors (like outcome beliefs, task value) focus the persons interest on a specific target (learning activity). Elements maintaining the motivation, on the other hand, influence learning activity while it is taking place (during the training programme; test anxiety, expectancy for success) or as feedback loop after the learning experience (like achievements) influencing therefore future motivation to participate or not.”

The following table lists some non exclusive models of explanation. It is based on Manninen (2004) and was also found in Konrad (2005):

Model Sociological Psychological Interactionist Modern
Explanations sought from External causes Internal causes Interaction of causes Individual decision making
Key elements Work, society, social class, opportunities, obstacles Motives, traits, personality, interests Socialisation, experiences, felt needs, relevance, expectancy Images, values, feelings, stories
Base theory behaviourism humanistic psychology Field Theory Consumer behaviour, Dream Society
References Lehtonen & Tuomisto 1972; Rinne & al. 1992 Boshier 1973; Garrison 1987 Rubenson 1979; Pintrich & Ruohotie 2000 Manninen 2004; Manninen & al. 2004

In any case, DSchneider believes that motivation in relation to teaching and learning has to be conceived as multi-dimensional phenomenon (construct) influenced by various variables such as:

  • Needs and desires
  • Perceived utility of task / an activity. Does the learner think that he could use outcomes ?
  • Achievement: did the learner encounter positive experiences in the past, project positive ones in the future (e.g. see self-efficacy theory)
  • Recognition by others (small group work can increase motivation) and feedback provided by the teacher
  • Task: Is the task itself interesting.
  • Self-efficacy: Does the student feel competent for a given activity ?
  • Autonomy and Control: Can the student set goals and control activities ? (See also: project-based learning)

5 Motivation in education

Motivation ;)

Motivation always has been a key variable in education:

  • "Donnez à l'enfant le désir d'apprendre et... toute méthode lui sera bonne" (Rousseau dans l'Emile en 1762).
  • “The success of a training program is largely contingent on the beneficiary's training motivation.” (Guerrero & Sire, 2000)
  • “The general definition of 'motivation to learn' is 'an individual's desire to work towards a learning goal. The motives which are the basis for the learning desire activate, direct and maintain the learning activity' Ruohotie (2000:8)” but such definitions are not very operational and the instructional designer should rely on some model of motivation structure.
Huitt's model

“In general, explanations regarding the source(s) of motivation can be categorized as either extrinsic (outside the person) or intrinsic (internal to the person). Intrinsic sources and corresponding theories can be further subcategorized as either body/physical, mind/mental (i.e., cognitive, affective, conative) or transpersonal/spiritual.” (Huitt, 2001).

Motivation to learn according to Huitt, 2001 (reproduced without asking permission)
Measuring student task motivation through 3 dimensions ([Dessus])
  1. Motivations regarding activities and subject matter
  2. Self-estimation of competence to achieve
  3. Estimation of control
What teachers can do to enhance motivation (Ames and Ames recommendations)

According to Marilla Svinicki, teachers, in order to increase student motivation, should:

  • Reduce social comparison
  • Increase involvement in learning
  • Focus on effort by student
  • Promote beliefs in competence
  • Increase chances for success

How theories are used to design for motivation

  • Behavior theory - use reinforcement and punishment
  • Expectancy value theory - increase expectancy for success and raise value of task
  • Attribution theory - get learner to focus on effort and controllable causes
  • Goal theory - set reasonable, mastery-oriented goals
  • Self-determination theory - give choices and control to learner
What students can do
  • Fix objectives that can be evaluated
  • Divide work in several parts (e.g. subgoaling, workpackages)
  • Give a self-recompensation after a difficult activity
  • Take time to evaluate both activity (e.g. problem-solving path) and the outcome
  • Think about a long term goal (e.g. aspiration for a nice job)
  • Think about past success stories.

5.1 Motivation in classroom training

to do ...

5.2 Motivation in distance and blended training

to do ...

