Theories of Motivation and the Classroom

Motivation is a crucial driver for success in education. This post will look at two theories of motivation and briefly connect them when appropriate to the classroom. These two theories are Manifest Needs Theory and ERG Theory.

Manifest Needs Theory

Henry Murray developed a theory of motivation called Manifest Needs theory. For Murray, needs are divided into two broad categories called primary and secondary needs. Primary needs are physiological needs, such as food, water, shelter, etc. Secondary needs are needs that people acquire or learn about through life. Examples of secondary needs are achievement, affiliation, etc.

This theory assumes that people are driven to satisfy these needs. If a student is talkative, they probably need affiliation. If a student is hard-working, they probably need achievement. People’s behavior is often an indication of what they need. There is an exception to this, and this is what Murray calls a latent need.

A latent need is a need that cannot be inferred by a person’s behavior. This is probably because the person is not able to satisfy this need. For example, a student may be disruptive because they are bored in class. The behavior indicates a need for affiliation, but the real need is achievement.

The point is that the behavior of a student can often be a clue to what motivates them. However, this comes with exceptions, as was already discussed.

ERG Theory

Clayton Alderfer took a different view of motivation. Alderfer proposes three categories of needs, which are existence, relatedness, growth. These three categories are where the acronym ERG comes from. Existence needs are physiological and material in nature, such as food, water, safety, etc. Relatedness needs are social and include esteem and interpersonal opportunities. Growth needs are related to personal development and include self-esteem and self-actualization.

These categories are ranked. In other words, existence needs must be met first, followed by existence, and lastly by growth. There are four different ways to move or stay in a particular category. Satisfaction progression involves satisfying the needs in one category and then focusing on the next category. For example, if food, water, and safety are taken care of, many students will focus more on relationships.

Frustration happens when people want to satisfy a need but cannot satisfying the needs that belong to a category. This can lead to over-focusing on the need. For example, a student needs attention and interaction but is told to be quiet in class. Being forced to be silent makes the need for socializing even stronger.

The third form is frustration regression. Frustration regression happens when a person cannot satisfy higher needs, so they double down on satisfying lower needs. If a student is not allowed to talk, they may focus on eating or drinking or asking to go to the bathroom. Since socializing is blocked, there is a greater focus on existence needs such as food and hygiene.

The final form is aspiration. This form explains the inherent satisfaction in growth. As people are allowed to grow, they become more and more satisfied with growing.

Conclusion

People are motivated by similar things, but there may be a difference in their behavior and how they satisfy their needs. As teachers, we need to be able to look at our students and determine ways to motivate them to succeed.

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