In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Motivation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Development of Motivation
  • Motivation and Achievement
  • Enhancing Learning Motivation

Education Motivation
Birgit Spinath
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0059


Motivation is the inner force that energizes and directs behavior. Without motivation there is no behavior, and there is no behavior without motivation. Motivation is important in educational contexts because it is a prerequisite for learning and achievement. Much of the theoretical and empirical literature focuses on the questions of how motivation relates to learning and achievement and how both can be improved by enhanced motivation. To understand these processes, much attention is paid to changes in motivation during individual development. But motivation is also a desired outcome of educational processes in itself. In times of lifelong learning, it might be even more important to engender intrinsic motivation and competence beliefs in a certain domain than to convey specific knowledge. The knowledge might become outdated and will be renewed only if there is a sustainable motivation to learn. These examples illustrate that motivation to learn is the most important kind of motivation in educational contexts. Therefore, most of the empirical literature and also this article deal with learning and achievement motivation. Of course, there are also other kinds of motivation (e.g., the need for affiliation) that play a role in educational contexts. Because these kinds of motivation are rooted in different theories and focus on different outcomes, it is beyond the scope of this article to cover all kinds of motivation relevant for education. Since the body of motivation literature is so large, it is especially worthwhile to try to give guidance to interested novices. This article tries to indicate sources that had an especially strong impact. It focuses on recent literature rather than classic readings. Because the literature is so enormous, it is inevitable that not all strands of work and not all important literature can be named.

General Overviews

There are several editorial works and review articles that provide general overviews of motivational theories and research. These overviews are meant for scientific audiences, including both students and researchers, and are written by distinguished scholars. Eccles and Wigfield 2002 reviews the most-influential motivation theories within the contexts of development and education. It suggests an expectancy-value scheme to systemize theoretical approaches. Elliot and Dweck 2005 unites the views of leading motivation researchers under the perspective that humans are motivated by an innate need to experience themselves as competent. Reexamining theoretical approaches under a common, functional perspective is one way to integrate different research traditions. Murphy and Alexander 2000 also aims at generating order among the many approaches to motivation. In their review, the authors systemize and define the confusingly vast amount of motivational constructs and use their scheme for further analyses of different approaches. Wentzel and Wigfield 2009 is the first comprehensive book on motivation in school settings that goes beyond achievement motivation. These authors open up their spectrum to look both at different kinds of motivation (e.g., social goals) and at different kinds of outcomes (e.g., well-being). The authors of Wigfield and Eccles 2002 invited prominent scholars to describe the development of different aspects of motivation. Moreover, these authors analyze how instruction influences motivation.

  • Eccles, J. S., and A. Wigfield. 2002. Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual Review of Psychology 53:109–132.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135153

    In this review, the most-influential motivation theories for development and education are presented along an expectancy-value-focused scheme. The authors discuss how to integrate theories of self-regulation and expectancy-value models of motivation and suggest new directions for future research.

  • Elliot, A. J., and C. S. Dweck, eds. 2005. Handbook of competence and motivation. New York: Guilford.

    This edited work relies on the premise that humans are motivated by an innate need for competence that enables them to adapt to their environment. The most-fruitful motivational constructs are reexamined under this perspective, and directions for future research are outlined.

  • Murphy, P. K., and P. A. Alexander. 2000. A motivated exploration of motivation terminology. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25.1: 3–53.

    DOI: 10.1006/ceps.1999.1019

    This review identifies central constructs within literature on achievement motivation, with the aim to systemize and define them. Building on this organizing scheme, the authors point at aspects that are specific for the theoretical and research approaches associated with different motivational constructs.

  • Wentzel, K. R., and A. Wigfield, eds. 2009. Handbook of motivation at school. Educational Psychology Handbook. New York: Routledge.

    This edited work gives an overview of the most-important motivation theories for school settings in the early 21st century and looks at social and contextual influences on motivation. Moreover, it shows how motivation can be used to improve teaching and learning at school.

  • Wigfield, A., and J. S. Eccles, eds. 2002. Development of achievement motivation. Educational Psychology. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

    This edited work discusses research and theory on changes in several different motivational constructs during early individual development. Special emphasis is put on gender differences in motivation and on motivational differences as an aspect of ethnicity.

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