Motivation and the Adult Learner [ID Blog]

The readings this week focused on the various motivations of the adult learner. All I can say is that I never realized there were so many reasons, subcategories, barriers and societal impacts that came into play. Wlodowski’s definition of motivation is “why people behave as they do” and  it is interpreted as being purposeful in one’s actions. His theories were largely constructivist and included a lot of biological/neurological side studies, i.e., how the brain reacts positively to self-directed learning. Wlodowski also accepted the premise that thinking and emotions are inseparable. Honestly, I felt that all the neurological information – which parts of the brain react which way to what stimuli, etc., just made the reading a bit confusing. But that could just be me.

In addition to reading  “What Motivates Adults to Learn” (Wlodowski), we also read Merriam and Bierema’s “Motivation and Learning” chapter from Adult Learning:Linking Theory and Practice (2014).  In this reading it was posited that there are extrinsic and intrinsic motivators for adult learners. Extrinsic motivators often have a tangible goal in sight – getting a degree for a promotion, learning new technology in order to enhance your value to your employer, etc. Intrinsic motivators are unique to each student – learning to expand a social circle, to meet others who enjoy what you do, to be a better parent, or even just to learn solely for the sake of learning. I think even if you have an extrinsic motivator (to learn in order to get a promotion) it also incorporates a bit of intrinsic with it (you want to make a better life for yourself and your family in the long run even if the promotion won’t be the final goal) you may still have more to do in order to create this better life.

In Houle’s The Inquiring Mind (1961), he identified three types of learning orientations – goal-oriented learners (a means to an end, a specific goal in sight), activity-oriented learners (learning for the social aspect or activity), and learning-oriented learners who are focused on learning new things just to learn.  You might start out as one and morph into another. Perhaps you take a class at your community center on jewelry making. Many people comment on how beautiful the necklace is that you made, so you take more classes, delving deeper into the intricacies of jewelry making and end up starting your own business. I would think this happens quite a lot just from the many people whom I’ve encountered that start their own jewelry, soap making, and perfume making businesses. Also, as technology and social media grows, people can do their own marketing (yet more ways to learn, either in a formal setting or just doing self-directed tutorials of software and social media applications).

There were so many different theories in the M&B chapter that it was a bit hard to keep straight how each differed. One thing I did like was McClusky’s Theory of Margin (1963). This theory states that “Margin is the dynamic relationship between load and power.” It wasn’t making that much sense reading about it until I saw it illustrated in the table.  So if you put into the load category the demands you’d have on yourself as an adult learner (family commitments, job responsibility, social and civic duties, along with your own goals, values, attitudes and what you expect of yourself) and in the Power category put in your resources or ways to cope with the load (financial status, social contacts, your health, social skills, coping skills, resiliency) you can create a fraction of Power/Load =margin. If your at 1, then your breaking even but less than that you have too many pressures, more than that and you have a great ability to devote time to learning. Although this theory holds true, I don’t know many people consciously do the pro/con listing when considering pursuing adult education. I would think that it is more likely that someone might see, or be told by others, of barriers in their way. Some people will find ways around this barrier while others might see only the barrier, and it may be quite valid. The digital divide still exists. Where I work we have computers for the teens to come and do their homework. We also offer free computer classes for adults because where I work it is the inner city in a very low-income area. If you don’t have a computer at home, and you don’t have a car, even if you can get financial aid, you still may not be able to physically get to the learning location and you can not take blended classes from home either. Sometimes being motivated doesn’t equate to being able.

Wlodowski’s Integrated Levels of Adult Motivation (2008) has four conditions for instructors to use when designing classes for adults. They are: inclusion, developing an attitude of favorability toward the learning, enhancing the meaning of the learning through challenging and engaging experiences, and finally, engendering confidence by helping each of the learners see what they have learned from the instruction. I liked his K-W-L strategy – learner’s identify what they Know, what they Want to know, and finally what they have Learned.  He had 60 strategies listed to accomplish all of this and some are quite simple (e.g. use constructive criticism, allow for introductions, etc.). Most of the strategies fall back to the idea of who the adult learner is: someone who is full of life experiences and wants to learn but does not want another to act dominant over them. They want to be respected and feel that they are valued. They’re used to making their own decisions and thus are better at self directed learning as that is something that they already do every day, whether in the work place, online, across the informal and non-formal domains, and if in school, in the formal domain as well.

As we continue on in this class it becomes clear that when creating instruction for a class one needs to be cognizant of so many factors: who the learners are, their experiences, what their motivators are, what barriers they might have had to overcome in order to get there, and finally, where they lie in the Theory of Margin. How do you design a class when the participants may be so vastly different? I’m hoping I’ll know all of this by the end of my own instruction at UMB.

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