Inquisitive and self-directed learning is a natural behavior for young children. They marvel at each new discovery and strive to understand the meaning behind every question in their world. However, older children seem to be resistant to learning unless directed by teachers or parents with various forms of external recognition (Deci and Ryan, 1981). Their enthusiasm and inner desire for understanding has diminished. Learning, to older children has become directly connected to demands, controls, and rewards.
In order to understand why this attitude toward learning develops, the concept of motivation in education must be defined and examined in a theoretical sense. “Motivation is an essential condition of learning” (Ray, 1992, p. 3). A motivating condition may be defined as an emotion, desire, physiological need, or similar impulse that acts as an incitement to action. Ray (1992) comments that “motivation in education is concerned with students motivation to learn” (p. 3). With the understanding of these defined concepts in hand, we can begin to examine the reasons behind school age children losing their enthusiasm for learning.
In order to comprehend the reason for the undermining of this intrinsic behavior, we must acknowledge the basic theories of motivation from an eclectic standpoint. By embracing the concepts of learning from both a behaviorist and cognitive point of view, a teacher can tailor the use of reinforcement in the classroom to commit the students to achieving academic excellence with enthusiasm and devotion. Humanistic behavior and learning techniques are viewed from many different positions of psychological theories (Ramirez, 1983).
In order for a teacher to effectively apply these psychological principles in their classroom, they must become knowledgeable in the various conflicting theories. Looking at the theoretical aspect of motivation to learn provides background information about the basic nature of different learning processes (Ericksen, 1974). The locus of control in motivation is the subject area where separate theoretical views come into play. People have either an internal locus of control, an external locus of control, or are simply amotivated.
Intrinsic motivation is a state where the relevance for the learner of the content of the material is the main reason for learning. Extrinsic motivation for learning is a state where the reasons for the learning effort have nothing to do with the content of the learning material. A good learning performance serves only as a means for achieving some desired end result. ” (Marton, 1982, p. 8) “Amotivated people tend to be passive and non-responsive. They seem to believe that they cannot have a meaningful impact on their environment, so they tend not to behave.
They frequently feel helpless and are easily upset. Their learning is slow and seems to be painful” (Deci and Ryan, 1981, p. 2) “The question of how people learn divides learning theorists into one of three major groups: behavioral [classical and operant conditioning], cognitive [insight, latent and observational learning], and eclectic [combinations of behavioral and cognitive theories]”(Banks and Thompson, 1995, p. 226). Behaviorism, in a contemporary sense, does not rely on solely stimulus/response motives as does classical conditioning.
B. F. Skinner developed the concept of behaviorism that focuses on reinforcement as the only factor necessary to explain motivation. This division of behaviorism is classified as operant conditioning (Kolesnik, 1978). “Operant conditioning is more useful in explaining our voluntary behavior and is considerably more relevant to the problems of motivation” (Kolesnik, 1978, p. 77). Kolesnik comments that the basic tenet of operant conditioning is that behavior is shaped by its end result. The concept of consequences implies some system of reward or punishment, some form of pleasure or pain, some type of positive or negative reinforcement.
This whole concept of operant conditioning supports the theoretical view of extrinsic motivation. “Cognitive theories, on the other hand, emphasize the point that our behavior is not determined by discriminative or reinforcing stimuli in and of themselves but by our perceptions or interpretations of those stimuli” (Kolesnik, 1978, p. 109). This implies that in a classroom situation, learning depends not only on external stimuli such as the explanations, demands, and expectations of teachers but more so on what those stimuli mean to us.
Kolesnik states that cognitive psychology places a greater stress on the process of learning than it does on the outcomes and tends to rely more heavily on intrinsic rather than extrinsic forms of motivation. William Glasser played an essential role in intrinsic motivation of learning through the development of the control theory. The control theory emphasizes the idea that everything people think, do, and feel is generated by what happens inside of them (Banks and Thompson, 1995). “Ideally, motivation should be intrinsic.
Students should want to study the subject for its own sake or for the sense of accomplishment in learning something new. Since many students are not intrinsically motivated, however, extrinsic rewards can sometimes offer a first step toward increased motivation” (“Practitioner,”1987, p. 3). Human beings experience all three of these motivational states at one time or another. Teachers must acknowledge the experiences of these motivational sets in the classroom and implement individualized instruction in order for students to encounter learning at its highest quality.
In order to tailor our instructional practices toward developing intrinsically motivated students in the classroom, the use of extrinsic rewards must be carefully analyzed and measured. As stated before, if extrinsic reinforcement is used incorrectly, the students enthusiasm and inner desire to learn can be incapacitated. This undermining occurs because extrinsic rewards create a dependency between the behavior and the reward.
