Understanding what motivates your students is an important aspect of developing meaningful classroom interactions, strong working relationships, and more importantly, instructional strategies that bolster their performance. Instructors understand that motivation is internally and externally based, which means that students are motivated by perceptual factors. An effective method of understanding student motivation is to learn about their underlying needs and the theory that explains how motivation is developed is called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Learning about the hierarchical nature of your students’ needs will strengthen your facilitation practice.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains motivational factors by putting an individual’s needs into five distinct groups. The first is a physiological need or a need to feel good physically. Often this is associated with having adequate food and shelter. Next is safety, or a need for a secure environment. There is also a social need, which includes elements of love and belonging, as a means of helping the individual complete their expected family roles and societal roles. After physiological, safety, and social needs have been met the next need in the hierarchical ladder is esteem. This may encompass social status, a need for respect from peers, and a well identified self-image. Finally, there is a need for self-actualization, which is related to their growth and development. Each one of these needs are arranged in a hierarchy or prescribed order of importance, which means that basic needs must be met first before you can begin to address high-order needs such as self-actualization.
Let’s explore these needs further and how you can address them through the facilitation of your class. Physiological needs are translated into a classroom or learning environment through a student’s need to feel that they have all of the tools, techniques, and resources necessary to be successful in their attempt to participate in the process. For example, if you provide students with a textbook but do not provide them with additional resources to support the development of their skill sets, the very first or primary need will remain unmet and pose a challenge for the process of learning.
The next need is safety and an instructor can help students feel secure by creating a safe learning environment, where their opinions, beliefs, contributions, prior experiences, and existing knowledge are valued and included during class discussions. While an instructor cannot establish or guarantee a physically safe environment they can promote a perception and feeling of safety in the process of learning. For social needs, it may not seem that these needs can be met because they are associated with love and belonging; however, an instructor can create conditions in the classroom that promote a sense of community. For example, group or team exercises will help students learn to collaborate together, which can strengthen class discussions and create a sense of belonging for them.
Esteem needs are related to status and respect. Instructors can incorporate activities that allow students to work together in a professional environment where they are respectful of each other. Individual activities, personalized feedback, and encouragement will also help students develop a strong sense of self-awareness. When students understand that they have a capacity to learn and their instructor has helped them to reach their full potential they will experience a greater feeling of self-esteem.
Finally, self-actualization is the highest level on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is the adult’s realization that they have experienced growth through their efforts and accomplishments in the class. Students may not fully realize that this need has been met until the class has concluded and they have received their final feedback and grade. In fact, they may not realize it until sometime later, when they are in another class and discover they have acquired valuable skills and knowledge that has caused a personal and/or professional transformation.
As you interact with students in your classroom you know what needs to be covered in terms of course objectives, learning activities, and course materials. If you want to connect these materials with students in a meaningful manner and bring your activities to life so that the objectives can be met, it is imperative to understand your students’ needs as you develop instructional strategies. Students are likely to become more highly motivated and involved in the class when they believe that the class is able to meet their academic and professional needs.