Aristotle described all men as having an inborn desire know.

All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything we prefer sight to almost everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things. (Aristotle & Ross, 1908, line 980a)

Thorndike (1914a) described engagement as a matter of set or attitude (p.  133), a principle of readiness (p. 54), a possession of original tendencies from the very start of life (pp. 2-4, 6, 14), and “original satisfyingness of some states of affairs and annoyingness of others” (p. 50).  He also highlighted the effects of mental effort and fatigue on persistence in learning. Mental effort, he said, is “the initiation or continuance or prevention or cessation of a certain response in spite of the intrinsic relative unsatisfyingness of that behavior” (p. 314). Mental fatigue is “the temporary deterioration of mental functions due to exercise without rest—its amount, rate and changes in rate, the factors constituting it, the conditions by which it is influenced, and the effect of such deterioration in one function upon the efficiency of others” (p. 283).

Inasmuch as his experimental subjects were compelled to participate in the conditioning of reflexes and the elicited responses were involuntary, Pavlov did not really address the topic of engagement. However, one interesting observation from his experiments that bears relevance is this: in some cases the significance of a situation demands a higher level of engagement than others, for example, the difference in the type and level of response between putting stones versus sand in the dog’s mouth:

The stones are easily ejected and nothing remains in the mouth. But if you throw some sand in the dog’s mouth (the same stones but pulverised) , there is an abundant flow of saliva. It is apparent that without fluid in the mouth, the sand could neither be ejected nor passed on to the stomach.” (Pavlov et al., 1928, p. 48)

Watson (1914), in reviewing tests of the acquisition of simple motor habits on humans, such as “learning to typewrite, to toss and catch balls, to shoot with the long bow, etc.” (p. 201) explained “plateau and breathing places” (p. 202) in some of the curves as a “failure to control incentives” (p. 202). With this explanation he called attention to the strength of motivation that arises from basic needs:

No such plateaux or resting places are to be found in the curves illustrating the motor acquisitions of animals. When an animal has to work or remain hungry; to make a correct response at an alley or be punished, etc., the incentive may be said to remain at a maximum. The situation is clearly different when human beings are forced to learn to typewrite….If a man’s food (reactions to sex stimuli, shelter, etc.) were dependent upon acquiring skill in a certain line—conditions which we can now control in the animals—such resting places and plateaux would in all probability disappear from his learning curves. (p. 202)

Skinner’s studies were focused almost exclusively on the maintenance and development of behavior through careful schedules of contingent reinforcement. He described a reinforcer as “something your subject wants” (Skinner, 1961e, p. 413) or anything that “increases the chances that the animal will repeat the behavior” (p. 413). The reinforcer may be nature or conditioned. A conditioned reinforcer is “one an animal has observed in association with food(p. 413). More formally,

A reinforcing stimulus is defined as such by its power to produce the resulting change. There is no circularity about this; some stimuli are found to produce the change, others are not, and they are classified as reinforcing and non-reinforcing accordingly. A stimulus may possess the power to reinforce when it is first presented (when it is usually the stimulus of an unconditioned respondent) or it may acquire the power through conditioning. (Skinner, 1938, p. 62)

Skinner (1961f) cautioned that “it is dangerous to assert that an organism of a given species or age cannot solve a given problem” (p. 136), since “as the result of careful scheduling, pigeons, rats, and monkeys have done things during the past five years which members of their species have never done before” (p. 136), not because they were incapable, but because “nature had simply never arranged effective sequences of schedules” (p. 136). Behavior which is performed but not reinforced falls into extinction (Skinner, 1938, p. 21).

