Motivation and learning

Motivation is crucial for successful learning. It is closely related to emotions. Motivation is an individual's ability to focus physically and psychologically on the task at hand. Motivation is always about reward. A person is willing to do something because he is promised a reward. Remuneration should be taken very broadly here and not just in a material sense. It may well be that someone receives a huge sum of money for performing a task, but does not see or feel it as a reward. Conversely, people are willing to give their lives for a certain ideal. Their reward is the feeling that they have done something extremely right, worth dying for. The same goes for punishment. A student who has insulted a teacher to the bone may find the punishment he receives very annoying. But the reward in the form of appreciation and admiration from his peers can be much stronger than the punishment. That doesn't have to be the case. Often, adolescent misbehavior is viewed by peers as weird maladaptive behavior. It does not result in appreciation but disapproval and even ostracism. The latter is about the worst punishment that can befall an adolescent.

Motivation is what drives an individual to certain behavior. Motivation arises from an interplay between the innate and learned characteristics of an individual and that individual's environment. The basis of motivation is a mental system that is controlled by personal preferences stored in neural networks in the brain. These networks are activated by stimuli from external sources. These sources can be outside the body, but they can also be within the body. Signals associated with the biological state of the body.

Adolescents need many external factors to activate their own motivation and resist peer pressure. Adolescents' motivation is by no means always the same as adults expect of them. Internal motivation is formed by wishes that represent inner needs and desires. These wishes may well be related to school goals or tasks, but other factors such as the prospect of a quick reward or the appreciation of the peer group are much stronger. Adolescents understand very well that school tasks must be done and school goals must be achieved, but they lack the self-direction to realize this. They expect parents and teachers to guide them, if necessary. If there is no other way, if necessary with punitive measures.


Motivation is by definition intrinsic. In other words, motivation is an intrinsic mental mechanism, because motivation always comes from the person himself. Intrinsic motivation is therefore a pleonasm. They are external factors that strengthen or weaken motivation. Learning always needs motivation, but external factors determine the degree of motivation.
Whether it's the just-survived encounter with a cave bear or the great story of the history teacher or the razor-sharp criticism of the English teacher or even the ideal for which you want to give your life; they are external factors that trigger the mental process of motivation.
Adolescents can get into a 'flow' for a subject that touches their heart and know a lot about it in the shortest possible time. The 'flow' itself can be the reward here, but also the appreciation, recognition or admiration of others. A powerful motivating factor is the 'eureka moment'. Suddenly someone sees the solution to a certain problem. The brain reacts very positively to this. Learning would benefit from consciously incorporating elements into the curriculum that give students the opportunity to experience such moments. This can be done at different levels and it should be done as early as possible in education. 'Eureka moments' are addictive. Once a person has experienced it, it strengthens the motivation to get that feeling again.
Adolescents are extra sensitive to these kinds of factors, but the disappointment when it doesn't work out is all the greater. Adolescents must learn to deal with disappointments. For this they need not only help but also guidance from adults.