Understanding Motivation

Hoskins, S.L., and Newstead, S.E. (2009).  Encouraging student motivation. In: Fry, H. et al (eds). A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: enhancing academic practice. 3rd edn. Abingdon: Routledge, specifically pp 27-29.


I have previously wondered about how to deal with a lack of writer motivation in sessions, and in reading general pedagogical research, lately, I came across this great breakdown of different types of motivation, which can enable understanding of how and why it works.

Researchers Hoskins and Newstead were struck, themselves, back in 1996, by how little research there was into student motivation.  They therefore carried out a study, asking students to offer a single reason for why they came to university.  The researchers then classified the answers into three groups, which seemed to fit the other literature well:

Means to an end constituting 66% of answers: relating to the desire for qualifications, and career advancement.

Personal development as 24% of all answers: a genuine interest in the subject, and wishing to realise their potential.

Stopgap as just 10% of responses: those who could not think of anything else to do, deferring career decisions, wanting to enjoy themselves, or laziness.

The researchers then explore how these categories fit the classification of motivation by other researchers:

Extrinsic motivation: desiring external rewards and/or notoriety.

Intrinsic motivation: wanting to master a subject, curiosity, and enjoyment of challenges.

And the concept of amotivation, which arises when speaking to those who don’t know why they’re at university, feel little control over their future, feel incompetent, and generally show an absence of motivation in other words.

Hoskins and Newstead point out that ‘This highlights that motivation has strength as well as direction’.  So, as supporters of learning, we need to be aware not only of the variety of motivational goals people have, but we also need to identify the strength of people’s motivations.  They may share the same goal as others, the researchers note, but not to the same degree, and so end up being less motivated to achieve said goals.  Thus, there appear to be three types of motivation in all:

Intrinsic, extrinsic, and also achievement motivation (to which amotivation [a lack of motivation] is at the opposite end of the spectrum).

I believe it is worth knowing about this, and why people feel the way they do, in order to best accommodate their learning.  We could, for instance, relate academic work to real world situations for extrinsic motivation, focus on problem-solving more for those intrinsically motivated, or work on boosting morale for those guided by achievement motivation.  And I guess the way to find out which kind of motivation we might be dealing with, is just to ask the writer.


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