Person-Centered Approaches to Learning

Person-Centered Approaches to Learning

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

· Explain the roots of humanism and its current iteration.

· Describe humanism’s views about personal development.

· Summarize the principles of Waldorf education and Steiner pedagogy.

· Define experiential learning and explain how it is evaluated.

· Describe the different elements of the transformative learning processes.

· Compare and contrast extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

· Apply self-determination theory (SDT) to learning.

· Apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to learning psychology.

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A businessman with his head in his hands. He is sitting at an outdoor table.


Humanists focus on the whole person and what he or she is experiencing or feeling when considering how humans learn.

Have you ever:

· decided not to take on a new project because someone told you that you could not accomplish such a task?

· felt unsatisfied with a task because you knew you were performing it to please others instead of yourself?

· felt that you are not the person you want to be?

· been frustrated because a degree program emphasized book- rather than experience-based learning?

· wondered about the meaning of life and your personal connection to it?

Theorists interested in person-centered psychology (also known as humanism) might ponder these types of questions. This chapter focuses on humanistic ideologies that have shaped numerous domains in psychology, including learning. Humanism is far more philosophical than previous theories, so it will be important to think critically about the pros and cons of this approach.

This chapter will introduce you to frameworks that suggest that holistic personal development fortifies learning when applied to oneself or in a learning atmosphere designed to teach specific content (such as organizational training). Section 6.1 will consider the foundations of humanism from a historical perspective. The other sections will then explain how the approach can be applied within learning contexts (section 6.2), learning models (section 6.3), and motivation learning theories (section 6.4). Although each framework is unique, the crucial similarity is the emphasis on self-discovery and the search for self-actualization in learning.

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6.1 Humanism

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6.1 Humanism

As you learned in section i.5, humanism in the context of learning is an ideology that promotes the importance of the needs and motivations of the whole person, thus increasing an individual’s learning through the development of multiple areas. However, humanistic ideas did not just appear in the context of learning, nor are they solely based in educational values. (Remember the discussion about situated cognition and the different associations with the word humanism in section 5.3?) Humanism has a rich history, and its application to effective learning is relevant when considering the variety of factors associated with how individuals learn (Boutcher, 2006; Collini, 2008; Goulding, 2006; Guarino, 2008; Hankins, 2005).

There are many definitions of humanism, but in learning, humanism is derived from the word humanitas. During the Renaissance in Europe (the early 14th through 17th centuries), humanitas was an area of educational studies that focused on classical literature. Those who studied this area were literature scholars whose focus included grammar, poetry, rhetoric, history, and moral philosophy. Today, these fields are known as the humanities. The goal in these fields is to develop the whole person using philosophical means, through the discovery of self and the meaning of life. The humanities sought to inspire one to develop a higher level of existence, or self-actualization.

Carl Rogers (1902–1987) is considered the revitalizer of humanism because of his person-centered therapy approach (Rogers, 1953). Historically, his theory of the self (Pescitelli, 1996; Rogers, 1980) has been associated more with the psychology of personalities (Dagmar, 1996; Ryckman, 1993), but it is also applicable to learning psychology because the theory addresses psychological components that can affect learning effectiveness and accuracy. His person-centered approach was based primarily on how a person perceives oneself. The “self,” in this case, is a central construct of his theory, suggesting that a healthy individual understands the correspondence between one’s sense of who one is (self) and who one wants to be (ideal self) (Rogers, 1953). His theory has also been described as humanisticexistential, and phenomenological (Dagmar, 1996), which is important to note as you consider outside resources that discuss humanism.

A man listening to a psychologist.


Focusing on client-centered therapy, Carl Rogers took a humanistic approach to understanding learning. He was a proponent of a therapist providing emotional support and positivity to the client in an effort to foster growth.

Rogers’s concept of humanism emphasized one’s ability to achieve healthy self-development and growth (Rogers, 1953). In the context of therapy, the role of a therapist in fostering healthy growth was also important. Through a process Rogers called person-centered therapy, the therapist should provide empathy, sincerity, and positivity to every client. In addition, Rogers suggested that every person is unique and thus each person’s perceptions are just as unique (Rogers, 1953; Ryckman, 1993). This notion is similar to constructivist ideas because both suggest that perceptions are designed by the individual and learning opportunities should be person centered. But Rogers’s notion also differs from constructivism because Rogers maintained the importance of the role of the facilitator as warm, encouraging, and objective to encourage the positive development of “self.” The facilitator should guide a learner to a higher place, a place of inner contentment and self-actualization.

Today, some academics and scholars suggest that any focus on or renewal of a development of the whole person, emphasizing the importance of the learner, including his or her thoughts, feelings, and emotions, is classified as a humanistic approach (Gage & Berliner, 1991; Lei, 2007; Maples, 1979). Hence, learning, based on the theoretical framework of humanism, is “from the perspective of the human potential for growth” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 281). These points of view explain the use of the word humanism in more current and modern learning philosophies that will be discussed in this chapter.

In discussions about learning, Rogers’s ideas about the importance of self helped shape ideas about the effectiveness and personal ownership one has in the learning process through the application of methods and motivational strategies that address a learner’s needs and perceived self. Humanists believe that more effective learning occurs when the learner is encouraged to have a positive self-image (also considered by some theorists as positive self-efficacy; see Ryan & Deci, 2000). They also suggest that unconditional feelings of increased value and respect within the learner improve his or her learning potential. For example, if an individual is assigned to a group project and, as a team member, he feels that his input is of value and that the team respects him for his ideas, this framework suggests that he would be more inclined to increase his engagement in the assigned content, thus learning it with increased effectiveness.

However, Rogers noted that most people do not accept learning opportunities as unconditional, believing that to earn value, respect, and even love, one must satisfy the desires of others, rather than themselves (Rogers, 1953). This perception could increase the disassociation a person may have between what he or she does and why he or she chooses to do it (perceived self versus ideal self). Much as with situated cognition (see section 5.3), Rogers suggested that the person then constructs the perceived knowledge to make it fit into his or her reality, even skewing what is truth versus what is the perceived truth. This disassociation also creates an inner struggle that can be seen by persons who may try to acquire what they perceive will be more acceptable to others, though it does not make them truly more knowledgeable, happier, or fulfilled. For example, a student who believes that he or she has value only if he or she gets straight As may perceive a B or C as a complete and utter failure, even if he or she learned a great deal about the content covered in the course and would like to know more. In this example, the student misses out on the self-reward of learning, growth, and personal achievement, and subsequently his or her positive perception of self decreases.

The next section provides an example of a humanistic approach to educating children. Though this example describes a specific setting, as you read, consider how the components could be applied in other settings that would benefit from more effective learning, such as daycares, sales careers, counseling, or career training.

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6.2 Humanism and the Learning Context

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6.2 Humanism and the Learning Context

We have considered many different ideas about how we learn, especially in regard to how knowledge and memories are developed and retrieved. Humanism can help address the question “How can we learn more effectively?” and support our understanding of learning in a more holistic way. Waldorf education (also known as Steiner pedagogy ), founded in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner, embodies the Renaissance practices of humanism. This approach supports a learner’s development via instruction in literature, art, history, and self-reflection, and an overarching goal is to increase the learner’s level of personal knowledge. In addition, this applied pedagogy indicates that learning and educating one’s inner self involves much more than reading, writing, and arithmetic and should include social advocacy, peace, empathy, and respect for nature and one another (Easton, 1997). According to Rudolph Steiner (1972),

At the Waldorf School, value is placed upon artistic rather than intellectual training at the beginning of the school life. The teaching is first pictorial, nonintellectual; the relation of the teacher to the child is pervaded by a musical quality, and by such methods we achieve the degree of intellectual development the child needs. (p. 123)

Children planting vegetables.

Seiya Kawamoto/DigitalVision/Thinkstock

Children learning in a Waldorf education environment may participate in storytelling, music, crafts, and outdoor learning. This Steiner pedagogy takes a humanistic approach, as it emphasizes a self-paced setting and a more well-rounded education.

However, this method of learning, often considered too loose and playful (Cook, 2014), also has its controversial aspects (Dewey, 2012; Staudenmaier, 2012). Concerns about the prevalence of bullying, low cultural-diversity inclusion (Cook, 2014), and a historically religious foundation all spark questions about the intentions of this method of education. For example, Rudolph Steiner developed his beliefs about learning and educating based on his spiritual philosophy, known as anthroposophy, which promotes intuition, clairvoyance, and reincarnation of spirit (McDermott, 2009). Current educational Waldorf/Steiner institutions often indicate that anthroposophy is not the foundation of their organizations, although sources have suggested that while students are not taught lessons about anthroposophy, the teachers are (Uhrmacher, 1995). Much like Renaissance humanism, the developmental stages suggested by this educational framework promote humanistic learning and are clearly based on anthroposophy.

