Motivation is a piviotal concept in most theories of learning. It is closely related to attention, anxiety, and grit. For example, a person needs to be motivated enough to pay attention while learning; anxiety can decrease our motivation to learn. Receiving a reward or feedback for an action usually increases the likelihood that the action will be repreated. Weiner (1990) points out that behavioral theories tended to focus on extrinsic motivation (i.e., rewards) while cognitive theories deal with intrinsic motivation (i.e., goals) .
In most forms of behaviorial theory, motivation was strictly a function of primary drives such as hunger, sex, sleep, or comfort. According to Hull's drive reduction theory, learning reduces drives and therefore motivation is essential to learning. The degree of the learning achieved can be manipulated by the strength of the drive and its underlying motivation. In Tolman's theory of purposive behaviorism, primary drives create internal states (i.e., wants or needs) that serve as secondary drives and represent instrinsic motivation.
In cognitive theory, motivation serves to create intentions and goal-seeking acts (see Ames & Ames<, 1989). One well-developed area of research highly relevant to learning is achievement motivation (e.g., Atkinson & Raynor, 1974; Weiner). Motivation to achieve is a function of the individual's desire for success, the expectancy of success, and the incentives provided. Studies show that in general people prefer tasks of intermediate difficulty. In addition, students with a high need to achieve, obtain better grades in courses which they perceive as highly relevant to their career goals. On the other hand, according to Rogers, all individuals have a drive to self-actualize and this motivates learning.
Malone (1981) presented a theoretical framework for instrinsic motivation in the context of designing computer games for instruction. Malone argues that instrinsic motivation is created by three qualities: challenge, fantasy, and curosity. Challenge depends upon activities that involve uncertain outcomes due to variable levels, hidden information or randomness. Fantasy should depend upon skills required for the instruction. Curiosity can be aroused when learners believe their knowledge structures are incomplete, inconsistent, or unparsimonious. According to Malone, instrinsically motivating activities provide learners with a broad range of challenge, concrete feedback, and clear-cut criteria for performance.
Keller (1983) presents an instructional design model for motivation that is based upon a number of other theories. His model suggests a design strategy that encompasses four components of motivation: arousing interest, creating relevance, developing an expectancy of success, and producing satisfaction through intrinsic/extrinsic rewards.
The Choice Theory of William Glasser is also relevant to the motivation aspects of learning (see http://www.funderstanding.com/choice-theory/choice-theory#more-1056 )
For descriptions of other theories of motivation, see http://changingminds.org/explanations/theories/a_motivation.htm
Ames, C. & Ames, R. (1989). Research in Motivation in Education, Vol 3. San Diego: Academic Press.
Atkinson, J. & Raynor, O. (1974). Motivation and Achievement. Washington: Winston.
Keller, J. (1983). Motivational design of instruction. In C. Riegeluth (ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Malone, T. (1981). Towards a theory of instrinsically motivating instruction. Cognitive Science, 4, 333-369.
McClelland, D. (1985). Human Motivation. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.
Weiner, B. (1990). History of motivational research in education. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(4), 616-622.
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