Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Learners
“It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.”
– Abraham Maslow
The Hierarchy Needs
The physiological need of the students is of utmost importance and holds the first level in the hierarchy of needs.
These needs are the most basic – related to a person’s survival. This may include food, water, and shelter. If the physiological needs have not been met, the teacher should understand that students may not be able to focus fully on learning. So, as a teacher, how can you make sure your learners’ physiological needs are met? Make sure you provide adequate lighting, space, ventilation (heating or cooling), refreshments or drinking water at least, offer toilet breaks etc
In the mid-1950s, psychologist Abraham Maslow created the famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs where he explained that certain needs (in the lower levels of the hierarchy) must be met before a person will try to satisfy higher-level needs. Over the years, this theory has been highly popular in Business Management however, it is being increasingly used to motivate learners in the classroom setting. It clearly explains its significant impact on the field of psychology and education.
Understanding and implementing Maslow’s Hierarchy is in the best interest of both the teacher and the students. A teacher should use her knowledge of the hierarchy to structure the classroom lesson and the environment. Preferably, the classroom (or learning environment) should meet as many of the needs of students as possible, especially the safety, belonging, and esteem needs.
The second level consists of safety needs; student safety needs play a critical role in achieving student success. A safe environment is not limited to physical parameters. Students must not only feel physically safe in the classroom but emotionally and psychologically as well. An environment must be provided where students feel free to ask questions and share ideas without being mocked by other students or reprimanded by the teacher. The student must feel safe in the classroom and the learning environment before progressing to the next step in Maslow’s hierarchy – the need for belonging.
In the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy, students need to feel a sense of belonging and love. At this level, students need to identify with other students and need to feel that they fit in. The student must feel that he is important as an individual and as part of the group. This is can be promoted in your classroom by having sensible ground rules about respect for everyone and using inclusive learning techniques like group work.
Once all previous needs are met, the student may then move to the next level: The need for self-esteem i.e. self-confidence. It is at this level that the student is most receptive to learning and wants to achieve a good level of self-esteem through recognition and achievement. Now the students feel confident in their ability to learn and become confident enough to take responsibility for their own learning. To satisfy the self-esteem needs of your learners, you can get them involved in learner-centred activities such as peer-teaching and peer assessment.
At the fifth level, self-actualisation becomes the motivating factor. According to the hierarchy, at the fifth level, the students proactively look for ways to fulfil their potential for learning and seek fulfilment. At this level, students will strive for higher learning goals and seek to achieve them, such as the aim to get an ‘A’ grade on their assignments, help one another and contribute and engage with the learning.
“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”
– Abraham Maslow
Taking all of the above factors into account, it is needless to say that Maslow’s Hierarchy can be used to enhance learning through motivation. When all levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are met, students show their full ability and eagerness for learning. The higher up in the hierarchy a student is, the better the motivation and therefore the student will experience more effective learning.
Maslow’s hierarchy provides a model for how students are motivated to learn. Without the lowest layer of the hierarchy met, students cannot reach the next level. Each level allows students the ability and motivation to increase. Each student can move up in the hierarchy with the proper support of the teachers and school staff who must focus on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in teaching and education.