Some research has suggested that this type of learning environment increases performance and success in the areas of learner satisfaction, college entrance exams, and reading (Easton, 1995; Gidley, 2002; Larrison, Daly, & VanVooren, 2012; Suggate, Schaughency, & Reese, 2013; Woods, Ashley, & Woods, 2005). These results, however, may be attributed to the social status of the students accepted at these schools (Schreiner & Schwantner, 2009). It is also important to note that though Steiner pedagogy began prior to the humanistic approach suggested by Rogers in the mid-1900s, the holistic attention to learner effectiveness and the development of one’s self clearly aligns with the more current understanding of humanism as applied to learning psychology.

The excerpts featured in this section are from Easton (1997). Waldorf education embodies a humanistic model for learning, which helps us to better understand the framework, but it is important to restate that humanism applied to learning explores the question “How do we learn more effectively?” rather than “How do we learn?” This discussion does not negate the previously discussed theories (e.g., behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism). It guides you through these researched methods in a way that emphasizes the importance of the inner person and one’s potential and individual needs.

Excerpts from “Educating the Whole Child, ‘Head, Heart, and Hands’: Learning From the Waldorf Experience”

By F. Easton

Basic Philosophy

Waldorf theory (also known as Steiner pedagogy) is based on the work of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, scientist, and educator who lived at the turn of the last century (1861–1924). Steiner said his purpose was to create a new impulse in education that would enable learners from diverse backgrounds to develop the capacities necessary to cope with the demands and challenges of a post-industrial world. Steiner’s thesis was that as cultures become more technologically advanced human beings need to become more conscious of their capacity to become fully human, if they are to resist competing pressures toward dehumanization. Waldorf education resonates with increasing numbers of educators and parents today because it provides a framework that informs and inspires educators to think about ways to create a learning community that nurtures learners’ capacities to become whole human beings in a world that is becoming increasingly mechanized. [. . .]

Basic to Waldorf’s philosophy is a complex image of the learner as a threefold human being—body, soul, and spirit. Each of these three dimensions is related to four senses, thus expanding our customary view of five human senses to 12 (Soesman, 1983). The arts play a significant role in developing the capacities of each learner to perceive both one’s inner and outer world. When we actively contemplate, practice, or create artistic work, we become more aware of our sensations, feelings, and thoughts.

The aim of the Waldorf model is to educate the learner toward a holistic thinking that integrates knowledge gained from thinking, feeling, and doing. Holistic thinking within this framework also refers to the integration of knowledge that is derived from considering beauty, goodness, and truth as complementary ways of more fully understanding reality.

Views on Development and Learning

Waldorf educators share a comprehensive theory of child development that shapes its educational practices. Waldorf learning views the learner’s trifold capacities as unfolding in 7-year rhythms from birth to age 21. They view each individual as being born with a unique inner self that is capable of evolving toward freedom, responsibility, and maturity if appropriate stimulation and nourishment are provided at each developmental stage: the pre-school years (0–7), the elementary school years (7–14), and the adolescent years (14–21).

During the first stage, the child experiences the world through physical activity and learns through imitation and play. Stories, songs, quality materials, and behavior worthy of imitation stimulate physical growth, language development, and curiosity, thus laying a sound foundation for the later development of imagination and thinking.

With the change of teeth, the child enters a second stage that continues until puberty. During this period, the child draws nourishment from experiences that develop consciousness of feelings and feed the imagination. Now stories become opportunities to create mental pictures that do not depend on immediate experience. This is a time when the senses become differentiated and refined through direct participation in a wide variety of visual, musical, and tactile artistic activities. Waldorf theory emphasizes that the child needs to have a caring authority figure make critical decisions until the child gains sufficient experience on which to base meaningful choices. It highlights that if children are given choice before they acquire the ability to consider the long-range effects of their decisions, a pattern of immediate gratification is reinforced.

The high school years, when the child’s capacities for abstract thinking unfold, become the third stage of child development. Students need experiences that enable them to understand and reflect upon the relationships between ideas presented in different subject areas and to make judgments about what is meaningful to them (Steiner, 1965). In an effort to develop holistic thinking, an appreciation of beauty and a sense of ethical responsibility are incorporated in the teaching of all subject areas. This is achieved in part by integrating information and consideration of how knowledge is gained and used. An emphasis is also placed on the form in which teachers present material and students present reports and projects. [. . .]

Waldorf provides a framework for envisioning a renewal of thinking that integrates imagination, inspiration, and intuition into our ways of knowing (Sloan, 1992). It recognizes the essential role of artistic work in educating children toward a holistic thinking that encompasses aesthetic and ethical considerations.

Artistic work provides opportunities to become more conscious of our inner and outer worlds. It helps learners learn to concentrate, pay attention to detail, and envision the whole. It encourages the free expression of the human spirit in more disciplined ways and strives to balance freedom and discipline. By educating “head, heart, and hands,” Waldorf education seeks to nurture a self-esteem that encompasses aesthetic and moral sensibilities as well as intellectual competence. Waldorf aims, theories, and practices can inspire us to rethink our educational paradigms and structure conversations about how we can respond more creatively to the particular needs of learners from diverse backgrounds in our pluralistic society. [. . .]

Source: Easton, F. (1997). Educating the whole child: head, heart and hands. Learning from the Waldorf experience. Theory Into Practice, 36(2), 87–94. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Copyright © 1997 Routledge.

Waldorf education (Steiner pedagogy) presents a contextual model that stresses creativity and inner development to support the effectiveness of one’s knowledge acquisition. It offers conceptual ways to take what we know about learning and adapt it to models that may place more emphasis on distinct aspects of the learner’s development. Facilitators focus on an individual’s development of self. The learning contexts based on humanism are learner centered, but the Waldorf model offers learners more freedom to explore and uses the arts and other humanities content to support learning. There are several learning models built upon humanism’s positions, and the next section discusses two models that will help us better understand the perspectives supported by a holistic approach to learning.

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6.3 Humanism and Learning

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6.3 Humanism and Learning

There are numerous learning models based on the philosophies of humanism. This section will explore two models: experiential learning, which places emphasis on the experience of a learner, and transformational learning, which places emphasis on the goal to transform one’s self through learning. Each model is distinct, but both offer a view on how to attain an increased level of awareness and personal development in the learning process.

Experiential learning is an area of learning that is based on a belief that learning occurs because of self-reflection and engagement in one’s own development. Hence, self-reflection and the desire to become more engaged in the development process help the learner support his or her own learning (Purdy, 2016; Weinstein, 2015). The attention on self is the main variable that aligns this model with humanistic theory. As noted by Rogers (1953), attention to self is unconsciously defined by the social interactions that we experience.

Experiences and how these experiences affect our learning are a crucial component in the next series of excerpts, which is from Weinstein (2015). This article introduces experiential learning, some of the key principles identified by John Dewey (a notable individual associated with this concept), and the challenges of assessing this method of learning. Experiential learning is important to consider as we study how humanism applies to learning because experiential learning encompasses the idea that effective learning must (1) consider individual needs and preferences and (2) be self-reflective to successfully promote effective learning opportunities. See Reinforcing Your Understanding: Dewey’s Approach to Education after the excerpts for a closer look at the school where Dewey first applied his theories about learning.

Excerpts from “Experiential Learning”

By N. Weinstein

Experiential Learning

A portrait of John Dewey.

Classic Vision/age fotostock/SuperStock

John Dewey was an advocate for experiential learning, which includes providing engaging learning experiences and interactions for students in a social setting.

Experiential learning is an umbrella term that has encompassed a diverse body of educational theories and practices that share a common core of key principles. Although theories about experiential learning can be found in ancient Greek and Chinese philosophy, the term assumed great public prominence in the 1960s with an intense public interest in alternative schools based upon student-centered curriculum and instruction. Experiential learning, since the 1960s, has been generally understood as a systematic approach to applied learning catalyzed by students extracting from various experiences, within and beyond the classroom, meaningful methods promoting lifelong learning. [. . .]