Although it is common to think of reinforcers in terms of food or punishment in the form of an electrical shock Skinner also described the reinforcing nature of social conditions, that is, how the actions of one person can serve as a reward or punishment to reinforce the behavior of another (Skinner, 1961f, p. 138). Skinner described the historical techniques of education, one type of reinforcement in social interaction, as a revolving around escape from a threatening world:

The techniques of education were once frankly aversive. The teacher was usually older and stronger than his pupils and was able to “make them learn.” This meant that they were not actually taught but were surrounded by a threatening world from which they could escape only by learning. (Skinner, 1961h, p. 28)

Skinner (1938) also made an incomplete list of other factors that influence engagement in learning, including: emotion (p. 406), drugs (p. 409), “general fatigue, asphyxiation, and disease” (p. 416), sleep (p. 417), and age (p. 417).

Hull (1943) explained engagement in terms of innate behavioral tendencies (p. 66), habit strength (p. 178), primary motivation (p. 253), reaction potential (Hull, 1943, p. 253; Hull, 1951, p. 59; Hull, 1952, p. 7, equation 8), innate and learned inhibition (Hull, 1943, p. 300), the learned response of not responding—i.e., that not responding can be rewarding (Hergenhahn, 1982, p. 136; Hull, 1943, p. 300)—incentive motivation (Hull, 1952, p. 7), and stimulus-intensity dynamism (p. 7). In addition, because none of the explanations listed provided a perfect predictor of performance Hull added a factor into his equations for “chance oscillation” (Hull, 1943, p. 319), intended to account for random inhibitory uncorrelated variance that he observed.

Guthrie spoke of three sources of excitement: intense stimulation, accumulated effects, and interference:

There are three ways in which excitement may be produced. One of these is by intense stimulation of any sort….The second origin of excitement is through a series of stimuli which leave accumulated effects. One prod from the boy behind may not have at all the effect of the fifth prod. Each has left behind a slight increase in muscular tonus and general excitement and these have accumulated so that the response to the fifth prod is a howl of rage or vigorous reprisal.

The third method is through interference with action that is going on. A child is annoyed by interference or by obstacles in his way when he is occupied. His actions are reinforced and more vigorous.” (Guthrie, 1942, p. 21)

He explained that states of excitement “play an important part in learning because they intensify action, and by intensifying action alter its results and bring new stimulation” (Guthrie, 1942, p. 22). Excitement, he said, “is often the essential condition of adaptation and learning because it means vigorous action and new behavior” (p. 22). He also described motives as “stimulus situations that keep the individual active until some specific goal is reached” (Guthrie, 1942, p. 59). One source of motivation is interest by others in one’s performance. Guthrie cited a study by Bryan and Harter in 1899 as evidence, in which it was discovered that “telegraphers of long experience whose rate of sending and receiving had been stationary for years took a new spurt and reached new high levels when interest was shown in their rates of performance” (Guthrie, 1960, p. 166). He described practice at any skill as based on an intention to accomplish something:

Practice at any skill thus assumes an intention to accomplish something….Being built around an intention, every skill has a core of maintaining stimuli. These may change from one moment to the next….All these intentions betray themselves in anticipatory movements….Every person who has taken part in physical contest knows the important part played by the intention to win. This intention is by no means a mental affair in the sense that it is not of the body; it lies in the way the game is played. (p. 170)

In his experiments with cats, he found that advertant responses—such as clawing or biting the post to escape— transferred readily to a new post position while inadvertent responses—such as backing into the post—did not (Guthrie, 1960, pp. 283-284).

In cognitive learning, Ebbinghaus noted the effect of the intensity of attention and interest on retention and production (Ebbinghaus, 1913, pp. 3-4). Tolman described engagement as purpose, or a “persistence until” character in normal behavior (Tolman, 1925a, p. 37). When Kohler’s chimpanzees began to tire and lose interest in obtaining the food objective of his experiments he found that he could maintain their interest by improving the objective—for example, by adding additional food such as a slice of orange. He found that this technique, particularly in lengthy experiments, maintained engagement and mitigated “the risk that fatigue will intervene and spoil the result” (Kohler, 1951, pp. 42-43).