5.3 Motivation in vocational training

Guerrero & Sire (2000:3-4) again point out the complexity of motivation and single out self-efficacy and instrumentality as two key dimensions to study training motivation of french workers.


One of the definitions widely used in recent studies of training motivation (Baldwin et al., 1991; Facteau et al., 1995; Quinones, 1995) is that introduced by Noe in 1986 in the Academy of Management Review. It is inspired by American research on motivation at work (Campbell & Pritchard, 1976). Training motivation is described as "a specific desire of the trainee to learn the content of the training program". Other definitions refer to the effort exerted in training to learn the course contents (Hicks & Klimoski, 1987), along with Vroom's expectancies theory (1964). Accordingly, Mathieu et al. (1992) describe training motivation as "trainees' perceptions that doing well in a program would lead to better job performance and consequently to valued outcomes." Furthermore, several concepts have been used to describe training motivation. In addition to expectancies theories (Vroom 1964, Porter and Lawler 1968), authors have built upon the studies of Bandura (1977) on self-efficacy and Adams on equity (1965).


Manninen (2004:3) points out that “ The key question (why adults engage themselves in learning activities and why not?) can be analysed using two different but overlapping theoretical frameworks, which are theories of motivation and theories of participation. Participation [...] deals with the processes which make people to participate in organised training situations. In addition to psychological explanations (cf. Boshier, see Garrison 1987), there has been more sociologically oriented (Lehtonen & Tuomisto 1972) and interaction models (Rubenson 1979) which take into account the wider context and individual life situations.”

In a large-scale empirical studies Manninen & Birke (2005) and Konrad (2005) studied the learning motivations of lower qualified workers using a multi-dimensional learning motivation scale that was based on the following concepts (categories). Values, i.e Alpha, Neutral, Beta refer to Dynamic concept analysis (Kontinen, 2002).

Concept Alfa Neutral Beta
Individual characteristics: Supportive Neutral Unsupportive
Training format: Attractive Neutral Unattractive
Work complexity: Complex Neutral Simple
Past learning experiences: Positive Neutral Negative
Information & opportunity: Easily available Neutral Unavailable
Attitudes & values: Positive Neutral Negative
Motivation High Medium Low
Current work & future expectations: Motivating Neutral Demotivating
Support & incentives: Easily available Neutral Unavailable
Expectancy & Valence: Positive Neutral Negative

Results let to a typology of motivation according to 2 dimensions: Simple work/complex work situation and low/high motivation.

  1. Climbers: Positive attitude towards training. Key motivation is advancement. There is support from the company.
  2. Developers: Similar as climbers, but key motivation is to develop skills needed in current job. Past experiences with learning has been positive.
  3. Drop-outs: Attitudes towards training are neutral (or unnecessary). Work is simple and there is no possibility of advancement. This concerns most employees.
  4. Refusers: Negative attitudes about training. Employees perform complex work and there is no possibility of advancement and support from the company.

An important finding from this study was that Learning preferences identified by lower qualified workers across the countries (like learning by doing & learning from others) indicate that theoretical models such as shared expertise and cognitive apprenticeship (Bereiter & Scardamalia 1993; Lave & Wenger 1991) are suitable for this target group. (Konrad, 2005:22). The author also makes a connection to constructivism, i.e. knowledge as direct and social experience, and citing Resnik (1991) social processes as cognition.


Broad exposure to ongoing practice ... is in effect a demonstration of the goals to which 'newcomers' expect and are expected to move. ... This more inclusive process of generating identities is both a result of, and a motivation for participation.(Lave 1991:71)

Thus, when an individual joins an existing group of competent practitioners, they are motivated by membership of that group both to strengthen their identity as learners and, at least as importantly, to promote the success of the group. This process of mastering the virtuous circle of learning to learn is a central part of the process of successful adult learning. In a structured workplace, the role of the competent members is crucial, whether those with formal status (such as supervisors) or as informal leaders.

