How can motivation be relative to learning

Learning motives and motivation to learn


The term "motivation to learn" stands for a wide range of cognitive and emotional processes that one Self-control enable targeted behavior. These include, for example, expectations or emotions accompanying the action such as Joy in learning. Learning motivation can thus be considered a Collective term for all emotional and cognitive processes that help the learner to learn something new.

The extent of the learner's motivation to learn depends on the changing relationship between the personality traits (skills, level of motivation) of the learner and the Incentivizing the situation themselves that can be influenced by the teacher.

A person often has very different reasons to acquire something new. Besides the cognitively conditioned there are also social learning motives, like affection and security, which play an important role. It is very important for primary school students to have a positive relationship with their teacher at the beginning of their school days. This often represents the basis for his willingness to learn. Further social motives for learning are validity and recognition, avoidance of negative sanctions, power and superiority. They can support positive motivation to learn, but they can also be disruptive. This is also important for the motivation to learn curiosity and the interest in the subject area.

So the learners have different goals and motivations. Some want to prove something to themselves or to others, others learn in a future-oriented way with regard to their own careers. Corresponding courses and courses can also be completed part-time and regardless of location. Professional success through distance learning is becoming increasingly important, as the fast pace of the modern job market makes lifelong learning indispensable. With distance learning, you kill several birds with one stone, so to speak: you gain further training, gain valuable professional experience and stay in the job - which is not uninteresting in today's times, because anyone who has a good job is happy about it. At the same time, the advanced training also means a better salary: With a distance learning course in marketing, for example, commercial employees can qualify for management positions in nationally and internationally operating companies. However, it should be noted that a distance learning master’s degree requires a first degree with a bachelor’s degree. Some universities require a letter of motivation for admission, in which the applicant must explain his or her personal reasons for wanting to take this degree at the university.

Intrinsic motives

An intrinsic motive is understood to be the motive inherent in the content of the learning material to deal with it. That means that the Relationship to the subject matter motivates the learner.

The intrinsically motivated learner learns out interest, Joy, need, i.e. driven by the subject matter to be learned. The interest is achieved through the application of what has been learned, it has a special meaning for personal life and is a solution for personal problems. The Inviting character is the most important intrinsic motive, it is the object that causes the learner to feel invited to deal with the content, even if he has no use from it. This motif can be used by designing the learning environment in an appealing way. Further intrinsic motives are the urge to accomplish something, curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.

The advantage of intrinsic motivation can be seen in the lower external reinforcement and independence.

Extrinsic motives

The extrinsic motive is the external motive that lies outside the learner's relationship to the subject matter, but has an initiating or reinforcing effect on the motivation to learn. Learners who are extrinsically motivated study for grades, praise, or prestige. One can still divide this type of motive into material motives and social motives. Material motifs are reward and punishment, they result from setting goals that correspond to the learner's abilities. Every successful learning is again a material motivation that motivates further learning. If, however, motivation also comes from others, one speaks of social motives, such as competition and group feeling. In this case, motivation can arise from solving problems together with other learners.

Adult learning motives

Adults decide for themselves whether and why they learn, their reasons for this are very diverse, be it out of dissatisfaction with the current situation, curiosity, new challenges or maintaining mental fitness. It is very important for the adult human being, for what reasons he learns what desires and needs are behind it.

To e.g. Educational motivation psychological needs alone are not enough. There are a number of motives that work together. The motives of adults to continue their education are very diverse and different.

In the further education Above all, cognitive and social motives play an important role. The cognitive motives contain the curiosity, mentioned in the intrinsic motivation, to analyze the drive to analyze something. The social motives are desires such as validity, status, superiority and assertiveness. Further social motives are adaptation to the group, the need for conformity and being in good hands. The achievement motive is of particular importance, it means realizing goals that you have set yourself.

As a rule, adults know why they are studying. However, there are also other motives that motivate them to attend advanced training seminars. An example of this would be the English course that many adults attend to make new contacts and keep themselves mentally fit. Due to the diversity of needs, there are conflicting expectations that are placed on the course.

However, there are other reasons adults need to educate themselves. There are many situations in life that change quickly and one has to adjust to them again. Be it environmental problems that have to be identified and managed, or in order to keep pace with technical developments or to deal with new professional requirements. Another reason to learn in adulthood is vocational retraining, which is largely done for health reasons or due to unemployment.

