American Phychological Theorist David McClelland had a theory about motivation that you are probably familiar with, even if you didn’t know exactly what it was called. The Achievement Motivation Theory is one of those so-simple-yet-so-complex ideas that is easily grasped and multilayered. Simply put, it is the idea that we find intrinsic motivation through three avenues–the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, or the need for power. Being complex creatures, we will find the greatest motivation through our own special blend of these three ingredients, but you are probably already thinking about which of them inspires you the most.

My fellow students and I were asked to think of some advice we could give to other school librarians about how to use what we know about Achievement Motivation in the context of library and information skills instruction. The idea that remained at the forefront of my mind throughout my investigation of Achievement Motivation Theory is that each student will find the greatest satisfaction from their own unique mix of achievement, affiliation, and power, so it is important to offer a variety of opportunities for students to find satisfaction in each area throughout our instruction time with them.

School librarians are in a position to offer new ways of using learning to address achievement motivation. We can leverage information literacy skills and technology that connects with students’ achievement needs while introducing students to new resources and research methods. We can provide opportunities for learners to interact socially with each other in work groups and peer learning groups that meet students’ affiliation needs as well as their learning objectives. Librarians also often provide students with instructions to access school resources from home, which further satisfies students’ affiliation needs. Those social opportunities that address affiliation open the door to peer learning roles and providing students with leadership opportunities in which librarians can help students cultivate positive leadership and peer tutoring experiences that will meet their need to exert influence, or power, over others.

While school librarians should offer opportunities to meet all these needs, I would caution my fellow teacher librarians from trying to evenly “shoehorn” every aspect of Achievement Motivation into every half-hour or hour long information skills lesson. While addressing each aspect is a wonderful goal, sometimes it will be better to provide multiple and varied opportunities to satisfy different motivational needs over a number of lessons, so that we give students more time to engage with the behaviors they find motivationally satisfying.

I would also remind my peers that although our instruction time may be limited, we can offer opportunities through school web sites, after school activities, and, when appropriate, e-mail, chat, or other library social media connections to help students maintain their affiliation with their librarian and library resources even when they aren’t physically in the library.

Are you motivated to learn more about Achievement Motivation Theory? Go to your library and check out McClelland’s book The Achieving Society. Whether or not they have it on the shelf, they can certainly obtain a copy for you.

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McClelland, D. C. (1961). The achieving society. Princeton, N.J: Van Nostrand.

Original Post: Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:44:35 PM EST