Motivation and Identity

“Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?” One thing is sure – identity is what makes us an individual. Identity of an individual is a self-perception and a perception from a society, all in a certain context. Perspective on us as a person can be related to nature, institutional positions in society, accomplishments or shared societal experiences. At the end, we all try to “be someone” and “be happy”, fulfilling the three basic psychological needs – autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The identity is a result and a tool for pursuing those needs. It is a process, never a state.

As individuals relate and explore values, beliefs, and goals across lifetime they develop multiple identities. Once, I might have seen myself as a traffic engineer but now I see myself as a future faculty teaching traffic engineering. Even society across time develops different identities, especially after great historical events (such as Germans after WWII).

Education, as a significant part of each individual’s lifetime, directly affects the development of that individual’s identity. During education, a person is evolving through learning and development – all trough specific everyday actions that change us during the process. This is where motivation comes into play. Motivation directly relates to the amount of time or effort a person is willing to devote to that evolution. Motivation involves goal- directed action, since without motivation, there is no action, and individual is only under the effects of the environment. So, motivation is important – we need to understand motivation though the context in order to understand the actions and that change towards the identity that all individuals are pursuing.

But, what is motivation? Many theories related motivation to different sources. Some theories relate motivation to expectancy of results. They it to confidence in ability to perform a task and that sense of confidence can vary in strength, generality and level. They are stating that motivation is affected by expectations between causes (events) and outcomes, access to means for producing outcomes, and ability to produce desired events. Another group of theories includes reasoning behind engagement, introducing intrinsic and extrinsic reasons for action. They relate motivation to stimulation level and need for competence and self-determination. However, motivational reasons are often confused along with accompanying conflicting feelings (of control over the actions but also being immersed in the activity).

Finally, another group of theories integrates expectancy and value constructs while some even integrate motivation and cognition. These theories emphasize on the interaction between knowledge of oneself, domain-specific knowledge, strategy knowledge, and personal-motivational states. There is also recognition of utility value of task in relation to immediate and future goals. According to these theories, the integration of motivation and cognition accomplishes through self-observation, self-judgment, and self-reactions.

All the previous theories provide different insight into motivation, while still having some common agreements points. For example, there is always a conflict or coordination of immediate (e.g., enjoyment) and ultimate (e.g., survival) goals for motivation. None of the theories gives a complete approach to motivation, this is the reason a coordinated approach from all this different theories should be developed. Then, through integration of those theories we can try to resolve how motivation is included and reflected in the educational system – in tests, lectures content, working hours, working environments, assignments, etc.

Current education systems are not built upon significant premise of motivation’s role in learning. Current education systems are supporting ego-involved goals not task-involved goals – more of “will I look smart?” then “what will I learn?”. System is creating performance-oriented instead of learning-oriented students, where students are in essence learning to be test-takers, with emphasize more on performance and less on mastery. In addition to that, relation of motivation to social responsibility in learning is rarely considered. Teachers, along with parents, as primary socializing agents, have the key role in individual’s motivation development for support of identity development. Finding purpose and direction with regard to academic goals is one of the components. Another is the awareness of continual identity pursuit and thus motivation as an integral element of that process. The important role in motivation for successful academic/professional but also a personal functioning is the ability and desire to openly seek out and actively evaluate relevant information, and using that information for creating action constructions.

1) J. Bransford, L. National Research Council. Committee on Developments in the Science of, R. National Research Council. Committee on Learning, and P. Educational, How people learn : brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2000.
2) I. Kant, M. Weigelt, and F. M. Müller, Critique of pure reason. London; New York: Penguin, 2007


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