An interesting source of motivation in cognitive information processing is found in the attention to oneself or one’s interests by others. For example, even when engaged in a conversation in a noisy room “when you hear your name spoken or someone else talking about a topic that interests you, your attention shifts” (Driscoll, 2000, p. 81). The level of difficult or amount of effort required in a task can also influence one’s involvement, which may be less likely in the face of a difficult or seemingly impossible task in which “the items may be presented at a very fast rate so that input and reorganization time encourage too far upon rehearsal time” (R. C. Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968, p. 38).

Ausubel et al. (1978) believed that “motivation, although not indispensable for limited and short-term learning, is absolutely necessary for the sustained type of learning involved in mastering a given subject-matter discipline [with its effects] largely mediated through…attention, persistence, and increased frustration tolerance” (p. 397). They noted, however, that “much learning is apparently neither energized by motivation nor reinforced by drive satisfaction” (p. 400). As an example they cited classical or Pavlovian conditioning which “merely depends on temporal contiguity of the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli” (p. 400) as well as “a good deal of learning…[which] occurs incidentally without any explicit intention to learn” (p. 400).  Where motivation is a factor in learning, Ausubel et al. believed it a mistake to apply the homeostatic drive reduction of animal learning to humans:

Even where motivation is clearly operative in human learning, it is misleading to extrapolate the familiar paradigm of homeostatic drive reduction that is characteristically used to explain animal learning (Harlow, 1953). Such drives are quickly satiated and, when accompanied by intense affect, disrupt learning (Harlow, 1953). Hence, hunger, pain, and the like, rarely motivate human learning.” (Ausubel et al., 1978, p. 400)

In addressing material versus intrinsic rewards, Ausubel et al. expressed a view that “although material rewards are often effective, intrinsic (task-oriented) and ego-enhancing  motives increasingly tend to dominate the motivational picture with advancing age” (Ausubel et al., 1978, p. 400). They further described material rewards as taking on a symbolic quality, becoming “less ends in themselves than symbols of earned or attributed status and sources of self-esteem (p. 400).

Predominant in their views of motivation are an explanation of the composite nature of achievement motivation. “Achievement motivation, contrary to much current thinking in the area, is not a unitary variable. It consists…of varying proportions of (1) cognitive drive, (2) affiliative drive, and (3) ego-enhancement motivation.” (Ausubel et al., 1978, p. 398). They defined cognitive drive as “the desire to know and understand, to master knowledge, to formulate and solve problems” (p. 402). This is “potentially the most important and stable of the three components because it is largely inherent in the task itself….[meaning] successful learning per se is its own reward, apart from any extrinsic considerations of reward or approval” (p. 398). Affiliative drive is “expressive of a pupil’s need to do well in school in order to retain the approval (and the continued derived status this signifies) of the superordinate figure (parent, teacher) with whom he identifies in an emotionally dependent sense” (p. 398). Affiliative drive is increasingly important as the child moves through adolescence. The third component, ego-enhancement motivation, “reflects the need for the earned status achieved by one’s own competence or performance ability” (p. 398). Ausubel clarifies that this type of motivation “need not necessarily have an ego-aggrandizing flavor” (p. 398). One additional aspect of motivation discussed by Ausubel et al. is that of perceived need. This source of motivation comes in to play with a delayed review strategy:

In the first place, after a longer retention interval, when more material is forgotten, the learner is more highly motivated to profit from the opportunity for review. He or she is less likely to regard this opportunity as unnecessary and superfluous, and is therefore more disposed to take good advantage of it in terms of effort and attention. (Ausubel et al., 1978, p. 319)

In schema theory, learning is considered in terms of the creation and ongoing maintenance of mental schema through accretion, tuning and restructuring (Rumelhart & Norman, 1976). There are two cases that motivate this adjustment: (a) when the schema is poor at describing the situation, and (b) when there is a discrepancy between the schema and real-life events:

When a schema is sufficiently poor at describing the situation, a new schema must be sought. (Rumelhart & Norman, 1976, p. 11)


The more discrepant the arriving information from that described by the available schemata, the greater the necessity for change. If the information is only mildly discrepant, tuning of the schemata may be sufficient. If the material is more discrepant, schema creation is probably required. (Rumelhart & Norman, 1976, p. 21)

