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General View on the Concept of Motivation

Learning is a very complex and versatile process that demands sufficient efforts on behalf of both students and teachers. One of the crucial aspects of the learning process is the students’ motivation to learn. Since the learning process is directly influenced by the activities and experiences that occur in classrooms, it is essential for teachers to incorporate the students’ interest in the classroom.

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Motivation from the Perspective of Educational Psychology

Students’ motivation within the classroom, the complex interpersonal relationships between the students and the teachers, and many other critical aspects of the learning process present a consistent subject matter of such scientific discipline as educational psychology.

Educational psychology is a field that explores and implements psychological concepts and theories in educational settings. Among its main goals is to make every interaction and relationship between teachers and students as positive and effective as possible, thus promoting the students’ abilities to learn to the best of their potential and maximizing constructive classroom experiences.

The two major theoretical perspectives within educational psychology are behavioral and cognitive. The cognitive perspective explores the process of how people acquire, remember, perceive, and communicate information. Conversely, the behavioral perspective reflects the tendency to modify people’s behaviors due to particular consequences. It aims to explain the relationship between rewards and punishments in a classroom setting and the students’ motivation, either positive or negative.

Educational psychology borrows many theories from its subfield, developmental psychology, which studies the changes that occur with people over the course of their lives, from infancy to older adulthood. This subfield may assist teachers in deciding how abstract or concrete their instructions need to be, depending on the age of their students. For example, young learners might find abstract concepts more difficult to perceive and understand. Furthermore, educational psychology studies the ways and peculiarities of how the learning process and motivation of different individuals might be influenced by different factors. Moreover, it is utterly important to take into consideration other individual differences capable of creating challenges for learning.

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Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

In educational psychology, scientists have made distinctions between two major types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Woolfolk (2012) defines intrinsic motivation as “the natural human tendency to seek out and conquer challenges as we pursue personal interests and exercise our capabilities” (p. 431). She argues that when people are intrinsically motivated, they do not need punishments or incentives since they find the necessary satisfaction and reward in the activity itself. Moreover, according to Corpus, McClintic-Gilbert, & Hayenga (2009), “the intrinsic motivation is associated with many positive outcomes in school, such as academic achievement, creativity, reading comprehension and enjoyment, and using deep learning strategies” (as cited in Woolfolk, 2012, p. 431).

In contrast, extrinsic motivation is explained as the student’s interests in the outcomes that an activity underpins: earn a grade, avoid punishment, or please the teacher. This is no real interest in the activity itself. Corpus et al. (2009) state that “extrinsic motivation has been associated with negative emotions, poor academic achievement, and maladaptive learning strategies” (as cited in Woolfolk, 2012, p. 431).

The location of the cause of the learner’s action, known as locus of causality, may be either internal or external. Hence, in order to distinguish between the extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, it is necessary to find the locus of causality. This might be difficult and indefinite since the learners might adopt, transform and utilize the causes of their actions in a variety of ways. For example, some learners tend to internalize external causes (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 432).

Factors that Influence Motivation

Anderman & Anderman (2010) and Brophy (2003) suggest that “teachers must encourage and nurture intrinsic motivation while making sure that extrinsic motivation supports learning” (as cited in Woolfolk, 2012, p. 432). In order to do this effectively, it is crucial that they explore the need to know the factors that influence motivation.

The five major psychological approaches or views of motivation are as follows: behavioral, humanistic, cognitive, social and sociocultural. Each of these locates and explains a supposable source of motivation and its most important influences. For example, the behavioral approach deals with the concepts of rewards, reinforcers, punishers, and incentives. The humanistic approach to motivation covers the concepts of intrinsic needs for self-fulfillment or self-actualization, self-esteem, and self-determination (Woolfolk, 2012). From a humanistic perspective, to motivate means to encourage people’s inner resources, such as their autonomy, self-esteem, sense of competence, and self-actualization. The cognitive approaches to motivation deal with the beliefs, attributions for success and failure, and expectations. Cognitive theorists believe that behavior is determined by people’s thinking, rather than by whether or not they have been punished or rewarded for similar behavior in the past. Hence, the behavior appears to be initiated and regulated by goals, plans, expectations, schemas, and attributions. The social-cognitive approaches to motivation go over the ideas of goals, expectations, intentions, and self-efficacy, viewing motivation as a product of the individual’s expectations of reaching a goal, and the supposable value of that goal. Finally, the sociocultural approaches to motivation refer to engaged participation in learning communities and maintaining identity through participation in activities of the group.

