Learning theories in practice/Motivation

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Motivation and Learning[edit | edit source]

Compared to the researchers of behaviorism and cognition, who put their attentions on learners’ behavior and the process of learning; I am more interested in “what motivates people to learn new things?” From my point of view, I think this question will help me to build and examine my own teaching theory from students’ perspective.

My final paper will contain the basic theory about motivation and learning. I also tried to connect motivation, creative teaching and meaningful learning together, because there is no perfect theory and each teaching theory or strategy has its own benefit. I think creative teaching is one of the strategies which can motive students to learn. Once students’ intrinsic motivation has been summoned, learning can be meaningful. I believe that true learning appears only when learners are learning by heart. I may discuss some strategies for arising students’ motivations from the sources I have collected, and examine the strengths and weakness of these strategies while implemented in the real classroom environment. My final paper will also contain the real experience which I have experienced in Taiwan.

Creative Teaching, Learning Motivation, and Meaningful Learning[edit | edit source]


Scenario 1- Financial Class

Miss Lee is a finance professor who used to teach in the finance department in my university. This year she was assigned to teach students in the English department basic financial concepts. The students in the English department, lacking a financial background, sometimes found it difficult to understand the concepts.

To build an understanding of “capitalism” and “monopoly,” Miss Lee divided the students into different groups and allowed students to play the board game called “MONOPOLY.” All of the students were extremely excited. After they had the winner of each group, Miss Lee asked them to share their strategies for winning the game. Jack answered, “The more land you have, the more possibility to win the game, but you need to have enough assets to buy land first.” Mary responded, “The rich will become richer while the poor will become poorer.” Now, Miss Lee was satisfied, because these students had a grasp on the ideas of capitalism and monopoly. In the second period, she started to lecture on the chapter of capitalism. At the end of the second period, Miss Lee assigned two tasks for next class. She asked all students to write down the connection between the board game and the capitalism chapter, and also give an example of capitalism in the real situation.

Scenario 2- English conversation class

Mrs. Sarah has been teaching English conversation classes at the beginning level for many years. This year she was assigned to teach in the advanced level class. Instead of drill conversation practices, Mrs. Sarah gave the class instructions for next time. She stated, “Next Monday, we are going to discuss hunting legality. We will have a mock trial which contains judges, attorneys, witness and so on. Everyone should take a role in the mock trail.” Before the end of the class, each student had taken one of the roles. During the next week, students had to find some helpful evidence, such as statistics and resources for their position either for or against hunting. Though it was a tough assignment, after finishing the Monday class, students found it interesting and better than just the ordinary drill conversation practices. During the activity, they learned different aspects about hunting legality and the skills necessary to negotiate and question others. This topic became relevant as they were able to see that such skills are helpful in their daily lives.

INTRODUCTION[edit | edit source]

Motivation, meaningful learning, and creative teaching are usually discussed separately, but actually they are all teaching strategies. After learning so many theories and teaching strategies, I argue that there is no perfect theory to meet each individual learner’s needs. However, we can take strengths from various theories and have them maximize the effectives.

For the cognitivst, the study of learning theory focuses on “How” learning occurs. That is the process of learning. However, for behaviorists, they are more interested in “What” stimulates learning. In this chapter, I make a link among three key strategies and approaches. In effect, the basic elements covered here all contribute to successful student achievement. From my point of view, motivation is the most important factor for learning. According to the on-line Cambridge advanced learner’s Dictionary, the definition of motivation is, first, “enthusiasm;” second, it is the need or reason for doing something. These definitions foretell some characteristics of motivation: negative and positive motivational forces, intrinsic and extrinsic motivational forces, internal and external control over one’s tasks and activities, etc.

Figure 1 below illustrates my viewpoint that there are three major elements of the learning process; namely, (1) creative teaching, (2) meaningful learning, and (3) learning motivation. These three major elements should be discussed together. If one of them is absent, the learning process will likely be significantly impeded.