Turning to constructive learning one sees that three of the fourteen principles proposed by the Learner-Centered Work Group of the APA’s Board of Educational Affairs deal with motivation. Principle seven states that “what and how much is learned are influenced by the learner’s motivation [and that] motivation to learn, in turn, is influenced by the individual’s emotional states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of thinking”  (Learner-Centered Work Group of the American Psychological Association’s Board of Education Affairs, 1997,#7). Principle 8 deals with intrinsic motivation to learn—”the learner’s creativity, higher-order thinking, and natural curiosity all contribute to motivation to learn”(#8)—and Principle 9 speaks to the effects of motivation on effort, that the “acquisition of complex knowledge and skills requires extended learner effort [and] without the learner’s motivation to learn, the willingness to exert this effort is unlikely without coercion” (#9). Applied constructive learning theory  in the classroom suggest that student engagement is to be found by allowing “student responses to drive lessons, shift instructional strategies, and alter content” (Brooks & Brooks, 1993, p. 105); encouraging “student inquiry by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and encouraging students to ask questions of each other” (p. 110); building on students’ “natural curiosity through frequent use of the learning cycle model [discovery, concept introduction, concept application]” (p. 116); and posing problems of emerging relevance by “the structuring of the lesson around questions that challenge students’ original hypotheses presents students with the initial sparks that kindle their interest” (pp. 37-38).

Piaget described engagement in development in terms of autoexcitation (Piaget, 1963, p. 33); a natural or fundamental tendency toward repetition of behavior (p. 42); circular reactions motivated by interesting results (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969, p. 10); procedures to make interesting sights last (Piaget, 1963, p. 201); increasing awareness (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969, pp. 5-6); desirability (Piaget, 1963, p. 11); affectivity (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969, pp. 21, 158); satisfaction (p. 23); an innate need for understanding (p. 109); equilibration as a balance between assimilation and accommodation (p. 157); and the need to grow, assert oneself, love, and be admired (p. 158). Though each of these sources of motivation was discussed in length in his writings, it was the final item on the list that he proposed as the ultimate motive force behind intelligence:

In the last analysis it is the need to grow, to assert oneself, to love, and to be admired that constitutes the motive force of intelligence, as well as of behavior in its totality and in its increasing complexity. (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969, p. 158)

A complimentary view, that of Bruner, suggests that the best stimulus to learning is an “interest in the material to be learned” (J. S. Bruner, 1960, p. 14), and the best way to create interest in the subject is to “render it worth knowing, which means to make the knowledge gained usable in one’s thinking beyond the situation in which it has occurred” (p. 31). Also, because it is the nature of the child to “go about discovering things for himself”  (J. S. Bruner, 1961, p. 22), as an additional source of motivation he also calls out the self-rewarding nature of discovery (p. 26), and suggests that there are “powerful effects that come from permitting the student to put things together for himself, to be his own discoverer” (p. 22).

Because human learning theories are primarily partial theories of learning[1] heavily focused on factors of motivation, agency, and the learner as a whole person,  there are numerous insights to be gained from human learning theory regarding various aspects of engagement. These will not be summarized here—that was the purpose of the human learning theory section in chapter 3—but some highlights and trends will be noted.

First, human learning is rarely, if ever, motivated directly by homeostatic drive reduction. In fact, this was one of Maslow’s (1943b) fundamental propositions. He rejected any physiological drive (including hunger) as a centering point for a human theory of motivation, since “any drive that is somatically based and localizable was shown to be atypical rather than typical in human motivation” (p. 370):

Obviously a good way to obscure the ‘higher’ motivations, and to get a lopsided view of human capacities and human nature, is to make the organism extremely and chronically hungry or thirsty. Anyone who attempts to make an emergency picture into a typical one, and who will measure all of man’s goals and desires by his behavior during extreme physiological deprivation is certainly being blind to many things. (p. 375)

