Theories of Motivation
Adult_learning : Young woman with piled up books on the desk Stock Photo
Adult_learning : Young woman with piled up books on the desk Stock Photo

“Motivation is a force that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviors.” (Cherry, 2011)

“Motivation refers to the drive and efforts to staisfy a want or goal, whereas satisfaction refers tot he contentment experienced when a want is is satisfied.” (Shah & Shah, part 2, pg 2)

There are many types of learning theories that are realted to motivation: behaviorist, humanist, cognitivist, social learning, and constructivist.

Several theories are available to explain motivation:

Needs Theories:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
  • most widely known motivational theory
  • basic concept lies in that people have needs, do something to rectify that need and become satisfied and basic needs come first before others can be met
  • human needs follow of heirarchy flow from lowest to highest
  • it is these needs that influence human behavior
  • had 5 basic categories: self-actualization, esteem, belongingness, safety and physiological

Alderfer's ERG Theory
  • has 3 needs categories: growth needs (development of knowledge and potential), related needs (satisfactory relations with others) and existence needs (physical Well-being)
  • ERG – Existence- Relatedness- Growth

Acquired Needs Theory (McCelland)
  • needs are acquired due to life experiences
  • need for power, affiliation, and achievement
  • Power: people with a high need for power lean towards influence and control
  • Affiliation: people are social creatures and need relationships with other individuals and groups which are driven my love and faith
  • Achievement: people driven by the challenge of success and fear of failure. Peole are motivated by some chance of success
  • similiar to Maslow and Alderfer

Incentive Theory

  • Reinforcement Theory: Behaviorist Model
  • most famous was B.F. Skinner
  • theorized that learning was pairing of stimuli with one another with a reward for doing good thereby using positive reinforcment to create more learning
  • people are motivated to do things because of external rewards
  • the outcome of learning was clear and observable
  • gave way to criterion based evaluations
  • treats motivation and behavior as if influenced by beliefs
  • positive reinforcement

Drive Theory

  • Drive Reducation Theory:
  • there are certain biological drives ie. Hunger, upon being satisified, the drive goes away.
  • Useful in describing behaviors with a stong biological urge
  • Hard to test as everyone is different

Cognitive Theories

  • early theories believed learning was “influence was primarily a result of the effects of the learner's prior knowledge and existing schemata (concepts) on the storage and orgainzation of new information, so it was not as if the learner was actively directing his or her learning yet
  • Goal-Setting Theory: a person has the drive to attain a specific goal which is often the reward itself. “The goal should be objectively defined and intelligible for the individual.” (Wikipedia, pg 7)
  • learners are motivated by performance goals, learning goals and even work-avoidant goals
  • Cognitive Dissonance Theory: a person has discomfort from incompatability between two decisions. A person then is uses motivation to repair the incompatability by changing a factor that is creating the discord.
  • Self-Determination Theory (Edward Deci and Richard Ryan): places importance on intrinsic motivation. Similiar to Maslow's hierarchical theory for growth and development but does not include “autopilot” instead requires active encouragement


  • Instrinsic Motivation is when a person in internally motivated to complete a goal

  • Extrinsic Motivation is when a person is forced to do something or act in a certain manner because of outside factors

  • Professor Steven Reiss and the16 Basic Desires Theory (Intrinsic Motivation): these 16 desires govern almost all human behavior: Acceptance, Curiousity, Eating, Family, Honor, Idealism, Independence, Order, Physical Activity, Power, Romance, Saving, Social Contact, Status, Tranquility, Vengence. (Wikipedia, pg. 8)

  • Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory: certain factors results in satisifaction but if no factors are present, it doesn't lead to dissatisifaction
  • Cognitive Evaluation Theory: 2 kinds of motivators: one or the other of these may be more powerful motivator depending on the person.

  • a shift from external to internal rewards results in motivation. Even after external rewards are gone, the internal motivation is still present.

  • Intrinsic motivators: achievement, responsibility and competence. These motivators come from performance

  • Extrinsic motivators: promotions, feedback. Things that come from a person's environment which is controlled by others

Expectancy x Value Model

  • “offers a framework for identifying engagement strategies generally, it is also helpful in understanding and devising interventions for at-risk students whose low level of confidence and expectancy of failure have place them in a state of almost chronic disengagement.” (Barkley, pg 14)
  • increase in motivation by increasing the value of learning and positivity of learning

A. Expentancy Theory
  • most widely accepted motivation theory is by Victor Vroom
  • proposes that “the strength of a tendency to act in a specific way depends on the strength of an expectation that the act will be followed by a given outcome and on the attractiveness of that outcome to the individual to make this simple.” (Shah & Shah, pg 4)
  • focuses on 3 points: efforts and performance, performance and reward, and reward and personal goal relationships
  • Valance x Expectancy = motivation>action>results>Satisfaction

B. Self-Efficacy Theory
  • premise is that a student's belief about their ability to meet their goal than their skill level or the difficulty of the task.

C. Attribution Theory
  • “students attribute success or failure to a variety of factors such as ability, effort, luck, fatigue, ease or difficulty of exam, and so forth, and that their belief is shaped by their perceptions of why they have succeeded or failed in the past.” (Barkley, pg 12)

D. Self-Worth Theory
  • people are very much motivated to maintain their sense of self-worth
  • question effort over ability
E. Porter and Lawler Model
  • developed more complete version of motivation on the expectancy theory
  • based on the notion of actual performance is showen by effort spent but can be affected by a persons ability and perception of the task at hand.
  • “satisfaction of the individual depends upon the fairness of the reward” (Shah & Shah, pg 4)


Barkley, Elizabeth. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques [The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series]. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Cherry, Kendra. (2011). Theories of Motivation. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from http:

Shah, Ken, Shah, Prof. Param. (2010). Types of Motivation: Part 2 of Motivation. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from

Shah, Ken, Shah, Prof. Param. (2010). Theories of Motivation: Part 3of Motivation. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from

Svinicki, M.D. (ed.) Teaching and Learning on the Edge of the MillenniumNew Directions for Teaching and Learning//. No. 80. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, Inc. , 1999

Theories of Motivation. Retreived April 28, 2011 from

Wikipedia. (2011). Motivation. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from