Learner Motivation and Why it Matters
What is motivation? The study of motivation is the study of why people do what they do (Beck, 1978). Simply defined, it is what people desire, choose to do, and commit to do (Keller,2009). It is an internal process, but can be inferred from observed choices, effort, intensity, and persistence. It is what initiates behavior, controls its intensity, maintains behavior, stops behavior, and mediates choice (Weiner, 1992). One focus of the study of learner motivation is on how goal-oriented activity is initiated and sustained (Ford, 1992; Schunk, Pintrich, & Meece,2002). Ford (1992) defines motivation as “multidetermined (p. 1)” (i.e., complex) and then described it in terms of the psychological factors that direct, energize and regulate behavior. It is helpful to recall that the word “motivate” is a derivative of the Latin word, movere, which simply means “to move.” Motivation, then, in its broadest sense, is about what makes people move.
Learner motivation is focused on those factors that affect learners' engagement with the task of learning. From the perspective of the instructor or instructional designer, it may be thought of in two ways: as either stimulating and empowering a learner's intrinsic motivation; or, as providing extrinsic motivators that will energize learner engagement. In reality, motivation is the product of a system of influences that are both internal to the learner and external in the learning environment.
Learner motivation is fundamental to learning. It is so important that several key learning theories, behaviorism and social learning theory among them, define learning in terms of motivation.
If you are interested in going deeper... Here is a paper on motivation that describes the different factors that affect it: Learner Motivation Framework
Beck, R. (1978). Motivation: Theories and principles. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Ford, M. E. (1992). Motivating humans: Goals, emotions, and personal agency beliefs. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Keller, J. M. (2009). Motivational design for learning and performance: The ARCS Model approach. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag.
Keller, J. M., & Suzuki, K. (1988). Use of the ARCS Motivation Model in courseware design. In D. H.Schunk, D., Pintrich, P. R., & Meece, J. L. (2002). Motivation in education: theory, research, and applications (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Schunk, D., Pintrich, P. R., & Meece, J. L. (2002). Motivation in education: theory, research, and applications (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Skinner, B. F. (1968). The technology of teaching. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Weiner, B. (1992). Human motivation: Metaphors, theories, and research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.