In the 1950s, psychologist Abraham Maslow sought to determine what motivates people. He identified a set of needs and desires that individuals attempt to fulfil. The needs and desires have been modified over time, but the comprehensive hierarchy includes:
- Transcendence – An altruistic means of helping others identify their own potential – this form of self-actualization is a higher form, considering not just the self, but others.
- Self-Actualization – Realizing our own potential and achieving self-fulfillment
- Aesthetic – Symmetry, order, beauty, balance
- Learning – Knowing, understanding, and mentally connecting to content
- Esteem – Achievement, competence, receiving approval, becoming independent
- Belonging – Love, family, friends, affection, community
- Security – Protection, safety, stability
- Physical – Hunger, comfort, thirst
Maslow’s needs are viewed as a hierarchy where transcendence is at the peak of the hierarchy, and physical needs are at the bottom of the hierarchy. As Maslow viewed it, you had to move from the bottom up, without moving to fulfil higher needs prior to fulfilling lower needs. Since it’s inception, research has found that individuals today fulfill needs simultaneously versus sequentially.
Without considering this hierarchy, most appeals are to the basement – the physical or psychological needs that are closer to the bottom of the hierarchy. In considering the hierarchy, you can design instruction to appeal to higher motivations, such as Learning, Self-Actualization, and potentially Transcendence.
Within Instructional Design, there are many ways that the development of training and/or instruction can appeal to most of the needs in Maslow’s hierarchy.
Physical needs are typically met before students come to the instruction, but you can appeal to physical needs by structuring the instruction in order to provide ample opportunities for students to take breaks; this is often observed with self-paced e-learning, as the student can take breaks at any point to satisfy physical needs, such as eating and drinking. Another example of appeals to the physical need include school breakfast or lunch programs.
Security needs can be appealed to by creating supportive environments that don’t trigger an individual’s need for security. You can do this within the design and development phases, supporting instruction with calm audio or imagery that allows learners to feel safe and secure. A good example of this is pixelthoughts.co, which is a 60 second meditation tool. This tool teaches individuals meditation tactics, while appealing to the security needs of individuals.
Belonging is an easy one; you can appeal to the belonging need by designing your instruction to support a community-based approach (e.g. including opportunities for peer-to-peer interaction and engagement).
Esteem – The no child left behind act is an example of education appealing to the esteem need, but it’s not necessarily the best example, and can often backfire. A better example of appealing to the esteem need is to design instruction with frequent opportunities for reflection, discovery, and frequent feedback.
Learning – Learning is also an easy one; to appeal to the learning need, instruction needs to be designed in such a way that learners can achieve knowledge, skills, or attitudes. Promoting curiosity can also help appeal to the learning need
Aesthetic – In appealing to aesthetic, you can design and develop aesthetically pleasing instruction, based on proven design principles.
Self-Actualization – To appeal to self-actualization, instruction needs to be designed to include opportunities for reflection, goal setting, check ins (on those goals), and opportunities to track progress.
Transcendence – By attempting to appeal to all other needs, your instruction can be designed in such a way to offer an opportunity for transcendence; although this is hard to come by.