Educators are in general agreement that the term experiential learning began with John Dewey’s 1938 book, Experience and Education, a concise distillation from lectures given late in Dewey’s career as a philosopher of education. It is notable how often this single text is quoted by both proponents and opponents of experiential education nearly seven decades after its publication. Central to Dewey’s understanding of experiential learning are a handful of key principles. These include the importance of offering students quality learning experiences since “experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other” (Dewey, 1938, p. 25). Dewey defines a quality learning experience as one that moves a student forward progressively to learn more and more about a worthwhile subject of inquiry. For Dewey, any educational experience can either distort or block a student’s curiosity, or enhance a student’s intellectual energy so that he or she wants to advance. Sound experiential learning encourages what Dewey labels “the continuity of experience” (p. 28), meaning that a student’s curiosity is constantly fueled by engaging learning experiences so that a student wants to stretch beyond known boundaries. In terms of Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development (discussed in Chapter 5), experiential learning offers students a painless way to stretch their intellectual horizons because they are encouraged to take their experiences as seriously as any assigned textbook or classroom lecture (Vygotsky, 1986). [. . .]

The other key principle underscored in Dewey’s book is the importance of interaction in promoting the value of experiential learning. Learning in Dewey’s world is primarily socially constructed, meaning that learning is an intellectual and emotional energy generated from the quality of interactions between students, and between students and teachers. This view contrasts with a traditionally held view of learning in which knowledge is mined from the repositories of texts and class lectures offered to individual students under a teacher’s authoritarian guidance. The acquisition of knowledge in terms of Dewey’s theory is an active, questing process, an act of community construction from the building materials that established texts and lectures provide (Dewey, 1938). [. . .]

Controversy has always surrounded these cornerstones of Dewey’s definition of “experiential learning” for a variety of reasons. In terms of assessment of student achievement, how can teachers and administrators quantify what is essentially the quality of student learning experiences? Since so much of the history of 20th-century American education has been marked by reliance upon quantitative scoring of academic achievement through standardized testing, there has been a bypassing of the development of reliable and commonly accepted assessment tools to evaluate the educational value of quality, experientially based learning experiences. These assessment issues have also presented complex challenges since experiential learning programs often utilize sites other than schools. For example, in service learning, students often learn how to practice problem-solving skills in environments with marginalized populations in need of social services, or in environmentally degraded areas in need of restoration. These “learning by doing” programs that are based on the premise that the classroom is the world raise the question of who functions as an evaluating teacher of student learning, and how such potentially life-altering learning experiences can be accurately assigned a grade.

Tools for Evaluating Experiential Learning

Although Dewey left the assessment issues surrounding experiential learning largely unanswered, proponents of experiential learning over the decades since Dewey’s work have developed a number of evaluation tools including student-generated portfolios and journals containing evidence of student academic achievement, as well as a variety of oral, written, and computer-based learning projects summarizing student learning from experience. Advocates of experiential learning often acknowledge that achievements realized by students through this approach often resist simple assessment. How can an educator quickly and accurately assess such achievements as independent thinking, flexible and creative thinking, and self-motivation to become a lifelong learner? Could a “one size fits all” standard be developed to assess students in such slippery and complex categories? The results of students undergoing learning from experience are not as subject to instant assessment simply because such learning plants potentialities in students. These potential bits of knowledge might not be manifest in an obvious way for months or years, unlike the achievement of students selecting the right answer to a multiple choice question on an exam based on a textbook reading assignment.

To offer another form of experiential learning as an example of the difficulty of assessment, the last half century in education has witnessed a large number of outdoor environmentally centered learning programs. These range from after-school activities that entail cleaning up an environmentally polluted site to Outward Bound programs emphasizing survival skills in a cross-disciplinary fashion. Students and educators bring a variety of different assumptions to these programs, depending on cultural background and years of experience in urban or rural settings. A program in New York State in the 1970s that offered the experience for inner-city New York City teenagers of learning a variety of survival skills in a mountainous wilderness area was strongly criticized by a number of students and their parents for not adequately preparing students for a learning experience so alien to their previous experiences. This could serve as a reminder that proper timing, setting, and preparation are crucial if experiential learning is to be achieved and retained by students. If a student is not properly prepared in knowing how to encounter a fresh learning experience, and able to integrate it seamlessly with previous learning experiences, then many of the potential advantages of experiential learning will be lost.

As Dewey’s proponents and opponents often admit, Dewey loaded the word “experience” with thick layers of connotative (and occasionally vague) meaning. For example, in some of his writings, Dewey insists that students need to have learning experiences that carry much of the tradition of the accumulated wisdom of Western civilization. It has been debated whether such an idealized view of tradition-laden personal experience is realistically commonly found among most students. Further, students might not always be conscious of whether a learning experience is immediately interconnected to the Western canon of thought. Even more challenging is to be aware of whether the learner has thoroughly extracted all that could or should be learned from an experience. Thus, the need exists for teaching students how to comprehensively work with the multiple, and often paradoxically conflicting, meanings attached to any learning experience. Learning how to interpret experience wisely calls for students highly motivated to get to the essence, the essential gist of what a life experience means, and that might be heavily dependent upon an intellectual and emotional maturity many students need to cultivate. [. . .]

Yet another spin-off from the ancient Greek sense of praxis is the theory of experiential learning proposed by David A. Kolb (1985). Kolb described experiential learning as a four-part cycle that most often begins with students having a concrete experience [. . .].

Source: Weinstein, N. (2015). Experiential Learning. Research Starters: Education. Copyright © EBSCO.

Reinforcing Your Understanding: Dewey’s Approach to Education

John Dewey emphasized that each learner is unique, with his or her own needs, interests, and backgrounds. From Dewey’s perspective, learning occurs both inside and outside of the school. He applied his approach to education at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, which he founded in 1896 and which are still used today. Children in these schools learn traditional subjects (math, reading, science, etc.), but they also learn an array of practical skills that encourage abstract thinking and problem solving. Watch the following video to learn more about Dewey and the early years of laboratory schools.

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Transformative Learning

A group therapy session.


A key aspect of transformative learning is the development of autonomous thinking. It emphasizes a person’s ability to skeptically consider or discuss information in an effort to develop his or her own beliefs.

Transformative learning is another area within the humanistic model of learning that can help us to better understand the complexities of how we learn and why, at times, we do not experience successful learning. Transformative learning is based on the belief that learning should encourage individuals to adapt their perspectives and be critical of how they understand the world around them. It focuses on the idea that knowledge should improve us as human beings—that learning should transform us. One key element in transformative learning is the development of autonomous thinking. In other words, learning should encourage individuals to skeptically consider knowledge and not to simply accept what is taught to them (Bouchard, 2015; Mezirow, 1997). For example, throughout this text, you have been encouraged to develop your knowledge through skeptical inquiry. As a learner, you should thoughtfully evaluate the information presented, rather than simply accept that what a scholar, instructor, or friend says about the subject is true. The perspectives and models considered in this chapter are founded on a philosophy, unlike the frameworks considered in previous discussions. As a learner, you should think critically when you consider this knowledge and determine yourself what you think is valid and applicable.

Transformative learning also suggests that true learning should be uncomfortable because it can be difficult to transcend beyond something that one believes (Bouchard, 2015; Davis, 2006). Approach this section of the chapter with a renewed level of skeptical inquiry:

· Is it a requirement that learners change and rebuild their beliefs if they are to be transformed or holistically developed as human beings?

· Have we learned if we are not willing to mature our beliefs and think for ourselves, without bias to societal and culturally projected values?

How you answer these questions may surprise you. Keep these questions in mind as you read the excerpt from Bouchard (2015). This article introduces us to the founder of transformative learning, the importance of engaging in one’s experiences, the importance of self-reflection, the stages that we as persons go through when delving into transformative learning, and information about the criticisms of this learning model.

Excerpts from “Transformative Learning”

By J. Bouchard

[. . .] According to Jack Mezirow, the founder of transformative learning theory, a defining condition of the human experience is that we have to make meaning of our lives (Mezirow, 1997). Transformative learning is the learning that takes place as a person forms and reforms this meaning. [. . .] Mezirow believes that in today’s world people must learn to make their own interpretations as opposed to listening to and acting on the beliefs and explanations of others. The goal of adult education is to facilitate this understanding rather than to provide it. The goal of transformative learning is to develop “autonomous thinking” (Mezirow, 1997).

Mezirow developed the theory of transformative learning in the 1970s (Florida State University, 2002). Mezirow’s theory focuses on the individual as a reflective learner. Transformative learning requires the acquisition of information that upsets prior knowledge and triggers a changing of ideas and perceptions (Davis, 2006). [. . .]

