I signed off the last blog post with the intention of returning to Malcolm Knowles’ 5 assumptions about adult learners and one in particular; the proposition that the motivation to learn is rooted in a “perception” (or belief) that the learning has some benefit, and the clearer and more immediate the benefits can bear fruit the better. And just in case you didn’t read my last post (shame on you!) here are Knowles’ assumptions again, in shortened form;

Adult learners

  • Need to know why they need to learn
  • Need to be responsible for making their own decisions
  • Require to be treated as being capable of self-direction
  • Bring a wealth of experience to the table
  • Are ready to learn things they need to know

For Knowles, the role of the trainer / tutor was to help create the “classroom” conditions in which adults could engage, participate and learn cooperatively. We will return to this point in next week’s blog, but for now let’s stay with motivation and learning…

Two Types

Intrinsic motivation means doing something for its own sake, pleasure or satisfaction, such as learning a new hobby or pastime. When our motivation comes from within, we are more likely to devote our time and energy, commitment and effort to learning.

Extrinsic motivation on the other hand means that we are doing it for the sake of something (or somebody) else. It could be the pursuit of a grade, qualification or award (the “piece of paper”).


As the questions imply (in the image above) our motivations are variable to setting and context.

Perhaps we bound out of bed on work days, filled with enthusiasm and energy to discharge on the job. Or maybe we make the effort on most work days just because we have to…

Thinking back to school (at least in my time), the motivation to learn was all about passing exams and getting the grades as the gateway into a job, a trade or further study.

This isn’t to say that intrinsic motivation is “good” and extrinsic motivation “bad”. And neither do I want to suggest there is anything wrong with passing exams and gaining qualifications.

But it is kind of obvious that motivation from within has a quite different energy to it. We do something because we want to, rather than because we have to.

I’ll sign off this week with reference to Louise Dirksen, author of Design for How People Learn (an excellent read) who states the case bluntly;

“As you might imagine, intrinsic motivation kicks extrinsic motivation’s ass”

We will delve further into motivation, adult learners and the learning environment next week.

Tony Stevenson, Changing Mindz

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