Ausubel et al. also noted the misappropriation of homeostatic drive reduction as an explanation for the impetus of human learning:

Even where motivation is clearly operative in human learning, it is misleading to extrapolate the familiar paradigm of homeostatic drive reduction that is characteristically used to explain animal learning (Harlow, 1953). Such drives are quickly satiated and, when accompanied by intense affect, disrupt learning (Harlow, 1953). Hence, hunger, pain, and the like, rarely motivate human learning. (Ausubel et al., 1978, p. 400)

Human learning is motivated not by drives—at least not directly—but rather, by goals (Covington, 1998, p. 32; Maslow, 1943b, p. 371). Some goals may, of course, be drive relevant, e.g., going to college in order to get a job, and working to provide for basic needs such as food, shelter, and safety. Others will stem from psychological needs such as: autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000, pp. 233-235); the need for exploration and manipulation (Fuller, 1962, p. 39); the need for “deeper levels of understanding” (Heider, 1958, p. 125); insatiable curiosity (Rogers, 1969, p. 3), and “certain more intellectual desires” (Maslow, 1943b, p. 394). They might also come from affective needs to give and to receive love (p. 381), to find acceptance through achievement (Covington, 1998, p. 78), to protect one’s self-esteem (p. 16) or to fulfill one’s self-actualization potential (Maslow, 1943b, p. 382). They can also be based on aspirations to succeed (Covington, 1998, p. 28); desire ” for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom” (Maslow, 1943b, p. 381); or desire for “reputation and prestige (defining it as respect or esteem from other people), recognition, attention, importance or appreciation” (p. 382).

Second, in addition to sources of motivation, such as those listed above, human learning theory also gives an account of certain conditions necessary for engagement. For example: self-confidence (Covington, 1998, pp. 28-29; Heider, 1958, p. 94); a feeling of competence  (Heider, 1958, p. 94); realistic challenges (Covington, 1998, p. 30); an intrinsic tendency to achieve success that is higher than one’s intrinsic tendency to avoid failure  (J. W. Atkinson & Feather, 1966, p. 328), or a positive extrinsic tendency sufficient to outweigh the negative net difference between the two (J. W. Atkinson & Feather, 1966, p. 333); a perception that one’s capability is sufficient to meet the task  (Bandura, 1986, p. 393); an “estimate that a given behavior will lead to certain outcomes” (Bandura, 1977a, p. 193); feelings of self-efficacy (p. 193); and the absence or acceptance of threat to self (Rogers, 1969, p. 161).

In social learning, Vygotsky cited the child’s interests as the best source of engagement, going so far as to say that the child’s interests should be our allies. In speaking particularly of the deaf and dumb child but in general application to all children he said,

It is necessary to organize the child’s life in such a way as to make speech necessary and interesting. The teaching must appeal to the children and should not be directed against them. We must make the children’s interests our allies and not our enemies. Desire for speech should be created, and the child is more likely to learn to speak when it is urged by necessity; this very motive is being completely destroyed by the traditional school which separates the deaf and dumb children from normal surroundings and places it in a special environment, where everything is adapted to its infirmities; thus, the circle of its interests becomes very narrow and this encourages unsociable instincts. (Vygotsky, 1994a, p. 24)

Bandura tells us that “among the countless responses acquired observationally, those behaviors that seem to be effective for others are favored over behaviors that are seen to have negative consequences” (Bandura, 1977b, p. 28). Additionally, the self-evaluative reactions of the model toward their own behavior are of influence (pp. 27-28). In other words, the vicarious consequences learned from observing others and how they react to their own behavior can make a person more or less likely to adopt the observed behavior himself. Bandura also described reinforcement as playing a role in observational learning but “mainly as an antecedent rather than a consequent influence” (p. 37). By antecedent influence he meant to say the “anticipation of reinforcement” (p. 37).