This analysis leads to the conclusion that where a group has sufficient autonomy to manage their own learning in order to contribute to the achievement of shared goals, motivation is likely to be enhanced. In particular, valuing such situated learning is an important process in promoting engagement in lifelong learning. To put it simply, success at learning is a self-fulfilling prophecy in that it encourages individuals to shape their identity as successful learners, irrespective of any previous lack of success, such as within formal learning processes at school or college.
(Konrad, 2005: 23)

In practical terms this means that situated motivation will be enhanced by the motivating potential of the instructional design. Adler (2001) suggests:

  • The amount of autonomy provided.
  • The degree to which students can identify with and find interesting a given learning task or set of tasks.
  • Type and timing of the feedback provided.

5.4 Instructional design models

5.5 Survey instruments

  • Lepper, M. R., Sethi, S., Dialdin, D., & Drake, M. (1997). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: A developmental perspective. Developmental psychopathology: Perspectives on adjustment, risk, and disorder, 23-50. (items missing)
  • Harter, Susan A new self-report scale of intrinsic versus extrinsic orientation in the classroom: Motivational and informational components. Developmental Psychology, Vol 17(3), May 1981, 300-312. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0012-1649.17.3.300

6 Motivation and other variables

6.1 Motivation and Emotion

Motivation is linked to emotions, but emotions an related emotional design of instruction are yet another category of interest: Here is a citation from Astleitner (2000:169): "It is well known in the field of basic and applied research on education and psychology that cognitive, motivational, and emotional processes are related to the world in different ways. Cognitive processes concern the acquisition and representation of knowledge and have a representative relation to the world of objects and facts. Motivational processes refer to goal states of the organism and have an actional relation to the world. Emotional processes are based on the acceptance or rejection of objects and facts and have an evaluational relation to the world (Kuhl, 1986)"

  • FEASP: "According to the F(ear)E(nvy)A(nger)S(ympathy)P(leasure)-approach for designing positive feeling instruction, the instructional designer has to analyze emotional problems before and during instruction (Astleitner, 2000: 175).

6.2 Motivation and learning strategies

(To do)

Jean-Louis Berger, Stuart A. Karabenick, Motivation and students’ use of learning strategies: Evidence of unidirectional effects in mathematics classrooms, Learning and Instruction, Volume 21, Issue 3, June 2011, Pages 416-428, ISSN 0959-4752, 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2010.06.002.

6.3 Motivation and competence beliefs

According to Spinath and Spinath (2005) competency beliefs and learning motivation are not correlated in primary school children.

(To do)

Birgit Spinath, Frank M. Spinath, Longitudinal analysis of the link between learning motivation and competence beliefs among elementary school children, Learning and Instruction, Volume 15, Issue 2, April 2005, Pages 87-102, ISSN 0959-4752, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2005.04.008. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959475205000216)

7 Links

  • Motivation (by Mireille Linz, in french)
  • Motivation by Marilla Svinicki
  • Job Diagnostic Survey - A Quik Job Satisfaction Analysis
  • Motivation LLL. This EU research project aims to provide information on how to improve the participation-rate of people with lower qualifications in continuing vocational education and training [VET]. (Good papers that are of general interest for motivation-in-education).
  • PERTS, an applied research center at Stanford University. They work on academic motivation to raise student achievement on a large scale.

8 References

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  • Kohn, Alfie (1999). Punished by Rewards. The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993 / 1999
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  • Manninen, Jyri (2004). Motivation of Lower Qualified Workers for Lifelong Learning - Theoretical background, working paper ESREA '04 Research Conference Wroclaw, Poland 16-19 September, 2004. WORD.
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  • Viau, Rolland, 12 questions sur l'état de la recherche scientifique sur l'impact des TIC sur la motivation à apprendre, HTML
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References as footnotes
  1. Anthony R. Artino, Jr. and D. Betsy McCoach Development and Initial Validation of the Online Learning Value and Self-Efficacy Scale, Journal of Educational Computing Research April 2008 38: 279-303, doi:10.2190/EC.38.3.c
Article cited in citations
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