“The answer to this problem lies in the nature of rewards and communications which they contend have either one of two aspects: controlling or informational” (Deci and Ryan, 1981, p. . Deci and Ryan define that the function of the controlling aspect is to bring about a certain behavioral result that is desired by the one who is giving the reward. The function of the informational aspect is to provide information to the recipient that is relevant to their performance. Even though every reward contains these two aspects, the conveyance of the reward determines its effects on intrinsic motivation. In an experiment where two groups of subjects were paid prior to completing a task. One group was paid controllingly and the other was paid informationally.
The group of subjects that were paid informationally were more intrinsically motivated to complete the task (Enzle, Ross, Rosenfield, Folger, and Adelman, 1980). This experiment supports the fact that informational reinforcement enhances intrinsic motivation. This idea can easily be applied to the classroom with use of both tangible and verbal rewards. “The important point from the studies mentioned is that the effect of rewards and communications on intrinsic motivation depends on whether they are interpreted by the recipients as being primarily informational or primarily controlling” (Deci and Ryan, 1981, p. ). This application is very important in schools because rewards and communications are essential parts of educational systems (Deci and Ryan, 1981). The eclectic view of the concept of motivation to learn must then be acknowledged because even though it is ideal to be intrinsically motivated, to discard implementation of extrinsic forms of motivation or avoid the fact that some students will be amotivated at times would not be realistic.
After reviewing behavioral and cognitive theories of learning, it appears to be obvious that the most effective measure to be taken to motivate students to learn would be to implement the best parts of each of the mentioned theoretical concepts (Banks and Thompson, 1995). “Behaviorist make a strong argument for limiting the study of learning to observable behavior that can be counted and analyzed for its meaning. Observable behavior is easy to validate and changes are recognizable” (Banks and Thompson, 1995, p. 273).
But from the cognitive perspective, there is more to learning than stimulus-response correlation. This involves insight, creativity, drawing conclusions, and problem-solving (Banks and Thompson, 1995). By customizing these theories to use in the classroom, teachers can begin to understand why it is easy for intrinsic motivation to learn can be undermined and then take action to mend the problem. The art of correctly tailoring the use of extrinsic reinforcement in the classroom to enhance intrinsic motivation to learn lies in the hands of the teacher.
After becoming familiar with various theories of learning, the teacher is in a position to perceive their students learning experiences from a new perspective (Ramirez, 1983). Ramirez comments that having this broadened insight toward students motivation to learn helps the teacher to become more conscious of their own behavior and the events that take place in the classroom. The Skinnerian approach for a teacher to use power to reward and punish their students to motivate them can be ineffective if executed in and of itself.
Glasser (1986) agrees to some extent that the role of the teacher is comparative to that of a manager because they use their power to reward or punish their students to get results. Then Glasser (1986) takes this concept one step further and comments that an effective teacher should not be a traditional manager, but should strive to be a modern manager. A modern manager spends the majority of their time structuring the workplace [classroom] to make it more satisfying for their workers [students]. Satisfied workers [students] are much more productive (Glasser,1986).
Glasser goes on to support this idea by stating that a teacher as a modern manager must empower their students to learn. “Teachers who are well-prepared and enthusiastic about their subjects and are able to convey their enthusiasm to their students are likely to increase the students interest in the material”(“Practitioner,”1987, p. 2). This practice may appear to be simple to convey on the surface, but teachers are constantly faced with controlling reward structures, deadlines, constraints, surveillance, and external evaluations. These are all previously cited undermining factors of intrinsic motivation (Deci and Ryan, 1981).
The Roles of the Administration and Community “When administrators are more autonomy-oriented, they provide teachers with opportunities to try new things, to teach in their own ways, to choose optimal challenges, the teachers seem to be more intrinsically motivated” (Deci and Ryan, 1981, p. 15). Teachers need administrators who respond to their initiations and support their practicing methods to remain intrinsically motivated in the same way that students need teachers to respond to their initiations and mastery attempts to remain enthusiastic about learning (Deci and Ryan, 1981).
School administrators, and the community in general, need to be supportive of teachers efforts to try new things, to respond to the challenges, and to teach according to their preferred methods. “Deci and Ryan propose that if the climate of the educational system were more informational and autonomy-oriented in nature, this would foster teachers intrinsic motivation for teaching. In turn, teachers would be better able to foster intrinsic motivation in their students” (Deci and Ryan, 1981, p. ). The art of skillfully implementing reinforcement, in a tailored fashion, for the students development of intrinsic motivation to learn is a difficult task for a teacher to master. Even though the school administration and community should be responsible for setting precedence of intrinsic motivation throughout the schools, the obligation of effectively facilitating this concept is in the possession of the teacher.