See also Motivation to learn in studies

Social motives not only tied to people

Social motives In humans, to a much greater extent than in mammals, are no longer restricted to conspecifics, but are also directed at actually "non-social" objects due to the different way of perceiving the environment. This should be explained a little using the example of the security motif.

In social mammals, the setpoint dependency regulates the interaction with familiar conspecifics between the poles of attachment and weariness. This behavior is also controlled by this motive in humans, but we are of the opinion that the security motive also generally influences the handling of the familiar: It is no longer only the familiar conspecifics that can provide security, but also familiar objects, areas and situations, even things as abstract as familiar patterns of thought, world views and beliefs become potential sources of security.

In this way, the whole environment can become a social partner for human beings, in that each stimulus is assigned a familiarity and a foreignness value. Despite all this, it cannot be assumed that the motives can completely deny their origin: not everything will be able to address the motives in the same way. In general, conspecifics will still be the most relevant objects for social motivation. You have to reckon with inter-individual differences, e.g. due to different socialization.


In the course of the development history of living beings (evolution) a Behavior system developed, which causes humans and animals to turn to new, unknown and unfamiliar stimuli and facts, to direct their attention to them and to explore them through inspection and manipulation. In motivational psychology, this exploratory behavioral system is called Curiosity motive and one assumes that people too from birth are equipped with it. In general developmental psychology, since the studies of Jean Piaget in the 40s and 50s the curiosity motive was a central one Explanation for mental development used. Modern development theories also consider curiosity to be important Driving force for the child's own activity in dealing with the environment.

Even in toddler and preschool age big differences Observe in the turning towards new objects and events, in the way and perseverance with which they explore things, and in the joy they express in doing so. Berg & Sternberg (1985) found that differences in interest in new things and the ability to deal competently with new things go hand in hand with individual differences in intelligence between the ages of 3 and 6 years. They distinguish between two components:

  • the motivationalwhich expresses itself in the attention to new stimuli and objects, in the persistence with which they explore these new facts and the joy they show, and
  • the cognitive componentwhich shows itself in the ability to gain relevant information when dealing with new things and to distinguish between the important and the unimportant.

The importance of a strong curiosity motive for the intellectual development In early childhood, children with strong curiosity prefer new stimuli or situations more, turn to them more often, more quickly and more intensively, and have more perseverance in searching for information than less curious children. This allows them to develop more strategies for obtaining information and use them flexibly when confronted with new things. The relationship between the strength of the curiosity motive and a child's mental abilities is particularly evident in problematic situations that are new and complex to the child and contain a multitude of unfamiliar elements. Nice Jean Piaget has emphasized in his work the importance of active discussion of the child with its environment, because only active exploration contributes to the formation of experience and the development of cognitive structures. As a rule, children encourage this self-motivated (intrinsic) process dealing with the environment automatically. The child does not need any additional "reward". However, a prerequisite for this appealing and stimulating environmentthat invites you to explore and attracts attention.

For details see curiositya special motif

Learning and feelings

Already with the first Considering a problem, a question or a task produces feelings. If it is a problem from a familiar class of problems that have been successfully solved several times, the task will be approached with joy, fun and self-confidence. But that is not the norm. Much more familiar are situations in which one associates concrete tasks with past failures, general antipathies and even malaise. From such an emotional state, the successful problem solving and the learning of problem-solving procedures take place under the most unfavorable conditions imaginable (cf. Falkenhagen & Paeschel 1977). The importance of such emotional factors should not be underestimated, with the Interaction between cognitive and affective characteristics plays an important role within a person. Emotional stability, for example, has a beneficial effect on the development of intellectual abilities, on the other hand, intellectual abilities only just bring about emotional stability.

Feelings therefore have an enormous influence on every learning process, so that the following generally applies: Negative feelings such as fear, reluctance or worry impair the ability to memorize the subject matter. Learning under stress also reduces success. On the other hand, the substance is particularly well absorbed if it is associated with positive feelings. This is another reason why it is important to start a learning process with good motivation. This motivation cannot always be based on the thing we have to deal with (intrinsic motivation). Often it is external incentives such as a reward offered that motivate us (extrinsic motivation).

