Saturday 25 March 2017

Motivation: Definition, Classification, Source, Types, and General Approaches to Motivation

The present article discusses about motivation, definitions and characteristics of motivation, classification of motivation, sources of motivation (to learn), types of motivation, and four general approaches to motivation.

What is “Motivation”? 

Motivation is essential to the operation of organizations and classroom activities. The behavior is caused by the certain causes which relate to person’s needs and consequences that results from acts. 

Motives are expressions of a person’s needs. Incentives on the other hand, are external to the person. 

Definitions of Motivation: 

According to B.F. Skinner, “Motivation in school learning involves arousing, persisting, sustaining and directing desirable behavior.” 

According to Woodworth, “Motivation is the state of the individual which disposes him to certain behavior for seeking goal.” 

Characteristics of Motivation:

  • Personal and internal feeling.
  • Art of stimulating someone.
  • Produces goal.
  • Motivation can be either positive or negative.
  • It is system oriented.
  • It is a sort of bargaining.

Classification of Motivation: 

Classification of Motivation
Classification of Motivation

Primary, Basic or Physiological Needs: 

It includes food, water, sleep, sex, etc. These needs arise out of the basic physiology of life and these are important for survival and preservation of species. 

Secondary Needs:  

They represent needs of the mind and spirit. For example, self-esteem, sense of duty, self-assertion, etc.

Conscious action arises from the needs. Needs create tensions that are modified.

    The relation of needs of action is shown below: 
  • Individual needs (Motives) tensions 
  • Environment 
  • Wants (Tension positive negative incentives)
  • Perception 
  • Action (Tension release)  

 Sources of Motivation to Learn: 


It is a strong motivator of learning. Since, people adapt rather quickly to surprising events, curiosity must be sustained in order to be a continuing source of motivation. To keep the learners alert, instructors can employ such strategies as varying their tone of voice, using relevant humour occasionally, etc. 

Learning Task Relevance 

Students are more motivated to learn things that are relevant to their interest. 

Goal Setting 

It is an important source of motivation. When individuals set goals, they determine an external standard, to which they will internally evaluate their present level of performance. Setting goals improves self-motivation and performance to a greater extent. When learners set goals, they seek to gain favorable judgments of their competence or avoid negative judgments of their competence. 

The recommendation to foster a learning goal orientation runs counter to much current educational practice, which attempts to instill learner confidence within a performance goal orientation. 

Motive Matching 

It is the degree to which learning tasks meet particular students needs or align with students values. A need can be defined as “any type of deficiency in the human organism or the absence of anything the person requires or thinks he requires for his overall well being.” The instructor should be sensitive to individual’s needs for achievement and for affiliation. 


Motivation also comes from learner’s beliefs about themselves. According to Bandura, self-efficacy involves a belief that one can produce some behavior, independent of whether one actually can or not. Learners can be sure that certain activities will produce a particular set of outcomes. These expectations are referred as outcome expectations. 

Teacher Efficacy

Ashton and Webb (1986) defined teaching efficacy as the teacher's judgment about the potential influence of teaching on a child's learning. 

Personal teaching efficacy refers to the teacher's judgment of his or her own ability to motivate students. 

In other's word, it is quite possible that teachers might believe that teaching has potentially powerful effects on students motivation. but lack confidence that they themselves can affect their own students motivation. 

Teachers with high personal efficacy tend to encourage student autonomy and responsibility, structure challenging, learning task and help learners succeed on those tasks. 

Types of Motivation 

  1. Intrinsic Motivation
  2. Extrinsic Motivation 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation 

Extrinsic Motivation and Intrinsic Motivation
Drives, needs, incentives, fears, goals, social pressure, self-confidence, interest, curiosity, beliefs, values, expectations are the energisers that direct our behavior. 

Some psychologists have explained motivation in terms of personal traits or individual characteristics. Other psychologists see motivation more as a state of temporary situation. Some explanations of motivation rely on internal, personal factors such as needs, interests and curiosity. Other explanations point to external factors such as rewards, punishments, social pressure and so on. 

Intrinsic motivation is the natural tendency to seek out and conquer challenges as we pursue personal interests and exercise capabilities. When we are intrinsically motivated, we do not need incentives or punishments because the activity itself is rewarding. 

On the other hand, if we do something in order to earn a grade, avoid punishment or for some other reason that has very little to do with the task itself, then it is known as Extrinsic motivation

Recently, the notion of intrinsic-and extrinsic motivation as two ends of a continuum has been challenged. An alternative explanation is that just as motivation can include both trait and state factors, it can also include both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic and extrinsic tendencies are two independent possibilities and at any given time, we can be motivated by some of each. 