In situational learning, motivation is largely in the form of “acceptance by and interaction with acknowledged adept practitioners” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 110). In the situated setting, apprentice learners are also able to see that “there is a field for the mature practice of what they are learning to do” (p. 110), and they are able to make contributions of value while learning—”a value which increases as the apprentice becomes more adept” (p. 110). The major source of motivation in situated learning, however, is the intrinsic reward of becoming part of the community (p. 111) and the identity and membership the learner gains in doing so (p. 122).

Activity theory describes the motive of human activity in terms of the object of the activity. The following quote gives an example of the patient as object in a medical care facility:

The object in an activity system is a source of motivation. For example, for frontline primary care and hospital staff, the object is the patient. “What observably more than anything arouses involvement, effort, emotion, excitement, frustration, and stress among frontline primary care and hospital staff is daily encounters with real, live patients, no matter how cynical or instrumentally oriented the individual employee may be. The object of medical work is the patient, with his or her health problems and illness….Without patients the activity would cease. (Engestrom, 2000a, p. 964)

The object “is the true carrier of the motive of the activity…[thus] in expansive learning, motives and motivations are not sought primarily inside individual subjects—they are objects to  be transformed and expanded” (Engestrom, 2010, p. 4). This motive is deeply communal and drives the activity of the collective system (Engestrom, 2000a, p. 964). An additional source of motivation in activity theory is not the motivation to act, but the motivation to engage in expansive cycles of learning. The source of this motive is internal contradiction. Such contradictions are “the driving force of change and development in activity systems” (Engestrom, 2001, p. 135). Expansive learning is “triggered by double binds generated by contradictory demands imposed on the participants by the context” (p. 142), and “a crucial triggering action in the expansive learning process…is the conflictual questioning of the existing standard practice” (p. 151).

According to cognitive apprenticeship theory, learners are motivated, in part, by an understanding of the finished product:

When tasks arise in the context of designing and creating tangible products, apprentices naturally understand the reasons for undertaking the process of apprenticeship. They are motivated to work and to learn the subcomponents of the task, because they realize the value of the finished product. (A. Collins et al., 1991, p. 3)

Another source of motivation is the fact that they are actively using knowledge as it is learned (A. Collins et al., 1991, p. 16), making it relevant to them. Additionally, as participants in a community, learners are motivated by a sense of ownership, personal investment, and mutual dependency. Inasmuch as cognitive apprenticeships are set up in the classroom setting, it becomes important to establish “learning environments in which students perform tasks because they are intrinsically related to an interesting or at least coherent goal, rather than for some extrinsic reason, like getting a good grade or pleasing a teacher” (p. 16). Table 10 summarizes the local principles from the theories reviewed that are subsumed by the universal principle engagement.


Table 10

Principles of Learning Subsumed by the Universal Principle of Engagement

Theory Group   Local principles




Pleasure and pain

Desire to know



Set or attitude

Original tendencies (reflex, instinct, and capacities)

Original attentiveness

Satisfiers and annoyers (wants, interests, and motives)

Principle of readiness

Mental fatigue and mental effort



Significance of the situation may demand engagement



Failure to control incentives

Basic needs as motivation



Conditioned reinforcer

A reinforcing stimulus

Something a subject wants

Whatever increases the chances that the animal will repeat the behavior

Intermittent reinforcement

Animals engaging in performance never before seen, due to reinforcement

Reinforcing social conditions

Escape from aversive conditions

Positive reinforcement



Other variables: emotion, drugs, general fatigue, asphyxiation, disease, etc…

The law of conditioning

The law of extinction



Innate behavioral tendencies

Habit strength – effect of prior learning on likelihood of future engagement

Primary motivation

Reaction potential

Inhibition build up with each response

Not responding can be rewarding

“Chance” oscillation

Stimulus-intensity dynamism

Incentive motivation

Delay in reinforcement




External interest shown in performance results in engagement

Intention to accomplish something

Advertant and inadvertent responses

Intense stimulation

Accumulated effects


States of excitement intensify action and bring new stimulation

Motives: stimulus situations that keep the individual active until some specific goal is reached



