Basic principles of motivation exist that are applicable to learning in any education situation.

1. The environment can be used to focus the student’s attention on what needs to be learned.

Teachers who create warm and accepting yet business-like atmospheres will promote persistent effort and favorable attitudes toward learning. This strategy will be successful in children and in adults. Interesting visual aids, such as booklets, posters, or practice equipment, motivate learners by capturing their attention and curiosity.

2. Incentives motivate learning.

Incentives include privileges and receiving praise from the instructor. The instructor determines an incentive that is likely to motivate an individual at a particular time. In a general learning situation, self-motivation without rewards will not succeed. Students must find satisfaction in learning based on the understanding that the goals are useful to them or, less commonly, based on the pure enjoyment of exploring new things.

3. Internal motivation is longer lasting and more self-directive than is external motivation, which must be repeatedly reinforced by praise or concrete rewards.

Some individuals – particularly children of certain ages and some adults – have little capacity for internal motivation and must be guided and reinforced constantly. The use of incentives is based on the principle that learning occurs more effectively when the student experiences feelings of satisfaction. Caution should be exercised in using external rewards when they are not absolutely necessary. Their use may be followed by a decline in internal motivation.

4. Learning is most effective when an individual is ready to learn, that is, when one wants to know something.

Sometimes the student’s readiness to learn comes with time, and the instructor’s role is to encourage its development. If a desired change in behavior is urgent, the instructor may need to supervised directly to ensure that the desired behavior occurs. If a student is not ready to learn, he or she may not be reliable in following instructions and therefore must be supervised and have the instructions repeated again and again.

5. Motivation is enhanced by the way in which the instructional material is organized.

In general, the best organized material makes the information meaningful to the individual. One method of organization includes relating new tasks to those already known. Other ways to relay meaning are to determine whether the persons being taught understand the final outcome desired and instruct them to compare and contrast ideas.

None of the techniques will produce sustained motivation unless the goals are realistic for the learner. The basic learning principle involved is that success is more predictably motivating than is failure. Ordinarily, people will choose activities of intermediate uncertainty rather than those that are difficult (little likelihood of success) or easy (high probability of success). For goals of high value there is less tendency to choose more difficult conditions. Having learners assist in defining goals increases the probability that they will understand them and want to reach them. However, students sometimes have unrealistic notions about what they can accomplish. Possibly they do not understand the precision with which a skill must be carried out or have the depth of knowledge to master some material. To identify realistic goals, instructors must be skilled in assessing a student’s readiness or a student’s progress toward goals.

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