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In this lesson, you’ll see how motivation affects learning. Discover the behaviors and perspectives that relate to motivation in an educational environment.


Erik and Andrew are in the same first grade class.

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Erik loves any activity that involves coloring, drawing or illustrating. He spends all of his free time engaged in these sorts of activities, sometimes oblivious to other things going on in the classroom. Andrew, on the other hand, dislikes drawing and art and will avoid it at all costs. Both students are high achievers and good listeners, but they are motivated by completely different interests and activities. In the classroom, motivation drives many behaviors and it is important to understand the importance of motivation in an educational environment.

Motivation is described as a state that energizes, directs and sustains behavior. Motivation involves goals and requires activity. Goals provide the impetus for and the direction of action, while action entails effort: persistence in order to sustain an activity for a long period of time.There are recognized indices of motivation that are important to be aware of. Indices typically place a value or quantity on an idea; in this case, we can understand the value or quantity of motivation for an individual by these four indices.The selection of a task under free-choice conditions indicates motivation to perform the task. In our earlier example, Erik chose to engage in art activities during his free time.

This is indicative of being motivated by art and art-type activities.High effort levels, especially when working on different tasks and assignments, are also indicative of motivation. For example, if a student diligently works on a difficult algebra problem again and again, this would indicate a higher level of motivation towards math activities.Working for a longer period of time, especially after encountering numerous obstacles, is also associated with higher motivation. For example, John, a student in PE class, was unable to master jumping rope, but he chose to continue trying to jump rope during recess; this time on task indicates a high level of motivation towards mastering the activity of jumping rope.

The indices of motivation
Indexes of Motivation Chart

Finally, level of achievement is affected by choice, effort and persistence.

The higher these indices, the higher the motivation and the more likely task achievement will occur.In the classroom, educators should be aware of these indices in an effort to reinforce activities and interests that students already show an existing partiality for. There is an actual term for this – it’s called situational motivation.Situational motivation is a phenomenon in which aspects of the immediate environment enhance motivation to learn particular things or behave in particular ways. Educators can do many things to create a classroom environment that motivates students to learn and behave in ways that promote their long-term success.

How Motivation Affects Learning & Behavior

Motivation has several effects on students’ learning and behavior.First, motivation directs behavior toward particular goals. Motivation determines the specific goals toward which people strive; thus, it affects the choices students make. For example, whether to enroll in an art class or physics, whether to attend a school basketball game during the week or complete an assignment that’s due the next day.Motivation also leads to increased effort and energy. Motivation determines whether a student will pursue a task (even a difficult one) with enthusiasm or a lackluster attitude.Motivation increases the initiation and persistence of activities.

In our first example, Erik continued with art-type activities in his free time and he also tried to perform these types of activities in relation to his other assignments. Motivation will increase students’ time on task and is also an important factor affecting their learning and achievement.Motivation enhances cognitive processing. Motivation actually affects what and how information is processed because motivated students are more likely to pay attention and try to understand the material instead of simply going through the motions of learning in a superficial manner.

Motivation determines what consequences are reinforcing and punishing. For example, students with a high level of motivation for classroom achievement and high GPAs are reinforced by receiving a grade of ‘A’ and they’ll feel punished if they receive a grade of ‘F.’Finally, motivation leads to improved performance. Everything that we have just discussed – effort, initiation, persistence, cognitive processing and the impact of consequences – leads to improved performance.

Theoretical Perspectives of Motivation

There are multiple ways to approach and study motivation. Let’s discuss four major perspectives.

Theorists from the trait perspective propose that motivation involves enduring personality characteristics that learners have to a greater or lesser degree. For example, some people like to engage in exciting and possibly dangerous experiences, versus other people who are just as happy in less physical activities. In the classroom, teachers should identify motivational traits and use differing instructional strategies that address these differences among their students.Our second perspective is the behaviorist perspective. Behaviorists propose that people behave primarily to obtain reinforcing outcomes.

For example, a student might practice hard at a PE skill, such as jump rope, in order to be recognized for their efforts during the next class. Teachers should administer consequences that increase desirable behaviors and decrease those behaviors that are not so desirable.A third perspective is the social cognitive perspective. This perspective places emphasis on goals, expectations, and one’s own belief in their abilities. In this case, the teacher should encourage efforts toward self-selected goals and provide guidance and support to help the student stay motivated to reach their goal.The final perspective we will cover is the cognitive perspective.

Here, psychologists focus on how mental processes affect motivation. They propose that humans are naturally inclined to make sense of their world and they are motivated by perceived discrepancies between new information and existing beliefs. In the classroom, teachers could take advantage of this perspective by pointing out how new information may contradict students’ existing beliefs, and use that discrepancy to motivate the students to learn and understand new concepts.

Lesson Summary

Motivation drives behavior and is a powerful influence in the classroom. There are ways to recognize a learner’s level or state of motivation, including observing which task the learner chooses on their own, looking at how much effort they put forth in a given task and their level of persistence.

High levels of motivation will increase persistence, enhance cognitive processes and lead to improved performance. Educators should be aware of these different traits and reinforcing consequences of their students in order to use natural motivation and curiosity to guide the learning of new and more complex tasks.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define motivation and situational motivation
  • Identify and paraphrase the four indices of motivation
  • Explain the effects of motivation in the classroom
  • Summarize the trait perspective, the behaviorist perspective, the social cognitive perspective and the cognitive perspective on motivation

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