The feelings arise in a part of the brain called the limbic system, which has the task of evaluating incoming information, checking its relevance and thus ensuring an adequate human response to the corresponding stimulus. This evaluation is linked to an emotional coloring of the information. A positive emotional composition of the learning material is important for retention.

The Afraid of math problems can cause memory failures, a Cleveland State University study found. However, these problems with working memory only arise with tasks involving numbers. According to the researchers, it is one learned fear response. Once a student has developed a fear of math problems, it becomes more and more difficult for him to learn the solutions because of the short-term memory loss. Confidence in one's own math skills wanes and fear increases. This phobia can be combated with a deeper understanding of the subject. Accordingly, mathematics lessons should not only convey a set of rules that can be recalled from memory, but also show ways of approaching math problems.

By the way, she has Neurobiology does not bring completely new insights, but only provides the explanatory patterns for what the classics of learning from Locke to Kant, from Pestalozzi to Comenius, always knew that feelings are so important in learning because the brain structures that process facts, are the same ones that also process feelings. The brain can be influenced by learning in its emotional balance and vice versa. So learning makes you happy, and those who are happy learn more easily. Therefore, it also helps to influence yourself positively, i.e. to approach learning tasks with a smile. Then learning is easier. But even the happiest learner comes to the point where he realizes: Learning also needs consistency, perseverance and self-discipline. Then this time of overcoming should be weighted in comparison to the happy learning experiences, because it is not about whether learning is tedious for a day or two, but about the general experience that learning is fun. The Hardship of learning is part of learning, but you can learn to deal with it. Current learning is always judged on the basis of old learning experiences, and if these were positive, one is also motivated to deal with the next challenges. Therefore, small learning units and Intermediate goals important to give children a sense of achievement. Once they have made the experience that learning is fun, the requirements can be increased. Playful learning is voluntary work, and this voluntariness, or at least the impression that you enjoy doing something yourself, is very important for making learning fun. Playful learning is closely related to that action-oriented learning connected and integrated holistic, age-appropriate and child-appropriate learning. In playful learning, a wide variety of methods and tools are used, with the help of which skills and knowledge are imparted in an informal, repeatable manner.This is done taking into account the elementary cognitive, receptive and practical experiences of children, such as how language is mainly learned through use. Playful learning accompanies children from the beginning, because it helps them to grasp connections, to acquire knowledge and to solve tasks. Playing and learning are closely linked here, although playing can sometimes also mean hard work.

Of course, playing can sometimes be strenuous too. So motivating children to learn does not mean that you shouldn't make any demands on them in order to protect them from failure, or that you shouldn't criticize poor performance. Children want to be taken seriously, and that also requires honest feedback. Dopamine is only released from the brain when the task at hand is a real challenge. You shouldn't overstrain or intimidate children, because anyone who is afraid of the teacher, of their parents or of failures in general cannot learn efficiently because their associative thinking is limited. Students find this form of learning to be faster, easier and more effective. Playful learning leads to aha-moments, new discoveries and experiences through the inherent curious, playful-experimental procedure. This makes learning one self-organized, intellectual process. Rewards are also important for motivation, but they have to change, otherwise the surprise will be lost and the reward system in the brain will not react. Rewards shouldn't always be material either, but rather attention, time for a game together, or an excursion are often more valuable for children. Teachers can also motivate their students with rewards, i.e. a nod of approval when they leave the class, or a short sentence of praise.

Literature & sources

Falkenhagen, H. & Paeschel, D. (1977). For the trainability of problem-solving in connection with significant character traits. In: Lompscher, J. (Ed.), On the psychology of learning. Berlin.

Without author (2009). Arouse the desire to learn. Interview with Jürgen Overhoff and Prof. Dr. Martin Korte.
WWW: (09-12-25)

See also motives for school learning

Influence of rewards on intrinsic motivation: the overjustification effect

It is assumed in psychology that behaviors that occur repeatedly are intensified by consequences in the organism's environment. This also has an impact in the practical work of the behavioral analyst: The use of amplifiers is more or less a mandatory component of every behavioral analysis measure. Cognitive psychologists in particular suspect that this external reinforcement could destroy so-called "intrinsic motivation". That would mean that if I were additionally rewarded by someone for an activity that I already enjoy doing anyway, I would be less motivated to do this activity again without a reward.

