Motivation and Motivation to Learn

Despite the fact that the exact nature of motivation is much debated, motivation can be viewed as the internal processes that give behavior its energy (i.e., intensity and duration) and direction (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Reeve, 1996). More specifically, motivated behavior is assumed to originate from various sources such as needs, cognitions, and emotions, which in turn energize and direct behavior to be either initiated, sustained, intensified or stopped. In predicting and explaining motivational behavior, theorists often distinguish intrinsic from extrinsic sources of motivation. Intrinsic motivation to engage in an activity arises from internal sources such as curiosity, interest, and innate strivings for personal growth (Meece, 1997). In contrast, extrinsic motivation originates from external contingencies such as tangible rewards or praise.

Thomas Malone and Mark Lepper (Malone & Lepper, 1987; Lepper & Malone, 1987) have identified four major factors, challenge, curiosity, control, and fantasy, that make a learning environment such as a gaming activity intrinsically motivating. In short, to be challenging, activities should be kept continuously at an optimal level of difficulty so as to keep the learner from being either bored or frustrated. To elicit sensory or cognitive curiosity in activities, one can use audio-visual devices or present information that makes the learner believe that his/her current knowledge structure is incomplete, inconsistent, or unparsimonious. Activities should also promote a sense of control on the part of the learner, that is, a feeling that learning outcomes are determined by the learnerÔs own actions. Finally, one can engage the learner in make-believe activities (or fantasy contexts) to allow the learner to experience situations not actually present.

The ARCS model, a motivational model widely known in the field of instructional design, has been developed by John Keller (e.g., 1987a, 1987b). The model, grounded in expectancy-value theory, contains four major components: attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction. The following strategies offered by Keller (1987a) may be useful in increasing students' motivation to learn. 




A1: Incongruity, Conflict
  • Introduce a fact that seems to contradict the learner's past experience.
  • Present an example that does not seem to exemplify a given concept.
  • Introduce two equally plausible facts or principles, only one of which can be true.
  • Play devil's advocate.
A2: Concreteness
  • Show visual representations of any important object or set of ideas or relationships.
  • Give examples of every instructionally important concept or principle.
  • Use content-related anecdotes, case studies, biographies, etc.
A3: Variability
  • In stand up delivery, vary the tone of your voice, and use body movement, pauses, and props.
  • Vary the format of instruction (information presentation, practice, testing, etc.) according to the attention span of the audience.
  • Vary the medium of instruction (platform delivery, film, video, print, etc.)
  • Break up print materials by use of white space, visuals, tables, different typefaces, etc.
  • Change the style of presentation (humorous-serious, fast-slow, active-passive etc.)
  • Shift between student-instructor interaction and student-student interaction.
A4: Humor
  • Where appropriate, use plays on words during redundant information presentation.
  • Use humorous introductions.
  • Use humorous analogies to explain and summarize.
A5: Inquiry
  • Use creativity techniques to have learners create unusual analogies and associations to the content.
  • Build in problem solving activities at regular intervals.
  • Give learners the opportunity to select topics, projects, and assignments that appeal to their curiosity and need to explore.
A6: Participation
  • Use games, role plays, or simulations that require learner participation.




R1: Experience
  • State explicitly how the instruction builds on the learner's existing skills.
  • Use analogies familiar to the learner from past experience.
  • Find out what the learners' interests are and relate them to the instruction.
R2: Present Worth
  • State explicitly the present intrinsic value of learning the content, as distinct from its value as a link to future goals.
R3: Future Usefulness
  • State explicitly how the instruction relates to future activities of the learner.
  • Ask learners to relate the instruction to their own future goals (future wheel).
R4: Need Matching
  • To enhance achievement striving behavior, provide opportunities to achieve standards of excellence under conditions of moderate risk.
  • To make instruction responsive to the power motive, provide opportunities for responsibility, authority, and interpersonal influence.
  • To satisfy the need for affiliation, establish trust and provide opportunities for no-risk, cooperative interaction.
R5: Modeling
  • Bring in alumni of the course as enthusiastic guest lectures.
  • In a self-paced course, sue those who finish first as deputy tutors.
  • Model enthusiasm for the subject taught.
R6: Choice
  • Provide meaningful alternative methods for accomplishing a goal.
  • Provide personal choices for organizing one's work.




C1: Learning Requirements
  • Incorporate clearly stated, appealing learning goals into instructional materials.
  • Provide self-evaluation tools which are based on clearly stated goals.
  • Explain the criteria for evaluation of performance.
C2: Difficulty
  • Organize materials on an increasing level of difficulty; that is, structure the learning material to provide a "conquerable" challenge.
C3: Expectations
  • Include statements about the likelihood of success with given amounts of effort and ability.
  • Teach students how to develop a plan of work that will result in goal accomplishment.
  • Help students set realistic goals.
C4: Attribution
  • Attribute student success to effort rather than luck or ease of task when appropriate (i.e., when you know it's true!).
  • Encourage student efforts to verbalize appropriate attributions for both successes and failures.
C5: Self-Confidence
  • Allow students opportunity to become increasingly independent in learning and practicing a skill.
  • Have students learn new skills under low risk conditions, but practice performance of well-learned tasks under realistic conditions.
  • Help students understand that the pursuit of excellence does not mean that anything short of perfection is failure; learn to feel good about genuine accomplishment.




S1: Natural Consequence
  • Allow a student to use a newly acquired skill in a realistic setting as soon as possible.
  • Verbally reinforce a student's intrinsic pride in accomplishing a difficult task.
  • Allow a student who masters a task to help others who have not yet done so.
S2: Unexpected Rewards
  • Reward intrinsically interesting task performance with unexpected, non-contingent rewards.
  • Reward boring task with extrinsic, anticipated rewards.
S3: Positive Outcomes
  • Give verbal praise for successful progress or accomplishment.
  • Give personal attention to students.
  • provide informative, helpful feedback when it is immediately useful.
  • Provide motivating feedback (praise) immediately following task performance.
S4: Negative Influence
  • Avoid the use of threats as a means of obtaining task performance.
  • Avoid surveillance (as opposed to positive attention).
  • Avoid external performance evaluations whenever it is possible to help the student evaluate his or her own work.
R5: Scheduling
  • Provide frequent reinforcements when a student is learning a new task.
  • Provide intermittent reinforcements as a student becomes more competent at a task.
  • Vary the schedule of reinforcements in terms of both interval quantity.




Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.

Keller, J. (1987a). Development and use of the ARCS model of instructional design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2-10.

Keller, J. (1987b). The systematic process of motivational design. Performance & Instruction, 26(9), 1-8.

Lepper, M. R., & Malone, T. W. (1987). Intrinsic motivation and instructional effectiveness in computer-based education. In R. E. Snow & M. J. Farr (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction: Vol. 3. Cognative and affective process analysis (pp. 255-286). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Malone, T. W., & Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In R. E. Snow & M. J. Farr (Eds.), Aptitude, learning, and instruction: Vol. 3. Cognative and affective process analysis (pp. 223-253). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Meece, J. L. (1997). Child and adolescent development for educators. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Reeve, J. (1996). Motivating others: Nurturing inner motivational resources. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.


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