Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Motivation/Education

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Motivation and sociocultural and situative theories of education[edit]

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Motivation is a key psycho-behavioural element in education and plays a very important role in the success and enjoyment of the students’ learning process.[factual?] There are many factors that influence motivation. This chapter explores motivational theories of education and focuses on the aspects of motivation which are the result of social and cultural factors (sociocultural theories of motivation including situative theories of cognition). These factors include the norms for behaviour that family, relatives, peers and the society communicate and encourage students for better educational achievements. On the contrary theories that focus on a student’s engagement in discourse such as behaviourally oriented theories are also discussed (Ormrod, 2008).

Motivation theories of education[edit]

Motivation is crucial within the educational systems. It encourages students to learn and understand new knowledge. Similar to the other types of motivation, educational motivation is either intrinsic or extrinsic. It internally or externally dictates student behaviour for better educational achievements. Several theories of motivation have been discussed in the field of educational psychology including those that focus on the educational goals of students (Saliti, & Hoosain 2007):

  • The achievement goal theory discusses social and cognitive factors which encourage students to perform well or engage in work avoidance. Students who attempt to perform better and become more competent are regarded as the participants in academia for possessing a mastery goal orientation. These students measure their success by the level of their own understanding or competence at a specific task (Saliti, et al, 2007).
  • Performance goal theories are educational goals which are measured against external criteria and include normative standards, for example achieving better grades and higher ranks amongst other students (Saliti, et al, 2007).
  • Work avoidance orientation theory discusses students’ behaviour. Such students act as if they are incompetent and have an excuse for not engaging in academic tasks. They ask unnecessary questions in an attempt to avoid proper participation in academic activities and do not seek assistance. This reduces the requirements for their personal cognitive engagement (Saliti, et al, 2007).

Sociocultural theories of motivation[edit]

Students’ cognitive engagement, academic goals and accomplishments can be complemented or be in conflict because of sociocultural motivational factors. Russian theorist Lev Vygotsky was one of the first scholars who discussed the importance of sociocultural motivation approaches in student learning in the nineteenth century (Weiner, 1990). He used the ideas of the philosopher Friedrick Engels (1820–1895) to explain how history and the society have a significant impact on human development and learning. Vygotsky's theories provide a very useful explanation for some motivational theorists about the way factors such as poverty and racism interfere with motivation for classroom learning (Weiner).

Sivan (1986) is one of these theorists who proposed that the individual goals and values which motivate learning originate in the sociohistoric context. This argument was initially presented by Vygotsky (1978) where he discussed that language originated in the sociohistoric context. These theories argue that the differences in motivation should begin with the classroom, home, and sociocultural context, rather than the individual.

Studies of adaptive and co-regulated learning are one of the well-known Vygotskian strands of motivational research theories (McCaslin & Good, 1996). However, McCaslin, and Murdock (1991) studied that instructional and social environments found at home and in the classroom have significant impact on student motivation in learning. These studies show that students' regulation of their own thinking processes originates in the negotiation of goals and norms among students, teachers, families and relatives. It is important because it identifies the source of motivation as the relationships develop in students. These relationships are the relation of students with their school activities and other participants in the school learning (McCaslin, et al., 1991).

This helps learners to coordinate the goals implied by a range of various relationships and recognises that some of the goals will conflict with other goals. This suggests that teachers need to help students learn to negotiate goals for themselves and their classmates before searching for strategies to motivate individual learners. This encourages teachers to acknowledge the influence of other goals which have real value for students and might interfere with classroom learning (McCaslin et al., 1991). McCaslin's studies helped pave the way for other studies that focus on the relationships that students have with other participants in the classroom and sociocultural contexts. These studies significantly had a positive contribution to the emergence of “motivation in context” as an important theme among the researchers of motivation. In addition, it is particularly apparent in the treatment of motivation in educational psychology (Saliti, et al, 2007).

It is significantly important to give ample treatment to motivational strategies that focus on individual learners, however, teachers need to help the classroom community negotiate worthwhile goals, acknowledging that the students themselves help create and change these very goals (McCaslin, et al, 1991).

Situative theories[edit]

Situative theories of cognition is the most distinctively sociocultural theories of motivation that began taking shape in the 1990s. These theories relate knowledge and learning to social interactions and cultural activities. Situative theories argue that knowledge primarily resides in these contexts (Saliti, et al, 2007). According to Vygotsky (1978) human development and learning is tied to an individual’s context and situation. A person’s culture shapes their development and all learning is social, and social interaction is critical to one’s development. This study of psychology focuses on the group and social psychology, not individual psychology. Vygotsky (1978) argues that people learn through interaction with others and it is this interaction that teaches people. In order to learn new knowledge people need to scaffold their learning by interacting with and learning from others who are more knowledgeable than them. A student’s current learning level is able to be expanded through interaction with others in a social setting (Vygotsky).