Four General Approaches to Motivation: 

Motivation is a vast and complicated subject encompassing many theories. Some theories were developed through work with animals in laboratories. Others are based on research with humans in situations using games and puzzles. 

Behaviorist Approaches to Motivation 

According to the behavioral view, the motivation depends on the incentives and rewards present in the environment. A reward is an attractive object or event supplied as a consequence of a particular behavior. An incentive is an object or event that encourages or discourages behavior. 

If the person is consistently reinforced for certain behaviors, then he/she may develop habits or tendencies to act in a certain way. Providing grades, stars, stickers and other reinforcements for learning or demerits for misbehavior is an attempt to motivate students by extrinsic means of incentives rewards and punishments. 

Humanistic Approaches to Motivation 

In the early 1940s, Carl Rogers, one of the proponents of humanistic psychology emphasize that intrinsic sources of motivation as a person’s needs. So, from the humanistic perspective to motivate means to encourage people’s inner resources, their sense of competence, self-esteem autonomy and self actualization, Maslow’s Theory is a very influential humanistic explanation of motivation. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy (of Needs): 

Abraham Maslow (1970) suggested that humans have a hierarchy of needs ranging from lower level needs for survival and safety to higher level needs for intellectual achievement and self-actualization.
Maslow’s Hierarchy
Maslow’s Hierarchy 
Maslow called four lower level needs-for survival, then safer; followed by belonging, then self-esteem. When these needs are satisfied, the motivation for fulfilling them decreases. He labeled the three higher level needs, intellectual achievement, then aesthetic appreciation and finally, self-actualization being needs. 

When they are met, a person’s motivation does not cease, instead it increases to further fulfillment. Unlike the deficiency needs, there being needs can never be completely filled. 

The strive for improvement is always there in the individual. Maslow’s theory has been criticized because the people do not always appear to behave as the theory would predict. Sometimes, people get motivated by many different needs; at the same time. All the needs are inter-related. 

Cognitive Approaches to Motivation 

Cognitive theorists believe that the behavior of an individual is determined by the thinking process and not by rewards and punishment. Behavior is initiated and regulated by plans, goals, schemas, expectations. and attributions. People respond to their interpretations of the external events or physical conditions. Cognitive theorist emphasizes on intrinsic motivation. 

Attribution Theory of Motivation 

It is the cognitive explanation that describes the individual’s explanations, justification and excuses about self and others that influence motivation. Bernard Weiner propounded the Theory of Attribution.
Weiner gave three dimensions of the attributed causes for success and failure. The three dimensions are the following:
  1. Locus: Location of the cause internal or external to the person.
  2. Stability: Whether the cause stays the same or can change.
  3. Controllability: Whether the person can control the cause.
The cause of success of failure can be categorized on these two dimensions. e.g.

  1. Bad luck is an external factor i.e., unstable and uncontrollable.

  • Reason for failure,
  • is Bad luck (external locus)
  • i.e., unstable (stability)
  • Uncontrollable (controllability) 

   2. Not studying for a particular test.

  • Reason for failure is,
  • Not studying (internal locus) 
  • i.e., unstable (stability) 
  • controllable (controllability)

Weiner believes that these three dimensions have important implications for motivation because they affect expectancy and value. 

 The stability dimension is related to the expectancy about the future. If the attribute for failure is stable, like low aptitude, then the expectancy of failure in future increases. And if the attribute is unstable like mood, then the expectancy of failure is less. 

Locus (internal or external) is closely related to self-esteem of the individual and also to sense of taking responsibility. If success or failure is attributed to internal factors, success will lead to pride and increased motivation, whereas failure will diminish self-esteem. 

Controllability factor is related to emotions such as anger, shame, pity, gratitude etc. When failure is attributed to lack of ability and ability is considered uncontrollable, the sequence of motivation is 

Failure-> Lack of Ability-> Uncontrollable-> Not Responsible-> Shame-> Withdraw-> Performance declines 

When failure is attributed to lack of effort (a controllable cause), the sequence is

Failure-> Lack of Effort-> Controllable-> Responsible-> Guilt-> Engagement-> Performance Improves

Socio-cultural Views on Motivation 
The socio-cultural perspective emphasize on participation, identities and inter-personal relations within communities of practice. People engage in activities to maintain their identities and their inter-personal relations within the community. 

Four Views of Motivation

Source of Motivation
Important Influences
Reinforcers, reward, incentives and punishers
Need for self-esteem, self-fulfillment and self-determination
Beliefs, attributes for success and failure expectations
Engaged participation, maintaining identity in communities
Key Theorist


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