Transformative learning occurs when a person encounters an event or situation that is inconsistent with his or her existing perspective (Stansberry & Kymes, 2007). Transformational learning experiences cause the learner to become critical of his or her beliefs and how they affect the way the learner makes sense of the world (Stansberry & Kymes, 2007).

Significance of Life Experiences

Children commonly acquire the knowledge structures necessary to think autonomously. This includes the ability to recognize cause-effect relationships, make analogies and generalizations, recognize and control emotions, develop empathy, and think abstractly (Mezirow, 1997). In addition, adolescents learn to hypothesize and reflect on what they read, see, and hear. The primary goal for adult education is to strengthen and build on this foundation in order to assist the learner to become more critical in assessing one’s own beliefs, values, and judgments of others (Mezirow, 1997). This awareness will allow adult learners to become more responsible and better equipped to work with others to solve problems and modify previously held beliefs (Mezirow, 1997).

Mezirow maintains that transformative education is extremely different from the types of education appropriate for children (Davis, 2006). Acquiring new information is just one aspect of the adult education process (Davis, 2006). Adults, throughout their lives, develop a body of associations, concepts, values, and feelings based on their experiences. These are frames of reference, the mental collection of assumptions that are responsible for how people comprehend their experiences and define their worlds (Mezirow, 1997). Once a person’s frames of reference are set, it is extremely difficult to accept those that do not fit one’s preconceptions (Mezirow, 1997). Learning can be meaningful only when new information is integrated with existing frames of reference (Davis, 2006).

Lawton and La Porte (2013) discuss transformative learning in community art classes for seniors:

[Older adults have] a wealth of knowledge and experience, a broad range of interests and cognitive abilities, and a unique vantage point: the wisdom acquired with age. The reinterpreting of past experiences and understanding them in a new way may provide meaningful creative inspiration. Transformative experiences can occur for adults across cultures and generations through activities such as storytelling, social interaction, and collaborative artmaking. (p. 310) [. . .]

Critical Self-Reflection

“Transformative learning involves critical self-reflection of deeply held assumptions” (Davis, 2006, p. 16). The theory of transformative learning applies to adults engaged in a variety of learning environments. Mezirow explains that it requires the learner to “interpret past experiences from a new set of expectations about the future, thus giving new meaning perspectives to those experiences” (cited in Davis, 2006, “Promoting Transformation”). Transformation occurs upon the completion of a series of 10 stages the individual must go through (Stansberry & Kymes, 2007). This shift in perspective can be gradual or sudden, as the individual moves through the stages and experiences a cognitive restructuring of experience and action (Stansberry & Kymes, 2007). The learner then begins the process of changing expectations to a more comprehensive perspective.

Mezirow believed that transformative learning takes place through experience, reflection, and discourse (Stansberry & Kymes, 2007). The process can be disruptive and uncomfortable as the learner is forced into seeing the world differently than previously accepted (Davis, 2006). Transformative learning is considered to have taken place once learners make choices or take action based on the new understandings (Stansberry & Kymes, 2007).

Transformative Learning Process

Mezirow developed several stages that people experience on the way to transformation. According to Mezirow, these phases are required in order for a true transformation to take place (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999):

1. Experiencing a disconcerting dilemma

2. Performing an examination of self

3. Critically assessing assumptions

4. Recognizing that others share similar experiences

5. Exploring options for action

6. Building self-confidence

7. Forming a plan of action

8. Acquiring skills and information for implementation

9. Practicing a new plan and roles

10. Reintegrating into society with new perspective

“After identifying their problem or challenge, people often enter a phase where they reflect critically on this challenge. During this process, people often can no longer accept their old ways of thinking and thus they are compelled to change” (Lieb, 1991, p. 25). Finally, the learner must take action and do something in reaction to this change. This process could take a long time, and people sometimes reflect on beliefs and ideas for years before they are ready to accept new beliefs and enact change (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999). [. . .]

There are four processes or approaches to transformative learning:

· Elaborate on an existing point of view—In this process, a learner seeks to support an initial bias and expand the range of that point of view (Mezirow, 1997, p. 7). This process does not constitute an actual transformation, as it does not require the learner to change point of view; it merely asks the learner to broaden his or her definition of something.

· Establish new points of view—The learner encounters a new situation and creates new meaning to accommodate the situation (Mezirow, 1997). Again, this process does not require the learner to alter an existing point of view. This process gives the opportunity to add a new point of view on something that was previously unfamiliar.

· Transform a point of view—Based on an experience that results in a critical reflection of the learner’s misconceptions, a learner may be forced to alter his or her existing point of view. If this experience or similar experiences occurs repeatedly, a transformation of the learner’s habits of mind may take place (Mezirow, 1997).

· Transform a habit of mind—These types of transformations are rare, as such dramatic changes in perception that shake existing frames of reference do not occur often, but when they do the learner becomes critically reflective of a generalized bias (Mezirow, 1997). [. . .]

A woman gazing out a window.


Reflection is part of the transformative learning process. The learners evaluate and process the information they have been given, eventually questioning underlying assumptions and coming to their own conclusions.

Reflection is a key action in the transformation process. Mezirow distinguishes among three kinds of reflection:

· Content Reflection: Learners ponder and evaluate the content of a problem.

· Process Reflection: Process reflection involves a rational contemplation of strategies that could solve the problem.

· Premise Reflection: Learners question the importance of the problem and question the assumptions underlying the problem. Premise reflection can lead to transformative learning. [. . .]

Critics of Transformative Learning

Many people have criticized Mezirow’s ideas (Cranton, 1996, p. 26). Some of them feel that the phases of transformation are rather artificial and that transformation can happen instantly without critical reflection (Cranton, 1996, p. 26). Many agree with Mezirow that

critical reflection is important to transformative learning, but some studies find critical reflection overemphasized rational process and overlooks the role of feelings and emotions. Studies have shown that learners who experienced a transformation responded to the initiating dilemma without reevaluating their assumptions or beliefs. (Taylor, 2001, p. 220)

Instead of engaging in critical reflection, most learners trusted their assumptions and projected critique at the situation rather than the self (Taylor, 2001).

Morrice (2013) argues the importance of context for transformative learning. She draws on empirical research with refugees and considers the processes of “transforming experience and learning” that accompany transition to life in a different culture. Morrice argues for the importance of social context and nonformal learning, and suggests that models and theories based on transformative learning that ignore context provide “only a partial and distorted picture of the learning and identity processes at work” for the particular group of immigrants she studied (Morrice, 2013, p. 251).

Adult learning is different from elementary and adolescent learning because it is voluntary, self-directed, and experiential (Baumgartner, 2007). Transformative learning theory is somewhat self-directed, but it is not problem based or experiential and is often impractical in designed learning contexts (Baumgartner, 2007). Some critics argue that Mezirow’s theory focuses too much on individuals (Cranton, 1996). They assert that true change requires the collaboration of society and cannot happen in an individual apart from society (Cranton, 1996). On the flip side, sometimes teachers can trigger critical reflection but need to tread lightly when it comes to how they go about it. Teachers cannot pre-plan transformative learning experiences nor can they force critical reflection (Cranton, 1996). Since adult education operates on a more voluntary basis, the learners may or may not choose to push their limits and challenge their own habits of mind (Ettling, 2006). This creates a problem when a theory cannot be effectively implemented into educational practice.

Kucukaydin and Cranton (2013) take some issue with what they describe as the “subjective” nature of transformative learning:

Knowledge about transformative learning has been constructed by a community of scholars working to explain how adults experience a deep shift in perspective that leads them to better justified and more open frames of reference. . . . Knowledge about transformative learning is practical in nature, and as such, it is subjective. If we accept this, then the validity of knowledge about transformative learning needs to be based on critical meaning-making through discourse. (p. 53)

Ethical issues can actually arise for an educator who approaches instruction from the perspective of transformative learning (Ettling, 2006). As early as 1985, Paulo Freire addressed the question of the ethics of transformative education. He asserted that the educator never has the right to impose his or her position on the learner (cited in Ettling, 2006). At the same time, an educator should never be unresponsive to social questions (Ettling, 2006). Implementing transformative learning theory requires a constant examination of an educator’s methods and regular evaluation of student results as the point of view and habits of mind of the teacher are unavoidably present in the classroom (Ettling, 2006).

