Motivation – Be motivated to motivate!

There is nothing more central to learning effectively than these three words: motivation, motivation and motivation. It is a real challenge to motivate your students. As the old saying states it, “you can lead a horse to water –  but you can’t make him step in it! ” Nothing is more heart breaking for a teacher than realizing that his students are day dreaming and bored in his class or simply not ready to take a step forward to help himself or herself in the learning process. There are some techniques to remedy this problem. But before listing these techniques let’s look at some issue related to motivation.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Motivation is driven by the existence of unsatisfied needs. It is “the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal;  it is the reason for the action; that which gives purpose and direction to behavior.” So if the basis of motivation is “the reason for the action”,  a need to attain a psychologically “desired goal” , then it is worthwhile for a teacher to understand which needs are the more important for individual learners. In this regard, Abraham Maslow developed a model in which basic, low-level needs such as physiological requirements and safety must be satisfied before higher-level needs such as self-fulfillment are pursued. In this hierarchical model, when a need is mostly satisfied it no longer motivates and the next higher need takes its place. Here is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:


Esteem Needs

Social Needs

Safety Needs

Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are those required to sustain life, such as air, water, nourishment, sleep. According to Maslow’s theory, if such needs are not satisfied then one’s motivation will arise from the quest to satisfy them. Higher needs such as social needs and esteem are not felt until one has met the needs basic to one’s bodily functioning.

When physiological needs are met, a person’s attention turns to safety and security in order to be free from the threat of physical and emotional harm. If these needs are not fulfilled it will be hard for a person to seek higher needs.

It is only after the fulfillment of the above lower basic needs that one’s attention is aroused to seek much higher types of goals namely the social needs, esteem and self actualization. Social needs are those related to interaction with other people (friends, need for belonging, to give and receive love.) Once these needs are met, a person focuses his/her attention to external esteem, related to social status and recognition,  and internal esteem, referring to self-esteem/respect.

The top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization is . It is the eternal search of reaching one’s full potential as a person. Unlike lower level needs, this need is never fully satisfied; as one grows psychologically there are always new opportunities/challenges to continue to grow.

Motivation in the classroom

It is hard to think of a successful and effective learning without those urgent needs being aroused and sought to be satisfied, giving purpose to the learning process.

The setting and context where the learning occurs should meet some  requirements.

The classroom

The educator must provide clean, comfortable setting, a minimum of basic needs includes:

  • a classroom
  • desks
  • school things
  • blackboard …

This might look obvious for some readers. But believe me there are places in the world where the above conditions are totally absent.


Motivation is enhanced by the way in which the instructional material is organized. In general, the best organized material makes the information meaningful to the individual. Methods of organization include:

  • Relating new tasks to those already known.
  • Grading instruction from easy to difficult.
  • Determining whether the persons being taught understand the final outcome desired
  • Instructing them to compare and contrast ideas.
  • Involving students in the tasks either as  group, pair or individual work.
  • Taking into account that individuals have different learning styles. Consequently, learning tasks should be varied.

Stress free environment

A stress free environment can be used to focus the student’s attention on what needs to be learned. Because learning requires change in beliefs and behavior, it normally produces a mild level of anxiety. But if the learner feels too much stressed it will be detrimental. Teachers who create warm and accepting yet business-like atmospheres will promote persistent effort and favorable attitudes toward learning.

The more a learner feels threatened in security, the less he/she will be willing to learn!:)

Peers / others

People seek others with whom to compare their abilities, opinions, and emotions. A sense of belonging to a group can also result in direct stress reduction by the social acceptance and the mere presence of others.

External recognition

Incentives (also called external motivation) motivate learning. They include privileges and receiving praise from the teacher who determines the appropriate encouragement for a desired behavior. In a general learning situation, self-motivation without rewards will not succeed. Students must find satisfaction in learning based on the understanding that the goals are useful to them and when attained they must be rewarded and praised.In fact a feeling that one is seen as successful by others gives a strong incentive towards more achievements.  Nevertheless, caution should be exercised in using external rewards when they are not absolutely necessary. Their use may be followed by a decline in internal motivation.

Internal motivation

Internal motivation (or intrinsic motivation) is longer lasting and more self-directive than is external motivation, which must be repeatedly reinforced by praise or concrete rewards. Some learners have little potential for internal motivation and must be “conditioned” and reinforced constantly. The learners who learn faster are those who feel an internal need for a change in behavior. In other words, learning is most effective when an individual is ready to learn, that is, when one wants to know something. The teacher ‘s role is to help the learner develop his readiness to learn, seeking self-satisfaction and respect.


It is important that learners set goals for themselves to realize in a certain period of time. Setting a goal demonstrates an intention to achieve and activates learning from one day to the next. It also directs the student’s activities toward the goal and offers an opportunity to experience success. When learners set goals for themselves, this will help them understand the steps needed to reach the desired goals and consequently they will acquire  priceless tools of effective and successful learning for the rest of their lives.

In a nutshell, strategies to trigger learners motivation must be dictated by the identification of his/her low-level needs as well as the high level aspirations, the ones one seeks to fulfill not in the classroom setting  but in a life time.

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