Analysing different psychological approaches to motivation and attempting to find a comprehensive understanding of this complicated concept, Woolfolk (2012) comes to a conclusion that “Most contemporary explanations of motivation include a discussion of needs, goals, beliefs, and finally, the emotional “hot” side of motivation – interests, curiosity, emotions, and anxiety.”

Maslow’s theory proposes several layers or levels of needs, beginning with the most basic physiological needs, needed for survival, moving on up to safety and security needs, social needs, such as for friendship, belongingness and family, the esteem or psychological needs for self-esteem, confidence and achievement, and, finally, needs of the highest level – self-actualization, which involves creativity, problem solving, authenticity and spontaneity. Hence, teachers should always remember that there are a number of needs that students must fulfill in order to be successful in school. It is important to create a corresponding friendly and comfortable environment, which would cater for a wide range of the learners’ needs, providing them with sufficient opportunities to reveal and develop their learning potential and ambitions to the full extent.

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Another important theory of needs is a self-determination theory by Decay and Ryan (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 435). This theory is a framework for the study of human motivation and personality. It is concerned with internal motivation and aims to explain how cultural and social factors can boost or mitigate people’s sense of initiative, volition, performance, and well-being. Self-determination theory outlines that all humans are motivated by three fundamental needs, including that for autonomy, of self-governance, competence or mastery of a certain skill, and relatedness, a sense of belonging.

Self-determination and Needs theories have important implications and applications for education. They may be utilized to create autonomy-supported environments, facilitate the students’ sense of relatedness and competence, and improve their goal structures as well as ways of communicating between students and with the teacher. These theories have important implications for motivating students to be successful by meeting their individual needs, offering alternatives, supporting strengths as well as their weaknesses.

The Learners’ Interests

When attempting to capture and maintain the students’ interests in learning, it is efficient to differentiate between personal and situational interests (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 448). Personal are individual interests in certain subjects or activities, whereas situational interests are short-lived aspects of an activity or material that capture student’s attention.

It is important for teachers to connect academic content to personal and situational interests wherever possible – greater interest is connected to higher achievement in learning. In order to do that, it is important for a teacher to learn about the students’ interests and incorporate those in the lesson and assignments. Moreover, a teacher should always consider offering a choice of tasks and activities, and help students understand concepts using examples that connect to their lives and interests. A teacher should look for ways to relate the material to real-life issues and applications, foster the students’ curiosity and help them experience success – interest increases when students feel competent.

Students’ emotions and anxiety are also directly related to motivation and learning (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 451). Teachers should be especially concerned with the emotions related to the students’ achievements in school. They should also keep in mind that anxiety, a general feeling of uneasiness and tension, can interfere with a student’s ability to focus, learn and achieve, and should, therefore, be catered for.

Anxiety impacts students in different ways. It is important that teachers talk to students whenever they suspect anxiety in order to find out the cause. In order to remove uncertainty and unnecessary pressure, teachers should always give clear instructions and help anxious students participate in class discussions by breaking questions down. In addition, students should be allowed an option of presenting in front of smaller groups rather than in front of the whole class. A teacher should always ensure that all students have ample opportunities to be successful.

The TARGET Model

Not all students come to class with the motivation to learn. It is every teacher’s task to get students productively involved with the work of the class, define their needs and catch their interests to motivate them; develop in students enduring individual interests and instil motivation so they will be able to educate themselves for the rest of their lives; cognitively engage the students so that they leave the class deeply thinking of what was taught.

Carol Ames has identified six areas in which teachers make decisions that influence students’ ability to learn. The acronym TARGET is used to organize the six areas of the teacher’s influence (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 457).

The “T” in the TARGET is for a task that students are asked to do. The significance of the task is valued by its importance, usefulness, and the cost in terms of time and effort necessary to fulfill it. The expectation of success is valued by the manner in which a student perceives the difficulty of a given task. Authenticity indicates how closely a task is related to the students’ lives. The closer this relation, the more it can build on the goals and interests, and the more motivating and consistent it becomes (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 457).

Letter “A” stands for autonomy. Reportedly, students take more pride in their work when they have a say in what assignment they are doing. Autonomy contributes to the increase in self-determination and self-efficacy. Where possible, teachers can nurture the students’ autonomy by offering them choices about the assignment and by encouraging them to be active and show initiative regarding their own learning (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 458).

“R” indicates recognition. This implies that teachers can support students’ motivation by recognizing their achievements appropriately. It is not effective if the teacher’s appreciation is very general and lacks sound and accurate reasons for the praise; or if it addresses qualities which a student cannot control or influence; or if the appreciation is offered so widely that it loses its significance. A number of these paradoxical consequences are described by self-efficacy and self-determination theory (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 459).