Anticipation of reward

“Effective” stimulus elements

Motivation affects the composition and magnitude of the effective stimulus elements



Cognitive   Ebbinghaus:

Attention and interest






Improvement of the objective


Cognitive Information Processing:


Level of difficulty or effort



Perceived need


Drive reduction (human learning rarely motivated by drive reduction)

Material rewards vs. intrinsic rewards

Achievement motivation

Cognitive drive

Affiliative drive

Ego-enhancement motivation

Much learning is neither energized by motivation nor reinforced by drive satisfaction

It is misleading to apply homeostatic drive reduction to human learning

Relative ineffectiveness of homeostatic or material rewards in human learning


Schema Theory:

Need: when a schema is sufficiently poor at describing the situation, a new schema must be sought



Constructive   General:

Student responses drive lessons, shift instructional strategies, and alter content

Student inquiry

Natural curiosity

Posing problems of emerging relevance

What and how much is learned is influenced by motivation—emotional states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of thinking

Intrinsic motivation stimulated by novelty and difficulty, relevance, choice, and control

Without the learner’s motivation to learn, the willingness to exert this effort is unlikely without coercion




Circular reaction motivated by interesting results

‘Procedures’ to make interesting sights last

Natural or fundamental tendency toward repetition of behavior

Increasing awareness




Innate need for understanding

Equilibration – balance between change of self and interpretation of universe

Need (to grow, assert oneself, love, and be admired)




Value (worth knowing; general usability)

Autonomy: powerful effects from permitting student to be his own discoverer

Self-reward of discovery



Human   Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs:

Somatically based drives are atypical in human learning motivation

Acts typically have more than one motivation

All organismic states are both motivated and motivating

Human needs arrange themselves in hierarchies of prepotency

Man is a perpetually wanting animal

Human learning is motivated by goals rather than drives

Physiological needs

The need for safety

The need to give and receive love

The desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom

The desire for reputation and prestige, recognition, attention, importance or appreciation

The need for self-actualization

The desire to achieve or maintain the various conditions upon which basic needs rest

Once a need is satisfied, the next prepotent (‘higher’) need emerges

Gratified needs are not active motivators

Intellectual desires


Biological Motivation:

Expressive and preemptive drives

Not one need for food, but numerous requirements for specific substances

Emotions (fear, anger, pleasure)

Fear may not be a good source of motivation for learning

Men can temporarily override, but not escape their subjection to humoral agents entirely

Need for exploration and manipulation

Excessive novelty may activate the nervous system without organizing a directed response

Repetition produces habituation, a decrease of activation


Achievement Motivation:

Levels of aspiration



Realistic challenges

Self-generated goals

Control of one’s own progress

Tendency to achieve success

Tendency to avoid failure

Positive extrinsic tendency may override a net intrinsic tendency to avoid

Performance level should be greatest when there is greatest uncertainty about the outcome

People with strong achievement motive should prefer intermediate risk

Persons in whom the motive to avoid failure is stronger should avoid intermediate risk


Attribution Theory:

Man is motivated to understand the causal structure of his environment, to know why an event occurred, and to what source the event can be ascribed



Task Difficulty



Locus of causality


Strong urge to push toward deeper levels of understanding

Own wish

For the sake of some ulterior goal, even if neutral or even disagreeable

Asked to do it by a friend

For somebody he likes without having been asked

Somebody in authority told him to do it

Because he thinks he ought to do it, because he feels obliged to do it

Because he wishes to establish or maintain a certain reputation

Induced motivation – motivation from outside the person himself

Desire for prediction and control

Tendency to attribute enjoyment to the object rather than oneself

Adequate attribution requires an adequate data pattern of condition-effect changes

Perception of task difficulty inferred from performance of a single individual

Cognition of can through action

Attribution to opportunity or luck

Ability is a main power factor

Degree of ability measured by one’s standing in the group

Degree of ability measured by irrational spreading of ability in one area to ability in other areas