Mezirow’s view requires educators to recognize the web of connectedness between the world and the learner. Transformation should be viewed more as a set of emerging patterns than a process to be taught and followed (Ettling, 2006). Another complication with this is that there exists little information on how to effectively apply transformative learning theory in the classroom. Thus, both the teacher and the student are works in progress (Ettling, 2006). This brings us back to the question of whether or not educators have the right to impose situations that ask learners to reevaluate their basic assumptions about the world.

The bottom line is that educators need to be vigilant in setting objectives that encourage autonomous thinking, discourse, and critical reflection. Education should center on the learner and include group discourse, reflective thought, and interactive problem solving (Mezirow, 1997). Instruction that reflects life experience is designed to encourage evaluation and, if necessary, transformation, but it is up to the learner to have the necessary reflective judgment. Learning takes place through discovery as long as the student is willing to discover (Mezirow, 1997). [. . .]

Source: Bouchard, J. (2015). Transformative Learning. Research Starters: Education. Copyright © EBSCO.

Experiential and transformative learning are both examples of how some learning theorists have addressed the applications of theories based in humanism that can be used to examine effective learning. Experiential learning suggests that learning is about the experience, rather than the delivery, of information. Transformational learning suggests that autonomous thinking is a key element in learning. Consider the following scenario:

A group of students is waiting for the class facilitator to provide instructions for their next activity. The facilitator then begins the activity with the following statement: “There is little research to suggest that there is any value in understanding humanistic principles for learning. . . . Or is there?” The students are asked to pick one side of the debate (for or against the value of humanistic principles), investigate it, and then develop their arguments for a class discussion. At the end of the activity, one learner states that he cannot present the argument he originally chose because, although he believed there was no evidence to support the argument, his own investigations, which included readings, interviews with fellow students, and his past experiences, indicate that there is information to support the value of a humanistic approach to knowledge development.

This scenario demonstrates both experiential and transformational learning. The learning activity in this scenario is founded on experiential learning—it allows the learners to investigate and come to their own conclusions about a subject. The student who began the activity with one perspective ended up accommodating his beliefs after he learned more about the subject, which is an example of transformational learning.

Another area that promotes the philosophies of humanism in learning is motivation, which we will discuss next. Although different from a learning model, motivational theory offers individualized strategies about how to encourage a learner to be increasingly attentive to the learning process and provides strategies for learning (and training, educating, parenting) others more successfully.

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6.4 Motivation

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6.4 Motivation

Motivation is an important variable addressed by the humanistic learning framework, providing evidence that motivation influences the effectiveness of one’s learning experiences (Ryan & Deci, 2000). For example, if people in the audience at a work seminar do not believe that they need to know the information or believe that the information does not apply to their positions, then motivational theory suggests that their attention to the content is likely to decrease, reducing the knowledge that they acquire. An increased awareness of the possible reasons why we do or do not do specific things can enhance our own abilities to not only learn, but to promote learning in others. However, there are several theories about motivation that can be applied to learning effectiveness. In this section, we will discuss two: self-determination theory and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Both theories address the needs of the individual (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Aanstoos, 2016) and emphasize personal growth (Aanstoos, 2016), which supports the importance of considering the whole person.

The first series of excerpts in this section is from Ryan and Deci (2000). This content will elaborate on several variables within motivation, including intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation and needs versus outside expectations. (See Applying Skeptical Inquiry: Does Money Really Matter? after the excerpts to consider whether money is a significant source of extrinsic motivation.) In addition, the reading will discuss motivation from the perspective of self-determination theory (SDT) , a theory of motivation that suggests that three variables are crucial to support motivation: autonomy, competence, and belonging. The article also distinguishes between motivation that is aligned with self-goals (e.g., the desire to earn a degree) versus mandatory requirements (e.g., the need to maintain a C average to graduate). Each of these different variables can affect how learners approach the contents or skill areas that they are trying to develop (Ryan & Deci, 2000). As you read the content about motivation, consider how the Waldorf/Steiner approach or the learning theories we have discussed might also support the objective of identifying the motivators that can affect what information we do or do not attend to in our environments. Although motivational theories are applied in numerous psychological domains, the attention to this area has increased in the field of learning, as researchers continually discover more about the human spirit and its effects on our abilities and development.

Excerpts from “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions”

By R. M. Ryan and E. L. Deci

To be motivated means to be moved to do something. A person who feels no impetus or inspiration to act is thus characterized as unmotivated, whereas someone who is energized or activated toward an end is considered motivated. Most everyone who works or plays with others is, accordingly, concerned with motivation, facing the question of how much motivation those others, or oneself, has for a task, and practitioners of all types face the perennial task of fostering more versus less motivation in those around them. Most theories of motivation reflect these concerns by viewing motivation as a unitary phenomenon, one that varies from very little motivation to act to a great deal of it.

Yet, even brief reflection suggests that motivation is hardly a unitary phenomenon. People have not only different amounts, but also different kinds of motivation. That is, they vary not only in level of motivation (i.e., how much motivation), but also in the orientation of that motivation (i.e., what type of motivation). Orientation of motivation concerns the underlying attitudes and goals that give rise to action—that is, it concerns the why of actions. As an example, a student can be highly motivated to do homework out of curiosity and interest or, alternatively, because the student wants to procure the approval of a teacher or parent. A student could be motivated to learn a new set of skills because the student understands his or her potential utility or value or because learning the skills will yield a good grade and the privileges a good grade affords. In these examples the amount of motivation does not necessarily vary, but the nature and focus of the motivation being evidenced certainly does. [. . .]

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is defined as the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence. When intrinsically motivated, a person is moved to act for the fun or challenge entailed rather than because of external prods, pressures, or rewards. The phenomenon of intrinsic motivation was first acknowledged within experimental studies of animal behavior, where it was discovered that many organisms engage in exploratory, playful, and curiosity-driven behaviors even in the absence of reinforcement or reward (White, 1959). These spontaneous behaviors, although clearly bestowing adaptive benefits on the organism, appear not to be done for any such instrumental reason, but rather for the positive experiences associated with exercising and extending one’s capacities.

A woman in a coffee shop, working on her laptop and listening to headphones.


If a person finds satisfaction from a particular task or finds it interesting, he or she may be motivated to complete it and learn from it. Positive feelings or interest associated with an activity aids in learning because the person is intrinsically motivated to do that activity.

In humans, intrinsic motivation is not the only form of motivation, or even of volitional activity, but it is a pervasive and important one. From birth onward, humans, in their healthiest states, are active, inquisitive, curious, and playful creatures, displaying a ubiquitous readiness to learn and explore, and they do not require extraneous incentives to do so. This natural motivational tendency is a critical element in cognitive, social, and physical development because it is through acting on one’s inherent interests that one grows in knowledge and skills. The inclinations to take interest in novelty, to actively assimilate, and to creatively apply our skills are not limited to childhood but are a significant feature of human nature that affects performance, persistence, and well-being across life’s epochs (Ryan & LaGuardia, 2012).

Although, in one sense, intrinsic motivation exists within individuals, in another sense intrinsic motivation exists in the relation between individuals and activities. People are intrinsically motivated for some activities and not others, and not everyone is intrinsically motivated for any particular task.

Because intrinsic motivation exists in the nexus between a person and a task, some authors have defined intrinsic motivation in terms of the task being interesting while others have defined it in terms of the satisfactions a person gains from intrinsically motivated task engagement. In part, these different definitions derive from the fact that the concept of intrinsic motivation was proposed as a critical reaction to the two behavioral theories that were dominant in empirical psychology from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Specifically, because operant theory (Skinner, 1953) maintained that all behaviors are motivated by rewards (i.e., by separable consequence such as food or money), intrinsically motivated activities were said to be ones for which the reward was in the activity itself. Thus, researchers investigated what task characteristics make an activity interesting. In contrast, because learning theory (Hull, 1943) asserted that all behaviors are motivated by physiological drives (and their derivatives), intrinsically motivated activities were said to be ones that provided satisfaction of innate psychological needs. Thus, researchers explored what basic needs are satisfied by intrinsically motivated behaviors. [. . .]

Extrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination Theory

When trying to better understand extrinsic motivation, it helps to align it with a theory that distinguishes between different types of motivation based on the different reasons or goals that give rise to an action. In this case, self-determination theory (SDT) can accomplish this goal. [. . .]

