Understanding why we want to learn or embark on a particular course of study is critical to our eventual success. Motivation has been proven to be a critical component of the learning experience for all learners. For adult leaners, it is no different as adult learners are motivated or driven by a range of factors. Knowledge of motivation theories is, therefore, critical to higher education practitioners, in that it can inform programme design, course objectives, instructional and assessment strategies. Nilson (2014) describes motivation in education, as the stimulation of a desire to learn and further defines it in terms of its intrinsic and extrinsic nature.
Adult learners may be motivated by a love of a particular discipline, by a need for mastery or by the relevance and applicability of the programme of study; this is seen as intrinsic motivation. Conversely, extrinsic motivation is linked to external factors or rewards, like the expectation of a high paying job, a promotion, a raise of pay, peer or familial approval and improved social status (Nilson, 2014). Theoretical interpretations of motivation link it to specific types of impulses or desires. These range from behaviourist emphases like immediate rewards to concepts of goal orientation and expectancy theories (Nilson, 2014).
In considering our roles as Higher Education practcioners, I think that it is critical for us to understand how adult learners are motivated so that the principles of motivation can be more readily applied to programme design and the actual facilitation of learning. According to goal orientation theory, learners may be oriented by a desire to learn and master knowledge and skills for their own development or they may be motivated to perform in order to demonstrate “superiority” to other students (Jacobson, 2011). As a practitioner who has worked extensively in the area of teacher education, I have found a mix of these attributes among adult learners and hence my interest in goal oriented learning. Students with a learner orientation, can perhaps be described as passionate learners; those who interface with knowledge enthusiastically and are self-directed in their scholarly pursuits, while performance oriented learners may be driven by a desire for grades or other extrinsic rewards.
Is it possible then to move students who are purely extrinsically motivated towards a deeper more enduring level of motivation? I think that this should be the aim of educational programme design, in terms of crafting opportunities for students to be more reflective about their own motivations for learning. If a programme is cramped with assessments that are purely content driven, I think that learners will focus only on the immediacy of grades. If course design is more reflective and developmental, if it is based on process approaches, developmental structures and real-world experiences and if these are laced with opportunities for students to think about their own thinking (metacognition) I think that such learning becomes far more meaningful and enduring (Sogunro, 2014). This then underscores the relationship between intrinsic motivation, deep learning and new knowledge creation (Wald and Castleberry, 2000).
I can personally draw reference to in a programme I designed for teachers entitled “Building Bridges for Meaningful Learning”. While this was a teacher and leadership development programme designed to acquaint teachers and curriculum leaders with the requisite content knowledge about identifying and catering to varying student needs, it first required them to examine their current teaching philosophy. Through the use of graphic organizers and self-reflective questionnaires as lead-in activities, I encouraged participants to think about their current practice and about their country’s national educational system, before even introducing them to new strategies. This enabled us to explore, discuss and to grapple with tensions and practitioner anomalies, which may have been disregarded, had I simply focused on content.
This strategy, therefore, spoke to my programme aims. I was not only interested in delivering content but was more concerned about developing reflective educators, who would question what they knew and practiced. This, to my mind, was a precursor to real professional growth, which started with my attempts to deepen motivation. This created the context for knowledge generation (Wald and Castleberry, 2000). While there are a number of models of motivation, strategies that focus on inclusion, collaboration, the development of a positive attitude and the building of competencies, are also likely to work well with adult learners (O’Connell, 2005).
Developing intrinsically motivated learners is critical because it bears implications for life long learning. If we are only motivated by public accolades or by the satisfaction which may come with scoring an A, what will motivate us when we simply need to engage with new knowledge as a part of our own professional development? With respect to on going professional development, becoming an avid learner can be a precursor to sustained professional growth and the management and application of new knowledge. Higher educational practitioners who are also able to model the passion for learning through their approach to their own professional development, are also well on their way, towards stimulating growth in their students.
Jacobsen, G. (2011). Teacher goal setting-Learning oriented vs performance oriented goals. Inquire Within. Retrieved from https://inquiryblog.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/teacher-goal-setting-learning- oriented-vs-performance-oriented-goals/
Nilson, L.B. (2014). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
O’Connell, K. (2005). Motivational strategies. Retrieved from http://userpages.umbc.edu/~koconne1/605TheAdultLearner/strategies.htm
Sogunro, O.A. (2015).Motivating factors for adult learners in higher education. International Journal of Higher Education , 4 (1), 22-37. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1060548.pdf
Wald, P. J. & Castleberry, M. S. (2000). Educators as learners. VA: ASCD