According to situative theorists, the abstract concepts that make up knowledge, concepts that make up knowledge in cognitive theories and the specific associations that make up knowledge in the behavioural theories are secondary ways of describing knowledge (Gee, 2004). From this perspective, behavioural and cognitive explanations of individual activities reflect the beliefs of particular researchers and the methods they use. These theorists argue that knowledge is distributed across social rituals, tools and technologies that human cultures construct to allow them to work together. This means that knowledge and meaning are primarily brought into existence by the actual collective experiences people have in the world (Greeno & the MMAP, 1998). Furthermore, the abstract generalizations which are taken for granted in modern cognitive perspectives come at the end of a long process of socially situated activity (Gee, 2004).

Therefore, situative theorists believe that students' learning is significantly attached to their participation in the construction of situated knowledge in socially meaningful activities. These theorists suggest that motivation for classroom learning in a particular learning context offers a collective engagement in situated learning (students and teachers can share understanding of the concepts, terms, and rituals of a particular domain). This theory leads to a very different approach to motivation compared to the prior approaches that focused on the activity of individuals (Gee, 2004).

Hickey (1997) examined the motivational implications of situative instructional approaches which included the cognitive apprenticeship model defined by Collins, Brown, and Newman (1989). According to Collins et al. , lack of opportunity to engage in a meaningful shared activity is the negative motivational consequence of competition, not any fundamental consequence of competition. Similarly, Bereiter and Scardama-lia's 1989 intentional learning perspective was explored by Hickey, which argued that learning environments first need to give students opportunities to participate in the construction of new knowledge in shared activity. Both of these considerations of situated learning suggest that distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is too crude to be of much use in developing intentional learning environments. In addition, they suggest that motivational strategies of earlier individually oriented theories of motivation interfere with efforts to motivate engagement in situated learning (Hickey).

Furthermore, situative theorists put a strong emphasis on socially situated learning; however, such perspectives on learning have great implications for motivating classroom learning. One of these implications is that efforts to improve motivation for classroom learning should focus on engagement. This requires students to be more specific about learning because focusing on engagement needs to be more specific about learning assumptions (Hickey & Granade, 2004).

Hickey, et al., (2001) examined the implications of situative theories for motivating engagement in learning. These scholars argue that participation in shared discourse rather than learning from that participation is a situative focus on learning. This means that teachers should focus their efforts at motivating that participation (Hickey, et al.).

In contrast, prior theories focused on encouragement of students to engage in discourse, and seek individual explanations for any failures. Reasons for rewards and punishment for participating in an activity is considered by behaviourally oriented theorists (Hickey, et al, 2001). However, cognitively oriented theorists focus on how the goals or values of an individual affect the desirability of that activity (Hickey, et al, 2001). In contrast, situative theories concentrate more directly on fostering discourse among students. This discourse happens when students work together to make meaning of academic tasks such as terms, representations, and expert ideas in a particular academic domain. This approach of learning has major implications on teachers because it encourages them to focus directly on such situated considerations of learning. This limits the learning in to a situated consideration and takes away the focus from the behaviour and cognition of the students (Hickey, et al, 2001).

Hickey et al. (2001) also discuss the debate over extrinsic incentives such as prizes, competition and grades and argue the basic tension between behavioural and cognitive views of motivation on such incentives are a major obstacle to educational reform. According to Hickey, et al (2001), cognitive theorists have long argued that incentives interfere with natural learning processes, however, in contrast, behavioural theorists argue that incentives are very useful tools for encouraging learning. A neutral situative view of motivation presented by Hickey, et al (2001) has proven that extrinsic incentives are more useful for studying compared to behavioural and cognitive strategies for motivating engagement.

Incentives and competition are not inherently good or bad. However, all these motivational practices should first be analysed in terms of their impact on students' success at negotiating meaningfulness of the language and concepts of the particular academic domain. Importantly, a situative theory of motivation indicates that the positive outcome from such negotiations is the primary source of individual motivation towards a particular domain. Therefore it is the collective success of these negotiations that predicts whether or not those individuals will be motivated to engage in the practices of the domain in the future (Hickey, et al., 2001).

Greeno, et al. (1998) introduced the notion of engaged participation. This theory focuses on motivation for participation in the practices of content domains that are represented in the activities of classrooms. It argues that if students who make up the classroom do not value participation in those practices, it is difficult for a particular individual to participate in them (Greeno, et al, 1998).


Motivation is a key element of education and plays a vital role in the success of the students’ learning process. There are many factors such as the norms for behaviour that family, relatives, peers and the society communicate and encourage students for better educational achievements that influence motivation. It is evident that collective learning is more appropriate than individualised theories for learning. The environment is crucial for the learner because it stimulates the student to develop cognitively, as well as encouraging them to learn more through interaction with other students, their teacher, family, friends and relatives. Sociocultural theories of motivation which was initially developed by Vygotsky is based on this cognitive development theory. In addition, situative theories of cognition which is the most distinctively sociocultural theories of motivation relate knowledge and learning to social interactions and cultural activities. These theories show that learning is being ingrained in social events and takes place when the learner is interacting with people, objects, and events within the environment. Therefore, learners need assistance from their teacher in the beginning, and later from their peers, in order to improve their learning. Research supports sociocultural theories of motivation because it is proven that students can reach a higher level of performance by scaffolding. Furthermore, research also shows that a student’s development cannot be studied individually but rather socially.


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Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated learning and language: A critique of traditional schooling. London: Routledge.

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