Motivation and the Drive to Learn

Why is it that some people achieve so much more than others? This simple question is one of the big concerns for education. Essentially though, it is motivation that underpins people’s choices and actions. Motivation is the fuel of human behaviour; nothing gets done without it. It is motivation that creates in us a desire to overcome obstacles, to persist beyond the boundaries of comfort, and to achieve beyond ours and others wildest expectations. Therefore, an understanding of how motivation works must be an overarching concern for parents and educators.

In her studies on achievement motivation, Harvard’s Teresa Amabile found the greatest motivational factor to be progress. People just love to get better at what they do. When progress stalls, most people give up.

An even greater level of motivation occurs when people believe they can make progress through their own efforts rather than because of external factors. For this autonomous competence to occur educators must provide students with the tools for making progress thereby providing independent and self-reliant learning. One of these tools is a growth mindset. We owe it to children to impart an understanding that the greatest factor in making progress and ultimate success is the quality and the quantity of their work and practice time. This triumphs all else – including perceptions of natural ability. A healthy growth mindset encapsulates several desirable learning traits including persistence, commitment and an ability to bounce back from failure.

Therefore, understanding motivation begins with appreciating this dynamic relationship between autonomy and competence in learning. Whilst much of motivation theory might seem to be common sense, not all teaching and motivational precepts are intuitive. For example, many teachers and parents praise children hoping to increase self-esteem and confidence when in fact the evidence shows mostly counter-productive learning and behavioural outcomes resulting from praise. Not all praise is harmful, but educators need to differentiate between types of praise (informational verses controlling) and know when and how to use it.

For some educators, taking a professional development course about the psychology of motivation will revolutionise their teaching pedagogy. For others, it might serve as a timely reminder of how to drive curiosity and enjoyable learning in the classroom.

Michael Griffin will be providing professional development on this topic throughout Australia February-April 2016, and in the UK September-October. Contact for further details.


Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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5 comments on “Motivation and the Drive to Learn
  1. Reblogged this on Captivate Your Music Students 🙂 and commented:
    Michael Griffin gets to the heart of advancing educational goals through an understanding of motivation.

  2. Loved this Michael. It just resonates so much with what we are driving in our schools in Western Sydney – finding the keys to intrinsic motivation and helping students and teachers discover a ‘love of learning’.

  3. Garth Bowen says:

    Definitely food for thought. The idea that progress begets progress in a continuum of motivation within a personal context seems evident in the lives of many teachers and musicians. Ideas about appropriate forms of praise deserve more research. There is a type of obviously effective praise where the consideration is natural outcome, praise from the outside, or the real $$$ gig that is of the sort of praise we all have welcomed in our early careers.

    For me motivation of music students has a lot to do with our teaching skills and expertise weighing heavily on relationship. To know and be known well in that relationship and to learn to converse appropriately with those we know. Meaningful and honest conversations are where it starts.

    Blessings on us all as we unpack the mysteries of this stuff.

  4. rlanham1963 says:

    Reblogged this on The Learning Executive and commented:
    Nice learning article from the world of music…

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