Extrinsic motivation is a construct that pertains whenever an activity is done in order to attain some separable outcome. Extrinsic motivation thus contrasts with intrinsic motivation, which refers to doing an activity simply for the enjoyment of the activity itself, rather than its instrumental value. However, unlike some perspectives that view extrinsically motivated behavior as invariantly non-autonomous, SDT proposes that extrinsic motivation can vary greatly in the degree to which it is autonomous. For example, a student who does his homework only because he fears parental sanctions for not doing it is extrinsically motivated because he is doing the work in order to attain the separable outcome of avoiding sanctions. Similarly, a student who does the work because she personally believes it is valuable for her chosen career is also extrinsically motivated because she too is doing it for its instrumental value rather than because she finds it interesting. Both examples involve instrumentalities, yet the latter case entails personal endorsement and a feeling of choice, whereas the former involves mere compliance with an external control. Both represent intentional behavior, but the two types of extrinsic motivation vary in their relative autonomy.

Given that many of the educational activities prescribed in schools are not designed to be intrinsically interesting, a central question concerns how to motivate students to value and self-regulate such activities and, without external pressure, to carry them out on their own. This problem is described within SDT in terms of fostering the internalization and integration of values and behavioral regulations (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Internalization is the process of taking in a value or regulation, and integration is the process by which individuals more fully transform the regulation into their own so that it will emanate from their sense of self. Thought of as a continuum, the concept of internalization describes how one’s motivation for behavior can range from amotivation or unwillingness, to passive compliance, to active personal commitment. With increasing internalization (and its associated sense of personal commitment) come greater persistence, more positive self-perceptions, and better quality of engagement.

Organismic Integration Theory (OIT)

Within SDT, a second sub-theory, referred to as organismic integration theory (OIT), was introduced to detail the different forms of extrinsic motivation and the contextual factors that either promote or hinder internalization and integration of the regulation for these behaviors (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Figure 6.1 illustrates the OIT taxonomy of types of motivation, arranged from left to right in terms of the extent to which the motivation for one’s behavior emanates from one’s self.

Figure 6.1: Organismic integration theory (OIT)

A sub-theory of SDT reflecting a continuum of extrinsic motivators based on autonomy.

Figure illustrates the continuum of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, as described in the text. Six types of motivations are identified, with details about the associated processes and perceived locus of control for each. Amotivation is on the far left, which has an impersonal perceived locus of control, and intrinsic motivation is on the far right, which has an internal perceived locus of control. There are four types of extrinsic motivations in the middle, which are (from left to right) external regulation, introjection, identification, and integration.

Reprinted from Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 61. With permission from Elsevier. Copyright © 2000 Academic Press. All rights reserved.

At the far left is amotivation, which is the state of lacking an intention to act. When amotivated, a person’s behavior lacks intentionality and a sense of personal causation. Amotivation results from not valuing an activity (Ryan, 1995), not feeling competent to do it (Deci, 1975), or not believing it will yield a desired outcome (Seligman, 1975). Theorists who have treated motivation as a unitary concept (e.g., Bandura, 1986) have been concerned only with the distinction between what we call amotivation and motivation. However, one can see from Figure 6.1 that to the right of amotivation are various types of motivation that we have organized to reflect their differing degrees of autonomy or self-determination.

Just to the right of amotivation is a category that represents the least autonomous forms of extrinsic motivation, a category we label external regulation. Such behaviors are performed to satisfy an external demand or obtain an externally imposed reward contingency. Individuals typically experience externally regulated behavior as controlled or alienated, and their actions have an external perceived locus of causality (EPLOC; deCharms, 1968). External regulation is the only kind of motivation recognized by operant theorists (e.g., Skinner, 1953), and it is this type of extrinsic motivation that was typically contrasted with intrinsic motivation in early lab studies and discussions.

A second type of extrinsic motivation is introjected regulation. Introjection describes a type of internal regulation that is still quite controlling because people perform such actions with the feeling of pressure in order to avoid guilt or anxiety or to attain ego-enhancements or pride. Put differently, introjection represents regulation by contingent self-esteem. A classic form of introjection is ego involvement (Nicholls, 1984; Ryan, 1982), in which a person performs an act in order to enhance or maintain self-esteem and the feeling of worth. Although the regulation is internal to the person, introjected behaviors are not experienced as fully part of the self and thus still have an EPLOC.

A more autonomous, or self-determined, form of extrinsic motivation is regulation through identification. Here, the person has identified with the personal importance of a behavior and has thus accepted its regulation as his or her own. A boy who memorizes spelling lists because he sees it as relevant to writing, which he values as a life goal, has identified with the value of this learning activity.

Finally, the most autonomous form of extrinsic motivation is integrated regulation. Integration occurs when identified regulations have been fully assimilated to the self. This occurs through self-examination and bringing new regulations into congruence with one’s other values and needs. The more one internalizes the reasons for an action and assimilates them to the self, the more one’s extrinsically motivated actions become self-determined. Integrated forms of motivation share many qualities with intrinsic motivation, being both autonomous and un-conflicted. However, they are still extrinsic because behavior motivated by integrated regulation is done for its presumed instrumental value with respect to some outcome that is separate from the behavior, even though it is volitional and valued by the self.

At the far right-hand end of the figure is intrinsic motivation. This placement emphasizes that intrinsic motivation is a prototype of self-determined activity. Yet, as implied above, this does not mean that as extrinsic regulations become more internalized they are transformed into intrinsic motivation.

The process of internalization is developmentally important, as social values and regulations are continually being internalized over the life span. Still, we do not suggest that the continuum underlying types of extrinsic motivation is a developmental continuum, per se. One does not have to progress through each stage of internalization with respect to a particular regulation; indeed, one can initially adopt a new behavioral regulation at any point along this continuum depending upon prior experiences and situational factors (Ryan, 1995). Some behaviors could begin as introjects, others as identifications. A person might originally get exposed to an activity because of an external regulation (e.g., a reward), and (if the reward is not perceived as too controlling) such exposure might allow the person to experience the activity’s intrinsically interesting properties, resulting in an orientation shift. Or a person who has identified with the value of an activity might lose that sense of value under a controlling mentor and move “backward” into an external regulatory mode. Thus, while there are predictable reasons for movement between orientations, there is no necessary “sequence.” Developmental issues are, however, evident in two ways: (1) the types of behaviors and values that can be assimilated to the self increase with growing cognitive and ego capacities, and (2) it appears that people’s general regulatory style does, on average, tend to become more “internal” over time (e.g., Chandler & Connell, 1987), in accord with the general organismic tendencies toward autonomy and self-regulation (Ryan, 1995).

Considering the Role of Autonomy

Ryan and Connell (1989) tested the formulation that these different types of motivation do indeed lie along a continuum of relative autonomy. They investigated achievement behaviors (e.g., doing homework) among elementary school children, assessing external, introjected, identified, and intrinsic reasons for engaging in these behaviors. They found that the four types of regulation were intercorrelated according to a quasi-simplex (ordered correlation) pattern, thus providing evidence for an underlying continuum of autonomy. Differences in attitudes and adjustment were also associated with the different types of extrinsic motivation. For example, the more students were externally regulated the less they showed interest, value, or effort, and the more they indicated a tendency to blame others, such as the teacher, for negative outcomes. Introjected regulation was positively related to expending effort but was also related to more anxiety and to poorer coping with failures. Identified regulation was associated with greater enjoyment of school and more positive coping styles. And intrinsic motivation was correlated with interest, enjoyment, felt competence, and positive coping.

A young student in a classroom, holding up a piece of paper with “A+” in the top left corner.

Blend Images/Blend Images/SuperStock

In a consideration of motivation, autonomy takes an important role. Teachers who support autonomy and relevant feedback in their classrooms allow students to internalize a goal and retain information, thus becoming competent and eventually self-regulating.

Subsequent studies have extended these findings concerning types of extrinsic motivation, showing for example that more autonomous extrinsic motivation is associated with greater engagement (Connell & Wellborn, 1990), better performance (Miserandino, 1996), less dropping out (Vallerand & Bissonnette, 1992), higher-quality learning (Grolnick & Ryan, 1987), and greater psychological well-being (Sheldon & Kasser, 1995), among other outcomes. Additionally, there appears to be cross-cultural generalizability to the model, as presented in Figure 6.1 (e.g., Hayamizu, 1997).

Greater internalization appears, then, to yield manifold adaptive advantages (Ryan, Kuhl, & Deci, 1997), including more behavioral effectiveness (due to lessened conflict and greater access to personal resources) and greater experienced well-being. Given the clear significance of internalization for both personal experience and behavioral and performance outcomes, the critical applied issue concerns how to promote the autonomous regulation (personal control) of extrinsically motivated behaviors.

