Going the extra mile

This is number 26 in my series on learning theories. I'm working through the alphabet of psychologists and theorists, providing a brief overview of each theory, and how it can be applied in education. Previous posts in this series are all linked below. The previous post highlighted issues around the theory of Communities of Practice, from the work of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. In this post, I'm revisiting a well known and heavily used motivational theory - Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs. As usual, this is a simplified interpretation of the theory, so if you wish to learn more, please read the associated literature.

The theory

Just about everyone working in education and training has heard of Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. The theory has been a basic element of all teacher education for several decades. We know there are various criticisms of the theory, and several flaws, but they are beyond the scope of this particular blog post. Maslow was interested in how people are motivated, and why they reach to achieve the pinnacle of human experience which he called self actualization. He argued that for people to be motivated, they need to satisfy a series of needs, and that some needs have to be satisfied before other needs are considered. Most versions of Maslow's Hierarchy are represented as pyramids.

How it can be applied in education

Many teachers know that learning spaces should be designed to optimise learning. If the classroom is cold or noisy, or the students are uncomfortable, or if they feel unsafe, they will be distracted and will concentrate less on their learning. The same applies to other needs identified in Maslow's model, including the need to be liked by others, and that they feel they belong in the group.

Perhaps the most important of the needs Maslow identified however, is the need for esteem. This is where people gain a sense of achievement and prestige by their own endeavours. Teachers should therefore ensure that all good work is recognised and rewarded, and useful feedback is given, so that learners are motivated to do more, or better next time. All students need a sense of accomplishment, and to know how they are progressing. It is the role of the educator to ensure that they receive timely and appropriate feedback so that students continue to be motivated to learn.

The women in the picture above were taking part in a charity event called Race for Life - a run organised by cancer charities. They didn't have to run several miles and put their bodies through a certain amount of stress, but they decided to do so because they had a very special reason. They were motivated to take part because they knew a family member or friend who has suffered from cancer. This kind of motivation is more than simply belonging or esteem needs fulfillment. It is more likely that they were performing an altruistic act because they identified with someone who has suffered, and they wished to do their part to try to change the situation for future sufferers. To my mind, this represents a form of self actualization. The runners gave of their time and energy because they cared about something strongly enough.

How can we make this happen in education? Teachers are in a position where they can inspire their students to the point where they will also want to 'go the extra mile'. Students who do extra work because they are interested in their topic, or who spend more time than is average on their projects are examples. How teachers encourage and support this kind of self actualization relies a lot on their creativity, their ability to inspire, and how well they practice the fine art of education.

Maslow, A. H. (1954) Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Previous posts in this series:

1.  Anderson ACT-R Cognitive Architecture
2.  Argyris Double Loop Learning
3.  Bandura Social Learning Theory
4.  Bruner Scaffolding Theory
5.  Craik and Lockhart Levels of Processing
6.  Csíkszentmihályi Flow Theory
7.  Dewey Experiential Learning
8.  Engeström Activity Theory
9.  Ebbinghaus Learning and Forgetting Curves
10. Festinger Social Comparison Theory
11. Festinger Cognitive Dissonance Theory
12. Gardner Multiple Intelligences Theory
13. Gibson Affordances Theory
14. Gregory Visual Perception Hypothesis
15. Hase and Kenyon Heutagogy
16. Hull Drive Reduction Theory
17. Inhelder and Piaget Formal Operations Stage
18. Jung Archetypes and Synchronicity
19. Jahoda Ideal Mental Health
20. Koffka Gestalt theory
21. Köhler Insight learning
22. Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle
23. Knowles Andragogy
24. Lave Situated Learning
25. Lave and Wenger Communities of Practice

Photo by Steve Wheeler

Creative Commons License

Going the extra mile by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Anonymous said…
Dear Steve, I love this series. I wrote a post about intrinsic motivation a few weeks ago and have just added a reference to your blog. Hope that's okay. Wendy
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Wendy, absolutely. The more connections, the better!
Thanks Steve - this is a great series
Steve Wheeler said…
Thank you Andrew. Glad you find it useful!

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