The Purpose of Learning, and the Source of Motivation

Sep 19, 2017 by Khalid Hoqoq

As learners, and sometimes, life-long learners, we to come a point in our journey where we either slow down, or sometimes even stop altogether. That initial spark, or that inner drive or motivation which compels us to pursue our education further, seems to be fainting, or disappearing.

Malcolm KnowlesThe truth is that this happens more often than expected. As adults in the world of adult-learning, we pursue our goals for very specific reasons. Sometimes we find that our reasons are no longer valid for us, or our goals have changed. All of this might be true, however, that first reason (why we decided to pursue education in the first place) is truer.

Who are we as adult learners anyway? We turn to Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997), an American educator who is very popular among learners, mentors and advisors in the world of adult education. Knowles, talks about six very specific characteristics of adult learners. In his book, The Adult Learner: A neglected species, published in 1990 by Gulf Publishing, he summarizes these characteristics as follows:

  1. Need to know – As adults we need to know why we need to learn something. We are very adamant about defining this need before we pursue knowledge.
  2. The learner’s self-concept – We, as adults, have a self-concept of being responsible for what we decide and what we do. We are responsible for our own lives. It is because of this self-concept that we develop a psychological need to be understood by others, and to be seen by them as self-sufficient, sovereign, and independent persons.
  3. The role of learner’s experience – We are not blank slates. We come to the world of adult education, to our universities and schools, with a great amount of experience. The quality and quantity of our experiences are vastly different from each other.
  4. Readiness to learn – As adults we want, and often must learn very specific things that will help us cope with our every-day life.
  5. Orientation to learning – Often we find that our orientation to learning is not subject-centered. We are life-centered. We are problem solvers, and our learning must be such that it will help us with some very existential questions.
  6. Motivation – We respond to external motivators; better jobs, promotions, higher salaries, and the most important of all, internal pressures i.e., a desire for higher satisfaction at our jobs, self-esteem, and finally quality of life (Knowles. 1991, p 57-63).

These are some of the sources and reasons for our motivation. Thus, for adult learners, learning changes our lives, reshapes it, and more importantly, transforms us. This is transformative learning.

Paulo Freire QuoteAs a concept, we trace the roots of transformative learning to the works of Paulo Freire (1921-1997). Freire is concerned with educating adults, and his work, for part, is based on the education of an adult population. Freire refers to a form of rising consciousness. Learning has a defined purpose, and driven by this purpose. The nature of this purpose is existential. His works left a lasting impression on future educators, and influenced the works of many intellectuals in the fields of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences.

Moving forward, however, we come across Jack Mezirow (1923-2014). Mezirow Jack Mezirowunderstood adult learners, and for him, adult learners create a meaning from their experience through a form of critical self-reflection. We gain perspective from the vast reservoir of our experiences, and through this perspective, we understand ourselves in relation to our surroundings. So it makes perfect sense that a learning adult would transform as  she/he comes across  new knowledge. Is it possible that in our minds, these changes that we undergo, are often translated as a stop in motivation? The answer, frankly, is yes! However what we must understand is that we are transforming. The more we learn, the more we transform, and with this transformation, our motivation transforms from what it was to what it may become, should learning continue. The choice is ours.

At the end of it all when we graduate and earn our graduate level degrees, we find that we are not the persons who began this journey. The new person is a person who overcame, who was able to see her/his transformation through every single stop in motivation and every barrier crossed. What must be remembered is that our goal, whatever this may be, is much larger than the road blocks ahead, and that we pursue our dreams with love and courage. In the words of Paulo Freire, “Education is an act of love and thus an act of courage.” Learning must continue!

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