What is motivation in education?

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Bored or stressed, they are simply our children.

Many traditional public schools don’t offer much in the way of autonomy and don’t allow students to learn at their own pace.

Regiments often undermine students’ inclination to pursue topics that interest and deeply involve them.

The assessment systems used in most schools further discourage them from self-directed learning that arises from the enjoyment of the process and a passion for the subject.

A thorough understanding of motivation is desperately needed to:

  • promote participation in our classrooms,
  • Encourage motivation to learn and develop talent.
  • support the desire to stay in school rather than drop out of school, e
  • Educate teachers on how to provide a motivational and supportive classroom environment.


This article addresses the main topics of the science of motivation as they relate to educational contexts and the learning process in general and includes examples of motivational assessments for teachers and classroom interventions for students.

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Motivation in Education

We all come into the world with a natural curiosity and motivation to learn, but some lose these skills as we age. Many factors determine our individual inclinations towards the learning process and education is a critical context that can influence our subsequent attitudes towards the acquisition and growth of knowledge.

True learning is a lifelong process. But to continually achieve results, our children must find learning fun and rewarding so that they can develop a sustained level of motivation necessary for long-term results.

Curiosity and motivation to learn are the strength that allows students to seek intellectual and experimental novelties and encourages students to face unfamiliar and often difficult circumstances with the anticipation of growth and the expectation of success.

In the context of education, the will associates students with academic activities. Students’ levels of motivation are reflected in their commitment and contribution to the learning environment.

Highly motivated students often actively and spontaneously participate in activities and find the learning process enjoyable without expecting external rewards (Skinner and Belmont, 1993). On the other hand, students who display low levels of learning motivation often rely on rewards to encourage them to participate in activities they may not find enjoyable.

According to a study (Malone & Lepper, 1987), seven factors support motivation:

  1. challenge
  2. curiosity
  3. control
  4. fantasy
  5. competence
  6. cooperation
  7. recognition


Many of these are present in the games, but more on that later. Current trends in educational psychology draw attention not only to cognitive development but also to student motivation and preference as key factors in promoting effective learning and achievement.

Lack of motivation, one of the main obstacles to academic success manifested through feelings of frustration and annoyance experienced by students, hampers long-term productivity and well-being. Several factors influence the motivational level in learning, such as the ability to believe in effort, ignorance of the value and characteristics of academic tasks (Legault et al., 2006).

The next section discusses intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and other related theories of learning motivation in detail.

Theories of Motivation in Education

Motivation itself has a broad scope to deal with and several theories of motivation are relevant to the learning domain. The following theories contribute to the essential outcomes of the learning process without relying on other theories in the field of education:

  • intrinsic and extrinsic motivation theory
  • self-determination theory (SDT)
  • the ARCS model
  • social cognitive theory
  • theory of expectations


Self-determination theory (SDT) and the ARCS model are widely used in the domain of motivation for learning the discipline. The level of implementation of theories such as social cognitive theory and expectation theory is still in the early stages, but it can significantly contribute to understanding motivation in learning, as well as other aspects of life where motivation is crucial.

 Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation Theory

According to Ryan and Deci, intrinsic motivation defines an activity done alone without the anticipation of external rewards and the feeling of pure satisfaction it provides (2000).

The right level of challenge, along with the right skills, sense of control, curiosity, and imagination are some of the key factors that can trigger intrinsic motivation. And when combined with willpower and a positive attitude, these elements can help you stay motivated over time.

Some studies show that intrinsic motivation and academic achievement share positive and significant correlations (Pérez-López & Contero, 2013). Intrinsic motivation can direct students to participate in academic activities to experience fun, challenge, and novelty away from any external pressure or compulsion and with no expectation of reward (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

In contrast, extrinsic motivation describes the activities that students engage in while anticipating rewards, in the form of good grades or recognition, or out of compulsion and fear of punishment (Tohidi & Jabbari, 2012).

Motivation can be cultivated extrinsically early on, particularly when dealing with activities that are not inherently interesting, as long as the ultimate goal is to turn it into intrinsic motivation during the learning process. The reason for this has to do with a short duration and a possible addiction to rewards.

Although extrinsic motivation may initially generate a high level of willpower and commitment, it does not promote perseverance and is difficult to maintain over time due to hedonic adaptation. Finally, external rewards or praise undermine students’ ability to participate in educational activities for their own good or to master skills or knowledge.

However, both types of motivation have their place in the learning process. While intrinsic motivation can lead to higher levels of self-motivation, extrinsic motivation often provides that initial push that engages students in the activity and can help maintain motivation throughout the learning process over time (Ti and Lynch, 2016 ).

It is not an easy task to guide students to learn to be highly motivated, to face challenges, to understand the process, and to be able to apply their new knowledge in real-life circumstances.

Related: Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Motivation

Self-determination Theory

The theory of self-determination further addresses intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. He explains this in terms of self-regulation, where extrinsic motivation reflects external control of behavior and intrinsic motivation correlates with true self-regulation (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

SDT tells us that intrinsic motivation is closely related to the satisfaction of basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and affinity and illustrates how these natural human tendencies are related to several key characteristics in the learning process.

Here autonomy is linked to will and independence and competence is associated with the feeling of effectiveness and self-confidence to pursue and fulfill academic tasks. The relationship provides the feeling of security and connection with the learning environment when this enables and improves student achievement and motivation (Ulstad, et al., 2016).

The theory of self-determination has evolved from five other sub-theories that further support its claims.

First, the theory of cognitive assessment (KET), which explains the effects of external consequences on internal motivation, calls our attention to the fundamental role that autonomy and competence play in fostering intrinsic motivation by showing what it is like. Vital in education, arts, sports, and education. many other domains.

Second, organismic integration theory (OIT) and causality orientation theory (TOC) further explains that motivation occurs along a spectrum ranging from a motivational stage to motivational states where the focus is on the competition.

Next, the Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT), which classifies human needs into three primary psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relationship, shows how meeting these needs is crucial for engagement, motivation, healthy progress, and student welfare (Gagne and Deci, 2014).

Finally, the Goal Content Theory (TCG) shows the relationship between the satisfaction of basic needs and well-being based on intrinsic and extrinsic goal motivation, where intrinsic goals lead to higher achievement and better academic performance, especially within the social framework of the educational environment (Ryan and Deci, 2000).


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