Because extrinsically motivated behaviors are not inherently interesting and thus must initially be externally prompted, the primary reason people are likely to be willing to do the behaviors is that they are valued by significant others to whom they feel (or would like to feel) connected, whether that be a family, a peer group, or a society. This suggests that the groundwork for facilitating internalization is providing a sense of belongingness and connectedness to the persons, group, or culture disseminating a goal, or what in SDT we call a sense of relatedness. In classrooms, this means that students’ feeling respected and cared for by the teacher is essential for their willingness to accept the proffered classroom values. In support of this, Ryan, Stiller, and Lynch (1994) found that relatedness to teachers (and parents) was associated with greater internalization of school-related behavioral regulations.

A second issue concerns perceived competence, or ability to do something successfully or efficiently. Adopting as one’s own an extrinsic goal requires that one feel efficacious with respect to it. Students will more likely adopt and internalize a goal if they understand it and have the relevant skills to succeed at it. Thus, we theorize that supports for competence (e.g., offering optimal challenges and reflective-relevant feedback) facilitate internalization.

According to the SDT approach, a regulation that has been internalized may be only introjected, and that type of regulation could well leave people feeling satisfaction of their needs for competence and relatedness. However, to only introject a regulation and thus to be controlled by it will not leave the people feeling self-determined. We therefore suggest that autonomy support also facilitates internalization; in fact, it is the critical element for a regulation being integrated rather than just introjected. Controlling contexts may yield introjected regulation if they support competence and relatedness, but only autonomy-supportive contexts will yield integrated self-regulation. To fully internalize a regulation, and thus to become autonomous with respect to it, people must inwardly grasp its meaning and worth. It is these meanings that become internalized and integrated in environments that provide supports for the needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy.

Again, research has supported this reasoning. Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, and Leone (1994) experimentally demonstrated that providing a meaningful rationale for an uninteresting behavior, along with supports for autonomy and relatedness, promoted internalization and integration. Controlling contexts yielded less overall internalization, but even more interesting, the internalization that did occur in controlling contexts tended to be only introjected. In a study involving parent interviews, Grolnick and Ryan (1989) found higher levels of internalization and integration of school-related values among children whose parents were more supportive of autonomy and relatedness. Williams and Deci (1996) used a longitudinal design to show greater internalization among medical students whose instructors were more autonomy and competence supportive. These are a few of the findings in this area that suggest how supports for relatedness and competence facilitate internalization and how support for autonomy additionally facilitates the integration of behavioral regulations. When that occurs, people feel not only competent and related, but also self-determined, as they carry out extrinsically valued activities. [. . .]

Source: Reprinted from Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54–67. With permission from Elsevier. Copyright © 2000 Academic Press. All rights reserved.

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Applying Skeptical Inquiry: Does Money Really Matter?

Extrinsic versus intrinsic motivations: Which types are best? The answer to this question has inspired a long-running debate. According to self-determination theory (SDT), almost everything in life is somewhat extrinsically rewarded but at differing levels of autonomous regulation, as described in section 6.2. Read the following articles about a commonly used external motivator: money. Then decide what you believe about whether this extrinsic motivator can influence your personal sense of happiness.

· Are lawyers with the lowest pay the happiest lawyers?

Quenqua, D. (2015, May 12). Lawyers with lowest pay report more happiness. The New York Times. Retrieved from /12/lawyers-with-lowest-pay-report-more-happiness/?_r=0

· Does money positively affect happiness?

Peterson, C. (2008, June 6). Money and happiness. Psychology Today. Retrieved from -and-happiness

· Does how we choose to use our money affect our happiness?

Cook, G. (2013, June 25). Using money to buy happiness. Scientific American. Retrieved from -to-buy-happiness/

Kam, K. (2010). Spend your way to happiness? WebMD. Retrieved from


1. How do these articles support SDT? Hint: Identifying how money will be used could be a form of increased autonomous regulation.

2. Think about your own goals for learning. How could you more purposefully apply autonomous regulation to increase your self-motivation and support increased learning effectiveness?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

A photograph of Abraham Maslow.

Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

Maslow conceptualized a hierarchy that identifies categories of needs that humans are motivated to satisfy.

Taking time to consider what things in our lives we, as human beings, need to fulfill to be able to focus on higher levels of personal achievement can help us better understand the challenges we face in many different roles. Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation is a well-known theory in numerous domains of psychology. In learning, Maslow’s theory provides learners (as well as their educators, trainers, managers, or counselors) an explanation for an individual’s ability to be more attentive, versus less attentive, to the information that he or she is learning. For example, Maslow suggested that if a person is hungry or feels unsafe, his or her ability to attend to knowledge acquisition is reduced. Maslow’s theory encompasses human development, including one’s ability to attain self-actualization (attentiveness to the meaning of life, enlightenment, and a sense of peace).

The next excerpt featured in this section is from Aanstoos (2016), and the content elaborates on the components of Maslow’s theory and how it can holistically address learning effectiveness and ability based on the individual and his or her needs. This theory is applied in numerous learning contexts to support the process of learning. As you read, reflect upon the following questions about learning and learning environments, all of which can be theoretically addressed through the lens of Maslow’s theory:

· What dynamics could be affecting your own ability to learn?

· Do you feel safe sharing your opinions within a learning environment?

· Do you make others feel competent when helping them?

· How can our motivation to be successful be affected when we do not feel like we fit in?

Excerpts from “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”

By C. M. Aanstoos

The concept of a hierarchy of needs became the central organizing principle in Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation. A research psychologist who began his career in the 1940s with a series of studies on motivation, culminating with his book Motivation and Personality (1954), Maslow greatly furthered the understanding of human motives. When Maslow began his research, psychology largely regarded hunger as the paradigm for all other motives and examined motivation through animal studies, behaviorist theory, or both. Maslow rejected these early theories as insufficient to account for the human dimensions of motivation. He supplemented experimental study with clinical evidence and redirected the focus from drives to goals and from isolated determinants to a sense of the person as an integrated and dynamic whole.

The most important aspect of Maslow’s theory of motivation was the notion of a hierarchy of needs. Maslow first articulated this theory in his early works, including “A Theory of Human Motivation,” which appeared in Psychological Review in 1943, and he would continue to develop his theory over time. He first identified and differentiated among various clusters of motives. The five clusters he identified were as follows:

· physiological needs: survival needs, such as the need for air, nutrients, sleep, sex, and food

· safety needs: security needs, such as of self, of employment, financial needs, resource availability

· belongingness or love needs: relationships, such as friendship, family, and intimacy

· esteem needs: feelings of competence and accomplishment, respect from others, respect of self

· self-actualization: individual fulfillment needs, such as the need for acceptance of self, an understanding of the meaning of life, ability to express self and to be creative, and a developed sense of peace

He noted that, in the order listed, the clusters formed a hierarchy from lower to higher motives. (See Figure 6.2.) He pointed out that there is no final satiation point at which the person is no longer motivated, but rather that as a particular motivation is sufficiently gratified, another, higher motive will emerge more prominently. In Maslow’s terms, the higher motives are therefore “prepotent” with regard to the lower ones. Furthermore, there is a basic directionality in the order in which each motivational cluster becomes prominent.

Figure 6.2: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The original model included five types of needs: physiological, safety, belongingness and love, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

Figure illustrates Maslow’s hierarchy of needs using a series of steps. The basic needs are located at the bottom step; the higher-level needs are located at the top step. The needs, from top to bottom, are as follows: physiological, safety, belongingness and love, self-esteem, and self-actualization. Examples of each type of need are provided.

© Bridgepoint Education, Inc., based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Later Developments

In 1955, following the success of his early studies, Maslow was invited to present his work at the prestigious Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. There he advanced his thesis by making a key distinction between deficiency motivation and growth motivation. The first four clusters of motives tend to be motivating precisely when they are lacking, when there is a deficit or empty hole that must be filled. In contrast, people who are very healthy psychologically have sufficiently gratified their basic needs. This does not mean they have obtained more in an objective sense, but rather that their experience is not structured by a sense of lack. With this experienced sense of sufficiency, healthy people are free to develop their motive toward self-actualization, which Maslow defined as an “ongoing tendency toward actualizing potentials, capacities and talents . . . of the person’s own intrinsic nature.” Thus self-actualization can be seen as a trend toward fulfillment and integration. He described 13 specific observable characteristics of such self-actualizing people, including being more perceptive, more accepting of the self and others, more spontaneous, more autonomous, more appreciative, and more creative, and having a richer emotional life and more frequent peak experiences.


