Instructional Methods: How do you explain the Maslow’s hierachy of needs?


Chapter Seven

Motivation in Teaching and Learning 

7a ii). Identify Maslow hierarchy of needs and relate them to education

Maslow has argued that human being function in a hierarchy of needs which must be satisfied for their wellbeing. The first four levels of needs are called deficiency needs because when these needs are not met, motivation increases to find ways of satisfying them. When they are satisfied, the motivation for fulfilling them decreases. They include physiological or basic needs for survival (food, air, water) they are followed by security or safety needs (shelter, warmth, and self-defense). When one is physically comfortable and secure, she/he aspires to fulfill social needs for self-esteem or ego needs. This includes the need to become independent, to receive esteem of others, to dominate and to acquire possessions.

Above the deficiency needs, are “being” needs which are higher level needs for intellectual achievement, aesthetic appreciation and finally self-actualization (self-fulfillment, the realization of personal potential). They are called ‘being” needs because when they have been met, a person’s motivation does not cease, instead it increases to seek further fulfillment. The motivation to achieve them is endlessly renewed. Very few people reach the highest level of self-actualization because formal implications attached to it. In history, we have few personalities indeed who have experienced self-actualization e.g Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

The model below illustrates this hierarchy of needs according to Maslow’s theory. Although this theory has been criticized and more comprehensive theories like Aldefer (ERG theory) adopted, it has been widely accepted because it is easy to understand and can be used to explain much but not all, behavior at work.



Maslow’s hierachy of needs

When Maslow’s theory is applied to education, it means that for children to learn, they must fulfill the deficiency needs. They cannot seek intellectual achievement when the basic needs for survival, safety, belongings and self-esteem have not been met. In other words, one cannot be motivated to learn when hungry sick, hurt, fearful, insecure, (no shelter, parents) etc.

According to Graham and Bennett (1992), there are three basic assumptions underlying the study of motivation:

  1. All human behavior has a cause which itself is the consequence of the combined effects to achieve of heredity and environment
  2. At the root of human behavior are needs, or wants or motives.
  3. Human behavior is goal-seeking i.e. people try to achieve objectives or goals which when reached will satisfy their needs.



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