Pervasive mood of confidence

Despondent mood

Philosophical view


Social and legal cast


Physical position

Opinion and suggestion

Laziness or lack of will

Motivation aroused simply through the appearance of the idea


Self-Worth Theory:

The highest human priority is the search for self-acceptance

Worth, in our society, is usually equated with achievement

Maintaining a positive self-image of one’s ability (not necessarily achieving)

Feelings of worthlessness arise from the disclosure of incompetency

Motivation to protect one’s self esteem

One’s sense of worth depends heavily on accomplishments

One’s sense of worth also depends on perception of ability

Success from one’s own efforts is valued more highly than success with help

Making an effort, puts one at risk of failure

The absence of behavior may be motivated by a need to protect one’s self-esteem



Outcome expectancy

Efficacy expectation

Future consequences represented in thought

Goal setting and self-evaluative reactions

Self-inducements and discrepancies

Expectancy without a sense of self-efficacy may not lead to action

Efficacy expectations are a major determinant of peoples’ choice of activities, assuming appropriate skills and adequate incentives

Successes build self-efficacy, failures undermine it


Self-Determination Theory of Motivation:

Three innate psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness

Feelings of competence will not enhance intrinsic motivation unless accompanied by a sense of autonomy

Conditions of threat, evaluation, and deadlines undermine intrinsic motivation

Conditions of choice enhance intrinsic motivation and augment confidence

Positive feedback enhances competence and intrinsic motivation

Negative feedback decreases competence and intrinsic motivation

Relatedness provides a backdrop sense of security to support intrinsically motivated activity

Extrinsic motivation may become internal motivation, internalized to varying degrees

Extrinsic motivation may be regulated externally, introjected, identified, or integrated

In an amotivational state people either do not act, or just go through the motions

In an intrinsically motivated state the source of behavior is completely internal, and is regulated by interest, enjoyment, or inherent satisfaction

With externally regulated extrinsic motivation behavior is performed only to satisfy external demands or reward contingency

Introjection involves taking in a regulation but not fully accepting it as one’s own

Integration involves fully assimilating external regulations to oneself

Intrinsic aspirations (affiliation, personal growth, community contributions)

Extrinsic aspirations (wealth, fame, image)





External effort to influence motives

Attention – perceptual arousal, inquiry arousal, variability

Relevance – goal orientation, motive matching, familiarity

Confidence – learning requirements, success opportunities, personal control

Satisfaction – natural consequences, positive consequences, equity


Freedom to Learn:

Insatiable curiosity

Meaningless learning “from the  neck up” versus meaningful experiences

Significant learning: personal involvement, pervasive, self-evaluated, meaningful

Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is perceived by the student as having relevance for his own purposes

Learning which involves a change in self organization—in the perception of oneself—is threatening and tends to be resisted

Those learnings which are threatening to the self are more easily perceived and assimilated when external threats are at a minimum

When threat to the self is low, experience can be perceived in differentiated fashion and learning can proceed



People avoid tasks they believe exceed their capabilities

People undertake and perform assuredly tasks they judge themselves capable of handling

When self-efficacy is lacking, behavior is ineffective, even if a person knows what to do






The child’s interests should be our allies



Valued outcomes

Vicarious consequences

Self-evaluative reactions (self-satisfying versus disapprove)

Reinforcement as facilitation


Situated learning:

Acceptance by and interaction with others

Connection with learning and real-world application

Valued contributions

Intrinsic reward-becoming part of the community


Activity theory:

The object is the true carrier of the motive of the activity

Object as a source of engagement (e.g., patients as the object of medical activity)

Deeply communal motive

Internal contradictions


Cognitive apprenticeship:

Motivated to work by understanding value of the finished product

Active use of knowledge while learning

Sense of ownership, personal investment and mutual dependency

Creation of environments which are intrinsically motivating

Cooperative problem solving



[1] Meaning they do not attempt to account for the process of learning as a whole, but only part of it—typically the motivational portion, and sometimes only one type of motivation.

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