This claim - external amplifiers destroy the intrinsic motivation - has been supported empirically many times (e.g. Deci, 1971) and is called "Overjustification Effect"(roughly: over-justification effect), Corruption Effect or Displacement effect (intrinsic motivation is displaced by extrinsic) known. In the following, the corruption effect will be discussed throughout. Mark L. Lepper et al. (1982) examined the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. They found that external rewards (extrinsic motivation) influence the performance of a task that one has already found attractive (intrinsic motivation). The central statement is that (extrinsic) reinforcements undermine (destroy) the intrinsic motivation.

Under the name of overjustification effect ("Over Reward") this connection has become known. In an experiment, preschoolers were given the opportunity to play with felt-tip pens. Your intrinsic motivation to do this is determined by the duration of the spontaneous game. Two weeks later, they are asked to paint pictures with the pens in three groups (with comparable initial motivation) under three different reward conditions. Another week later, pens and paper were placed in the lounge and gaming behavior was observed through a one-way mirror. The reward conditions in the groups were:

  • Group 1: expected reward: the children were promised a reward ("good player award") for using the pens.
  • Group 2: unexpected reward: these children received a reward if they played with the pens without prior notice.
  • Group 3: no reward

The group that was influenced by the expectation of a reward showed a relative decrease in motivation. Obviously, external rewards can negatively influence intrinsically motivated behavior. However, it depends on how the reward is perceived. As a bonus for special achievements, verbal recognition can certainly increase intrinsic motivation and, in the case of extrinsically motivated people, external rewards can promote the development of intrinsic motivation. For example, incentives can make a topic that is initially uninteresting for the students more interesting (intrinsic motivation). However, tasks are devalued by a person if they are seen (through the influence of external rewards) not as a goal (intrinsically) but as a means (to achieve something; extrinsically).

In a study - reported by David Swensen in "Investing Successfully" - American Investment funds Divided into two groups: a) cheap and b) expensive. By “cheap” it was meant that the ongoing fund administration costs etc. are below average. The others are then “expensive”. The question examined was which of these two groups had a better performance before costs. It was expected that a fund manager who was paid above average would also perform better. The opposite was the case. Inexpensive investment funds usually have a better performance than expensive funds, even beyond the fee savings. A quote from the economist Bruno Frey: “Those who pay bonuses attract people who are interested in money. Those who pay fixed salaries attract people who care about their work. "

Lepper, M. R., Sagotsky, G., Dafoe, J. L., & Greene, D. (1982). Consequences of superfluous social constraints: Effects on young children's social inferences and subsequent intrinsic interest. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, pp. 51-64.

Other sources:ösungen-mimin-motivation-und-leistungs/ (09-09-05)

Under the title "Does reinforcement destroy" intrinsic motivation "?" Christoph Bördlein, who already perceives the concept of intrinsic motivation as contradicting or partly illogical, summarizes the numerous research results and writes: "Empirical research delivers when viewed critically no clear evidence for the claimed effect. Much of the research also suffers from methodological weaknesses. Opposite findings, which show that "external" reinforcement also further strengthens or at least does not weaken behavior that has already occurred at a high rate, abound. The possible negative side effects of an unreflective use of "rewards" can easily be avoided by taking into account basic behavioral analytical principles of the use of amplifiers. "

Bördlein, Christoph (2005). Does reinforcement destroy "intrinsic motivation"?
WWW: (05-11-06)

Questionnaire to record current motivation in learning and performance situations

With 18 items, the questionnaire (FAM) records four components of current motivation in (experimental) learning and performance situations, namely Fear of failure, probability of success, interest and challenge. The German and an American version show satisfactory consistencies (6 samples, N = 944). From various experiments, there are already validity indications that the motivational components recorded in advance are related to the subsequent learning behavior and learning performance. In the current article, two experiments are reported which show that the performance prognoses of challenge and interest also depend on the learning task and the number of learning cycles. Both FAM factors allow performance predictions in self-directed comprehension learning (vs. question-guided factual learning) and in test subjects who need many (vs. few) rounds to achieve an acceptable level of performance. In studies with similar learning conditions, it is advisable to use the FAM in order to statistically control the motivational effects.

Rheinberg, Falko, Vollmeyer, Regina & Burns, Bruce D. (2001). Questionnaire to record current motivation in learning and performance situations. Diagnostica, 47, 57-6.

Sources & literature

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