                  Figure 1. Three major elements in the learning process


Before creative teaching, we need to define what creativity is. Creativity from different perspectives has different definitions; whereas most definitions share two major characteristics: (1) novelty and (2) appropriateness. (Starko, 2005).

To be creative, one’s idea or products must be novel or original. Edison successfully invented the incandescent light bulb in 1879. Pythagoras, a Greek philosopher, is the first one who thought the earth should be spherical not a flat object. These ideas and products were new at the time. In other words,” To be creative, an idea or product must be new.”

The other characteristic is appropriateness. Starko suggested that “One important factor in determining appropriateness is the cultural context in which the creativity is based.” In other words, the appropriateness of creativity depends on the environment. For example,language appropriateness- people speak differently to different people, on different occasions. Pablo Picasso, Cubism artist, whose works were considered to be nonsense in 19 century are considered to be the masterpieces now. Therefore, we can say the appropriateness may change; it is flexible rather then fixed.

The purpose for creative teaching is to create a joyful learning environment. By using innovative teaching methods, instructors will be more easily to draw learners’ attention or to bring out learners’ learning motivation.

Quotations about motivation

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”(Albert Einstein, 1879-1955)

“Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you.” (Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948)]


In the early days, behaviorists, like B.F. Skinner, assumed that learning occurred when learners accept outside stimuli and elicit responses. However, later researchers found that the learning process is more complex and constructive than previously thought. “Motivation,” according to Pintrich and Schunk (1996), “refer[s] to the process whereby goal-directed behavior is instigated and sustained.”

Motivational forces are generally divided into two groups.

1.Positive/ Negative Motivational Forces

People are stimulated by positive motivational forces such as curiosity and making their own decision to do something or controlling their own learning. In contrast, people are also stimulated by negative motivational forces, such as fear. In other words, one is voluntarily, and the other one is involuntarily. For example, in fear of tests or quizzes, students will study hard to avoid negative consequences. To satisfy curiosity about a butterfly’s metamorphosis, students’ may spontaneously search for some useful information to solve their questions. Such activities would be a personally meaningful and positive force.

2.Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivational Forces

Intrinsic motivation is defined as a kind of motivation which drives people to do something but asks for no tangible rewards. On the contrary, extrinsic motivation is defined as a kind of motivation which drives people to do something by expecting some tangible rewards.

As noted in Table 1, Malone and Lepper (1997) integrated much researches and proposed several key factors to promote intrinsic motivation.

Table 1. Intrinsic motivational factors (Malone & Lepper, 1987). Source from: http://education.calumet.purdue.edu/vockell/EdPsyBook/Edpsy5/Edpsy5_intrinsic.htm

Quotations about motivation

"Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."(Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882)

“Motivation is not only important because it is a necessary causal factor of learning, but because it mediates learning and is a consequence of learning as well.” (R. J. Wlodkowski, 1985. p. 4).

"Motivation is this energy to study, to learn and achieve and to maintain these positive behaviors over time. Motivation is what stimulates students to acquire, transform and use knowledge." (Groccia, 1992, p. 62).


David Ausubel (1978) proposed a theory of meaningful reception learning. In his view, learners have to relate the potentially meaningful learning materials to their prior knowledge. Meaningful learning theory suggests that to make learning meaningful, we need to internalize the information we initially learned, and later used in practice. There are three essential conditions to meaningful learning (Driscoll, 2002):

  • Learner must employ a meaningful learning set to any learning task.
  • The material to be learned must be potentially meaningful.
  • What learners already know and how that knowledge relates to what they are asked to learn.

Therefore, knowledge cannot be transmitted from the teachers; rather, learners construct their knowledge when trying to make sense of their experiences based on existing knowledge. In addition, learning materials should be authentic and can be found in real-world situation. However, Ausubel believed that meaningful reception learning occurs when teachers employ expository teaching, transmitting the “Anchoring ideas” which help the learners build the required cognitive structure for assimilating new information that is potentially meaningful. In this way, learners do not need to organize new information or figure out the relationship between the new and existing experiences, which takes place in discovery learning.

