Needs and Motivation


Another fundamental approach to motivation is to consider human behavior as stimulated by the urge to satisfy needs. For example, Maslow lists four basic needs and three growth needs (Figure 5.4). These needs are hierarchical; that is, lower level needs must be at least temporarily satisfied before learners can be motivated by higher needs. For example, a hungry person is not likely to be motivated by esteem needs; and a person with very low self esteem is not likely to be motivated by the need to know and understand. Basic needs are essential to physical and psychological well-being. Once these needs are satisfied, the motivation to satisfy them diminishes, or even vanishes for a while. Growth needs, on the other hand, can never be satisfied completely. When these needs are partly fulfilled, the need to fulfill them may become even greater. Needs related to personality development and self-actualization are further discussed in chapter 8.



Figure 5.4. Maslow's Hierarch of Needs/Motives.


The implications of Maslow's theory for education are fairly obvious: teachers should be aware of the needs of students and take these needs into consideration when developing plans to motivate them. For example, if children are hungry, this is not irrelevant to education; hungry students are not likely to be motivated by the need to enhance their self-esteem or to know and understand the world in which they live. Likewise, a child whose parents are going through a painful divorce is likely to feel oppressed by esteem needs, belongingness and love needs, and even safety needs that are likely to be more important than the ordinary classroom motivations. Many of the students' needs arise from problems outside the classroom, and it may be difficult for teachers to deal with these apparently extraneous problems. There are three basic strategies for dealing with needs whose origin lies outside the classroom:

  1. Understand these needs as thoroughly as possible and either work around them or take them into consideration when developing motivational strategies and lesson plans. For example, by knowing that a child feels threatened by gangs in his neighborhood and understanding the severity of the child's concern about safety, a teacher can be more empathetic toward that child and better able to help him learn, even though the teacher is unable to alleviate the child's obsessive concern about safety.

  2. Help satisfy these needs. This is the logic behind giving breakfasts and lunches to hungry students. In some cases, it is impossible to satisfy the need completely, but a partial solution may still enable the student to be motivated by higher motives. For example, if a teacher or school system can make the classroom a truly safe and secure place, then a child who has sincere and serious concerns about his safety outside the school can still have his safety needs temporarily satisfied within the walls of the school and be motivated by higher needs while in school.

  3. Show how learning the subject matter of school can help satisfy the learner's needs. If hungry people can learn to grow food, this will satisfy an important need. A child whose safety is threatened will be motivated to learn verbal skills if she believes that these skills will enable her to escape from or avoid the dangers that lurk in her environment.


Often it is a combination of several of the preceding strategies that will help motivate a learner. For example, a good teacher might develop rapport and understand the feelings of danger that a child is experiencing, take these feelings into consideration when giving and grading assignments for that child, provide a school environment in which the child temporarily feels safe, and show the child how the subject matter of the classroom can at least partially satisfy the need to have a safer life outside the classroom. In addition, it is important to integrate needs theory with the other principles discussed in this chapter.




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Intrinsic Motivation
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Summary of Intrinsic Motivation
Motivating Through Curriculum
Reinforcement and Punishment
Affective Aspects of Motivation
Physiological Aspects of Motivation
Cognitive Aspects of Motivation
Needs and Motivation
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Attribution Theory
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Motivation as a Personality Characteristic
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