“G” stands for grouping. Motivation is directly influenced by the way students are grouped for their work in class. There are several different ways to group students but the three main types are cooperative, competitive, and individualistic. When a cooperative grouping technique is applied, several students work together in order to reach a common goal. In competitive learning, students believe that the only way to achieve their goal is if none of their classmates manages to do so. In individualistic learning, the students’ grades are unrelated to the performance of the rest of the class, every student works independently. Research that compares these three forms of grouping tends to favor cooperative learning (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 459).

“E” stands for evaluation. A focus on competitive grouping will have a large effect on evaluation. It can distract students from thinking about the material they need to learn, and will make them focus on their grades instead. Conversely, a spotlight on cooperative learning can lead to ambiguous effects: while students are encouraged to assist their group mates, they might also be induced to rely excessively on the efforts of other students or to dismiss the contributions of their fellow students whilst overestimating their own skills (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 460). A wise and well-balanced compromise between individualistic and cooperative structures seems to result in a rational and optimal motivation for learning.

The last letter “T” in TARGET stands for time. Every student learns at his or her own pace. Although accommodating the differences might appear challenging, it is substantial for maximizing students’ motivation. Usually, a certain degree of flexibility is possible in every classroom (Woolfolk, 2012, p. 460).

Ideas for Practical Implementation of Educational Psychology in Classrooms

Learners of different age groups, proficiency levels, and social or cultural backgrounds demand teaching approaches that would specifically cater to such issues as motivation and evoking the student’s intrinsic desire to learn. This can be achieved by allowing the students certain freedom in choosing from a variety of activities they want to participate in and by explaining the learning process to them so that they understand that they have control over the learning procedures and outcomes. Moreover, in order to create an effective, engaging and positive classroom environment, it is utterly important for a teacher to make sure that the students realize the significance of what they are being taught. The students may illustrate what they learn since visualization is a reportedly effective technique to be used in classrooms.

The students’ motivation should be both extrinsic and intrinsic. Hence, they should both get the encouragement to study from external sources and have their own, inner desire. When attempting to motivate students extrinsically, teachers should cater to a variety of different circumstances, such as the students’ age, cultural and social backgrounds, personal interests and preferences, etc. In order to capture and maintain the students’ interest throughout the class, the teachers should pay sufficient attention to the learning materials they utilize. Given the fact that motivation can be extrinsic as well as intrinsic, such external factor as the aesthetic appearance of learning materials proves to be crucial. The materials need to be visually attractive and capable of captivating the learner’s attention and evoking initial interest. An attractive and systematic layout, as well as practical conformity of a set of materials, is commonly recognized as a critical point in the evaluation of effective learning materials.

Learning materials may be perceived as tools that are aimed at maximizing learning potential by means of promoting aesthetic, emotional and intellectual involvement that stimulates the activity of students in the classroom. The role of learning materials is very important for boosting motivation. Moreover, when designing tasks and activities for the classroom and attempting to cater for a wide range of students’ needs, a teacher might suggest the students express their own ideas, expectations, and suggestions regarding the learning process. This way the students would have an opportunity to show initiative, reveal their learning ambitions, fully engage in the classroom activities and even participate in the teaching process to some extent. Such a technique should help the students feel more comfortable in the classroom, develop productive cooperation with the teacher as well as with each other, and comprehend the significance and consistency of the learning process. However, the teacher should still maintain the authority within the classroom whilst constantly providing clear detailed instructions and guiding the learning process.

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The significance and relevance of the educational psychology approach to motivation, enhancing the learners’ interest and, in general, creating a positive and effective learning environment within the classroom is hard to be overvalued. In order to capture and maintain the students’ interest throughout the class, it is important for a teacher to understand the nature of the students’ perception of the learning process and the versatility of their reactions to it. Moreover, a teacher should be able to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, recognize the locus of causality, and distinguish a wide range of the students’ specific needs.

The five major psychological approaches or views of motivation that might be helpful when attempting to fulfill the above-mentioned goals are as follows: behavioral, humanistic, cognitive, social and sociocultural. Moreover, teachers should constantly keep in mind such important factors as students’ personal and situational interests, emotions, and anxiety.

Among the most acknowledged theories of educational psychology are Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self-determination theory by Decy and Ryan. Both theories can be well implemented in a classroom setting. Moreover, it proves efficient to consider behavioral and cognitive perspectives of educational psychology, developmental psychology, and the TARGET model. Having conducted such coherent research, it is possible to develop and introduce ideas for the practical implementation of educational psychology in classrooms. The students should have strong and consistent motivation, and they should have positive feelings towards what they are studying, their teachers, their learning environment, their classmates, and the materials they are using. Hence, teachers should pay close attention to all of those factors.

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