As Maslow continued working, he began more and more to examine the lives of “self-actualizers,” those people whom he identified as exemplary of being directed by self-actualizing motivation. He saw that a person’s psychological life is lived differently when that individual is oriented not to the gratification of deficiency needs but to growth. This emphasis on growth soon became the focus of an emerging paradigm, known as humanistic psychology, studied by many other psychologists, including Carl R. Rogers. This emphasis on personal growth reoriented the study of psychology, focusing it not on issues of disease and negativity but rather on themes of personal enrichment and fulfillment, and of living an intrinsically meaningful life. Maslow’s book Toward a Psychology of Being (1962) is one of the hallmarks of this movement, which swept beyond academic psychology into pop psychology.

Maslow’s theory of motivation also influenced other disciplines, such as education and business. Research continues into the role of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the fields of business, management, leadership, entrepreneurship, organizational development, and marketing. Issues such as optimally motivating workplace environments and incentives for employees continue to be particularly engaging topics for these studies. Though many of the specific applications often oversimplify Maslow’s theory, the hierarchy of needs is still widely used, especially as the basis for management theories based on a vision of employees as most productive when synergistically and cooperatively engaged through opportunities for self-directed creativity rather than when subjected to authoritarian structures. Maslow himself considered this application important and contributed to it with his book Eupsychian Management: A Journal (1965). Maslow’s position was that the more psychologically healthy people became, the more important such enlightened management would be for any competitive business. [. . .]

Source: Aanstoos, C. M. (2016). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health. Copyright © EBSCO.

This section evaluated the role of motivation in learning. Self-determination theory (SDT), considered in the first series of excerpts, highlights three variables that can increase one’s self-motivation: autonomy, competence, and belonging. Organismic integration theory (OIT), a sub-theory of SDT, suggests that it is also important to consider the extrinsic and intrinsic values that may affect one’s behaviors. SDT offers important variables that both the facilitator and the learner should consider. A facilitator can create opportunities for the learner to experience autonomy (self-control), competence (feelings of success), and belonging (a part of the contextual environment). The learner can identify why he or she chooses to do something, which might help explain why he or she is or is not experiencing success. For example, if a student has identified that her reason for attending school is to support her career success (identified regulation), then she might have more motivation to complete her course work than a student who is attending school only to please others (external regulation).

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the focus in the second series of excerpts, can be used to support other learning theories, such as cognitivism, by encouraging facilitators of learning to place more attention on a learner’s needs during the learning activity. Through purposeful engagement of holistic practices, learners can also better facilitate their learning. For example, consider your present learning experiences. Are there unmet needs in your life that could be holding you back from more fulfilling learning? How could you more purposefully address your own needs to increase your success in learning and in life? How could this foundation help you to support other learners (e.g., your children, employees, or teammates)? See Applying Skeptical Inquiry: Is Self-Actualization Possible? to further consider how we can use what we know about Maslow’s hierarchy in daily life.

Applying Skeptical Inquiry: Is Self-Actualization Possible?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that there is a purposeful process of learning and self-development, where needs must be met to unlock the next level. Self-actualization, which is at the top of the hierarchy and is thus the most challenging need to satisfy, is often a misunderstood concept, as without a deep understanding of the theory and Maslow’s intentions, self-actualization can too often be considered as “just being in a good place in life,” when in actuality it is about that “sweet spot” where we have embodied who we are and our place and importance in the world (Rosser & Massey, 2014). In addition, most educational and learning courses that reflect on Maslow’s theory rarely consider it from a development perspective.

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This video considers how we can apply Maslow’s hierarchy personally and in our societies. Use what you know about humanistic ideologies and Maslow’s theory to answer the questions that follow.


1. Are you a fully self-actualized person? In what ways could you better balance your journey to self-actualization?

2. What might be preventing you from progressing toward self-actualization?

3. How might your own self-development and awareness broaden your perspective on how you learn? How others learn?

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Summary & Resources

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Summary & Resources

Chapter Summary

Humanism takes on new meaning today, going beyond those meanings that were identified by scholars and philosophers during the Renaissance. Humanism, as an approach to learning, suggests that learning is a process that should develop individuals from a holistic perspective, maturing every aspect of an individual and helping him or her during the search for self-actualization and the meaning of life. This chapter evaluated learning contexts, learning models, and motivational theories associated with humanism’s ideas, elements that are suggested to affect how we learn, as well as how we learn more effectively.

At this stage in your reading, it is important to look at the bigger picture provided in the text thus far:

· How could one area of theory potentially support another?

· Is successful learning simply about gaining knowledge that can be applied as needed, or is it something more?

· Does the way we approach our learning have more of an effect on knowledge acquisition than how the information we are learning is presented to us?

· What responsibility should the learner versus the instructor, trainer, or counselor have in learning?

· Can a facilitator make us learn or make us more attentive, or is this a personal choice we make for ourselves?

For example, when we consider how emotions (Chapter 3) and efficient scaffolding (Chapter 5) can affect memory development, how too might our own needs and motivators affect our learning? According to humanistic psychologists, the answer is clear: Our ability to see ourselves as our ideal self, exploring personal growth, asking questions, and identifying our motivators, affects our learning. If you believe that you are asking more questions about learning than you were before you started reading this text, then you are on the right track. Skeptical inquiry encourages us to ask questions and helps us more successfully acquire new knowledge.

Key Ideas

· Humanism is a theory that is founded on the objective of discovering one’s ideal self.

· Humanism ideologies support personal fulfillment and actualization.

· Humanism’s role in learning psychology is visible in learning contexts, learning modes, and motivational theory.

· Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education and the Steiner pedagogy, developed his beliefs about learning and educating based on his spiritual philosophy.

· Waldorf philosophy suggests that every individual is a threefold human being: body, soul, and spirit.

· The Waldorf model of education encourages holistic thinking and interactive activities that allow learners to think, feel, and act.

· Experiential learning suggests that learning should be based on experiences and self-reflection, self-engagement through various experiences, and a promotion of lifelong learning.

· Transformative learning inspires learners to adapt their beliefs and to be aware of how they make meaning within their understanding of the world and their surroundings.

· Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators are motivational constructs (not theories) that are used to describe a decision to do an activity to attain a specific outcome.

· Intrinsic motivation is used to describe a decision to do an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than as a response to external pressures or expectations.

· According to self-determination theory (SDT), people need to experience satisfaction in three areas: competence, relatedness, and autonomy.

· SDT suggests that most of the activities people do are not intrinsically motivated.

· SDT proposes that extrinsic motivation can vary based on the degree of autonomy.

· According to SDT, integrated regulation is the most autonomous form of extrinsic motivation.

· Organismic integration theory (OIT) suggests a continuum of motivators ranging from no motivation to extrinsic to intrinsic.

· Maslow’s theory of motivation suggests that an individual’s motivation is affected by a hierarchy of personal and unique needs.

Additional Resources

As a learning theory, humanism presents an approach to learning that is founded on an individual’s ability to transcend to a higher level of knowing. It acknowledges that human beings have needs and these needs may drive their ability to successfully process knowledge. Visit the following websites to further your understanding of the topics that were introduced in this chapter. Some resources may also be accessible via your university library.

Waldorf Education and the Steiner Pedagogy

· Association of Waldorf Schools of North America:

· The Atlantic, an article about Waldorf institutions and philosophies, by Emily Chertoff: -grade-school-a-cult-and-do-parents-care/265620/

· Uhrmacher, P. B. (2014). Uncommon schooling: A historical look at Rudolf Steiner, anthrophosophy, and Waldorf education. Curriculum Inquiry, 25(4), 381–406.

· McDermott, R., Henry, M. E., Dillard, C., Byers, P., Easton, F., Oberman, I., & Uhrmacher, B. (1996). Waldorf education in an inner-city public school. The Urban Review, 28(2), 119–140.


· Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Neuberg, S. L., & Schaller, M. (2010). Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations. Perspectives on Psychological Sciences, 5(3), 292–314. Retrieved from

· Graham, S., & Weiner, B. (1996). Theories and principles of motivation. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 63–84). New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing. Retrieved from /kevinpugh/motivation_project/resources/graham_weiner96.pdf

Experiential Learning

· Purdy, E. P. (2016). Kolb’s experiential learning model. In Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health. Retrieved from EBSCO online database.

· Experiential Learning Applied to Instructional Design: http://www.instruction

Transformative Learning

· Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 74, 5–12. Retrieved from http://www.esludwig .com/uploads/2/6/1/0/26105457/transformative-learning-mezirow-1997.pdf

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