Process of Meaningful Learning

Based on Ausubel’s process of meaningful learning, there are three ways for new information to be incorporated into the existing cognitive structure: new information can be subordinate to, superordinate to, or coordinate with an existing idea (Driscoll, 1994, p.118).

1.Derivative and Correlative Subsumption. (lower in the structure)

To have learning occur, we need to have new information work with or be subsumed by (Driscoll, 2000) our previous ideas already in memory. Subsumption can occur in two ways, derivative and correlative. Derivative subsumption refers to the learning of new examples or cases that are illustrative of an established concept or previously learned proposition (Driscoll, 2000). Correlative subsumption refers to the elaboration, extension, or modification of the previously learned concept or propositions by the subsumptions of the incoming idea (Driscoll, 2000).


Learners during the derivative subsumption process might have a general concept about “mammal” in mind. Then new information such as elephant, rabbit, and whales are all mammals can be added into our previous idea.

Learners during correlative subsumption, instead of learning merely learn that elephants are one kind of mammal, they learn the characteristic or feature about the information and add it into their existing idea.

2.Superordinate and Combinatorial Learning. (higher in the structure)

Learning processes can be of many types; they can be coordinate, or lateral to the situation. Consequently, Driscoll categorizes them into two parts. One is Superordinate learning, that is, a new, inclusive proposition or concept is learned under which already established ideas can be subsumed (Driscoll, 2000).


Learners during the superordinate learning process may already contain some existing idea, such as the implementation of motivation in one’s career field, in learning theory, or in advertisements. Perhaps, at some point, they will come up with a new idea, such as using motivation theory or motivational techniques in a different situation where it has a highly influential effect. For instance, motivational theory and principles might be used to get dogs to run fast, aliens not to destroy planet Earth, or politicians to pass a bill that reduces greenhouse gases. That is combinatorial learning. As another example, designers before learning how to design couture, they may need to learn the characteristics of different fabrics. Designing couture and knowing fabrics may seem irrelevant, but if a designer lacks precious knowledge of fabric, it may be difficult to produce the final products they want; for example, they must know when should they use silk, cotton, lace, and so on.

Quotations about meaningful learning

Meaningful learning underlies the constructive integration of thinking, feeling, and acting leading to empowerment for commitment and responsibility. (Joseph D. Novak, 1999)

CONCLUSION[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. The Components of Meaningful Learning (Zisk, 1998) Source from:http://www.sciteched.org/curriculum/learning/Instruction.htm

Above picture is designed by Joseph F. Zisk, in 1998. According to Zisk, there are four components of meaningful learning. (1) Curriculum that is relevant; (2) Instructional strategies; (3) Teaching motivation; and (4) Classroom learning Environment. Although it looks different from the three component of goal-based learning, they actually share many similarities and differences.

Similarities and differences

First of all, goal-based learning and meaningful learning mentions the term “motivation.” However, the use of motivation in this chapter means “Learning Motivation,” which is discussed from learners’ perspective. In contrast, Zisk’s motivation is “Teacher Motivation,” which is more from a teachers’ perspective. Whereas this chapter focuses on motivation as a trigger to stimulate learning processes, Zisk focuses on the teachers’ attitude to students and its impact on student motivation and engagement. In either case, motivation plays an important role in the learning process.

Secondly, “instructional strategies,” and the “classroom learning environment” are key factors of “creative teaching.” My viewpoint is that the goal for creative teaching is to elicit learners’ learning desire from teaching environment and create a pleasant, friendly learning environment. Zisk explained this more explicitly. Teaching by using different kinds of instructional strategies can help learners to construct knowledge. Moreover, he also suggests that classroom environment, either physical condition or psychological, contributes to learning.

Finally, “curriculum that is relevant,” impacts on “meaningful learning.” As instructors, we need to help our students figure out their problems and then help them find out the relevance of new information and ideas to their previous experiences or knowledge. WE must also encourage them to integrate their knowledge and demonstrate within a real environment. That is what causes learning to be meaningful. Memorizing is not enough, application also counts.

