Motivation and Learning

Image source, with permission: Bucella, 2008, Cartoon Stock 

Merrill’s (2002) ‘first principles of instruction’ include four phases (activation, demonstration, application, and integration) occurring in the context of real-world tasks or problems.  As both a teacher and learner myself, I found it interesting that Merrill does not include learner motivation as a first principle and, in fact, argues that “the real motivation for learners is learning” (p. 50).  Is motivation really an outcome of learning, as Merrill posits, or is motivation needed for learning to occur?

Motivation might be a learning outcome if Merrill’s principles could be customized for each and every student, for example, if instruction could start from exactly the point of what each student already knows, and if the task or problem could be customized to the student’s particular learning needs.  This is rarely feasible in today’s learning environments, however.  A teacher often has many students and a finite amount of time to cover pre-determined learning objectives.  Also, I believe the subject matter itself must initially be motivating to the learner.  If one does not have an interest in playing the piano, becoming a medical doctor, or quantum mechanics, I am unsure that any attempt to follow Merrill’s principles of instruction would motivate the student to invest the time and energy to learn.  Learning appears to require learner motivation, either from internal factors such as curiosity of the subject, or external factors such as desiring a passing grade or promotion (Halamish, Madmon, & Moed, 2019).  Considering your own experiences as an educator or learner, is motivation an outcome or a cause of learning?


Halamish V, Madmon I, & Moed A. (2019). Motivation to learn: The long-term mnemonic benefit of curiosity in intentional learning. Experimental Psychology, 66(5), 319-330. doi:10.1027/1618-3169/a000455

Merrill, M D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 42-59.

One thought on “Motivation and Learning”

  1. I agree with you that motivation should be included in Merrill’s principles. If the motivation for the student is not right, then learning becomes an increased challenge. To follow up on your comment around Merrill’s position that learning creates motivation. So often we see students who are not in the classroom because they want to be, but because their parents (or some else with the power of influence) made them go to school. In those cases, the learner would likely not get motivation from the learning, but resentment.
    Merrill also proposes that students’ first inclination when learning something new is to share it with those in their personal life (rather than in their academic life) (Merrill, 2019, p. 50). This idea goes along with your points on motivation. If the student does not have the motivation to learn the information, he/she will not be able to share that information and absorb it completely. Reflecting on the new information is when the magic happens! Without the motivation to start, the path does not become a reality, motivation is the first step!

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