To sum up, I think creative teaching, meaningful learning and learning motivation should be integrated together. However, there is not a fixed order to which should go first; rather, it should be apply in different sequences according to different target populations, and different settings. I believe that true learning appears only when learners are learning by their hearts. As instructors we can do our best to motivate students; however, the degree of achievement depends on the students’ themselves. Only when they are willing to learn can learning occur. Otherwise, all teaching materials for them are irrelevant.

Re-examination of Scenario 1 and Scenario 2

In Scenario 1, although the teacher was satisfied, there was still much revising we could do. For example, before playing the board game, Miss Lee could evaluate students’ comprehensive level related to financial knowledge first and also try to encourage students to summon their previous knowledge which is relevant to the topic. Instead of only a few students sharing their learning during play, Miss Lee could ask students to share their opinions in the small groups and only report the most important idea. By doing such revisionary work, teachers can have better idea about the degree of students’ comprehensive level, and allow more students participate in the class within the limited time.

Compared to Scenario 1, Scenario 2 is more difficult. Therefore, instead of a two hour activity, teacher should give students more time to prepare, and also offer an on-time assistant when needed. For example, the first week teachers should give more instruction to the mock trial, including the roles, the purpose, the goal, and the skills which Mrs. Sarah wanted students to use. Then during the second week, students can bring the information they collected, and share with each other, or help each other to understand the difficult parts. Finally, the third week, students will participate in the mock trial and the whole procedure should be recorded. After the whole activity is finished, teachers as well as peers should give feedback. By doing this, students will get a better idea about what they should do, and also feel more comfortable to challenge this kind of new activity. Also, tape recording as well as feedback allow students to see the strengths and weakness of themselves and others.

COOL RESOURCES[edit | edit source]

Catch Me lucky Charm[1] -This short episode describes that “motivation” can not only be applied in the teaching theory but also in our daily life, such as in advertisements and in the news media.

Creative Commons[2] -The characteristics of creativity are novelty and appropriateness. We get “inspired” by others’ works, but we have to be aware that not to “copy” others’ work.

How To Be Creative [3] -This short episode teaches people how to be creative. Creativity can be inborn but it can also be trained.

Learning Math[4] -Applied what we have learned in our daily life and help us solving problem can make learning meaningful.

Meaningful and Engaged Learning[5] -Teachers can help students to find learning meaningful by various strategies, such as enhance students’ self-confidence, using multiple intelligence, make meaning personal.

Self Esteem Formula[6] -To enhance self–esteem, people should not set achievable goals rather then non-achievable ones.

REFERENCES[edit | edit source]

Brooks, D. W., & Shell, D. S.(2006). Working Memory, Motivation and teacher-Initiated Learning. From http://dwbrr.unl.edu/iTech/TEAC859/Read/Motivation-Submitted.pdf

Cyber Nation International, Inc. (1997-2003). Quote to inspire you. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://www.cybernation.com/victory/quotations/subjects/quotes_ask,html

Driscoll, M. P. (2000). Psychology of learning for instruction. Massachusetts: A Pearson Education Company

McGriff, S. J. (2000). A position paper and concept map: Philosophy of education. Retrieved, February 4, 2002, from http://www.personal.psu.edu/sjm256/portfolio/personal/PhiloEdu.pdf

Michael Delahunt (1997-2007). Motivation. Retrieved October 24, 2007, from http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/m/motivation.html

Purdue University. (2003). Intrinsic motivation. Retrieved October 3, 2003, from http://education.calumet.purdue.edu/vockell/EdPsyBook/Edpsy5/edpsy5_intrinsic.htm

Starko, A. J. (2005). Creativity in the classroom: schools of curious delight. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

WisdomQuotes.com (2021). Albert Einstein quotes. From https://wisdomquotes.com/albert-einstein-quotes/

Zisk, J.F. (1998). Promoting meaningful student learning. Retrieved, 2007, from http://www.sciteched.org/curriculum/learning/Instruction.htm