Influence of Culture on Learning and Motivation

Influence of Culture on Learning and Motivation


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This paper considers the concept of culture in terms of adult learning theories and the way it affects the learners’ motivation. To ascertain the impact of culture on the student’s learning and their motivation, the paper will first examine the relationship between culture and motivation, and then connect motivation to learning. Currently, the impact of motivation on an individual’s learning is somewhat unexplainable, although it is common knowledge that motivated people learn more than their unmotivated counterparts. The fact that motivation influences learning implies that any impact on motivation would translate on the learning, and this paper intends to connect culture and motivation and to explain the influence that culture has on learning.

Background of the Problem

The concept of culture has been known to affect a lot of things in an individual’s life, including their perceptions and attitudes as well as their ability to communicate the forms of relationships and even their self-esteem in one way or another. In adult learning, motivation is considered as one of the most important factors that enable the process of learning. Motivation in this case can come from either the learner or an external source, depending on the prevailing circumstances. Culture is at the root of everything with respect to understanding, given that one’s culture is responsible for the way he or she interprets values, beliefs, and societal norms. Constructionist theories further stipulate the centrality of one’s cultural affiliation with the way they perceive life in general. When considering the impact of culture on learning, researchers often look at such issues as communication barriers. The problem has always been the ability to understand what a person is taught and how he or she can express their thoughts on the subject as well. However, this is not always a challenge, considering that the language is often similar and communication on a shallow level appears to be relatively sound. However, communication, when it comes to cultural consideration, is a much deeper concept than just language. It goes beyond the wording into the things like body language, gestures, body contact, and personal space, beside the other things including expressing one’s state of mind and emotions. The culture to which an individual belongs thus influences the way they communicate with the others in terms of expressing themselves and understanding what they are being told. Considering that learning is more about communicating, it can be said that there is a clear connection between culture and learning vis-?-vis communication.

Ginsberg (2011) notes that motivation is simply a reason for doing something, more like an inner push or self-drive that one is expected to have in order for them to fully indulge in an activity. When it comes to learning, motivation boosts one’s capacity and their chances at grasping the knowledge being disseminated. Both young and adult learners have been found to be more productive when they are motivated, although these studies have been inconclusive because motivation can neither be measured nor quantified with specificity. Thus, it remains a great challenge to establish that motivation improves learning of students or even adults. However, considering effective learning as a product of being motivated provides a possibility to establish the connection between culture and motivation, as soon as the idea of motivation has continued to be elusive when it comes to its measurement.

Previously, adult learners were found to be affected by the factors like individual learning processes and relevance of what is being learnt with respect to their life experiences and personal skills. However, it has come to attention of the teaching professionals that adult learning is also affected by the issues like motivation, which also have a connection to culture. This study aims at establishing how motivation impacts the process of adult learning, despite having stated that motivation cannot be measured accurately. The fact that it has already been stated and agreed upon that motivation impacts learning is seemingly enough for this particular study. The paper will thus not explore the measurability of motivation but will rather focus on its possible connection with culture and its influence on adult learning.

Literature Review

Three important elements affect learning within and outside a classroom setting, and these include discussion, teacher’s remarks, and efficiency. Another factor would be a competition, provided that in an adult learning setting the grades and evaluations are not nearly as important as the learning outcomes for that given course.

Discussion is about sharing knowledge, experiences, and opinions on the subject being learnt. The teacher in the adult learning process is often merely a facilitator with the aim of moderating the class to ensure that the learning outcomes are met. This often requires the learners to interact at a personal level with their counterparts or with the facilitator, thus putting their communication skills to the test. In this case, the culture to which they belong may be a hindrance to their learning because they may be unable to express themselves or understand others well, and this would translate to an inability to learn.

According to Ginsberg (2011), effective learning often requires positive reinforcement from the teachers or facilitators, who should further emphasize the need to be able to communicate well. The student should be able to understand the remarks given by the teachers, as much as the teacher should understand the possible interpretation of their remarks to the students. Feeling unappreciated or inadequate often impedes the student’s ability and motivation to learn. Efficiency in terms of the student’s presence in the class is also a very important factor, as soon as these students often have other places to spend time. They need to feel the difference being made by their attending lessons, and thus the need to have clear definitions when it comes to the learning outcomes and the meaning of success stipulated by their social constructs.

According to Cranton (2006), the concept of motivation implies the desire to achieve something, where knowing that you can do it requires an understanding of one’s skills and abilities, which is often derived from communicating with others. Wlodkowski (2008) argues that what one person may consider as a joke, may be actually taken as despise, or rebuke, or even ridicule by another person. Therefore, cultural inferences with the regard to communicating limit the perception of the individual with respect to their abilities, thus motivating them to keep working hard or discouraging them from their chosen course into helpless resignation. This places a strong connection between culture and motivation based on the concept of communication between the people involved.


Adult Learning

Wlodkowski (2008) explains that adult learning can be taken as simply a process in which an adult is allowed to open up and gain new information depending on the circumstances and needs. This implies that the teacher is actually imparting knowledge into a fully-grown individual with personal experiences and self-awareness that may have an impact on their learning abilities and preferences as well as styles and processes. The student in this case is more likely to learn under specific conditions that are favorable to them, meaning that the learning here is self-directed and often problem-based, while the adult learner thrives on relevance in terms of what is being taught and the applicability of this knowledge in their everyday life. So far, the studies have shown that there are three major theories for adult learning, including action, experiential, self-directed, and transformational learning. Action learning implies using a real life in learning in order to indulge the experiences and interests of the learners. In this case, the instructor needs to find these s from the areas that would be relevant for the learners, so as not to lose their attention and focus.

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Experiential learning is, on the other hand, a cyclic process of setting goals, planning activities, participating in these activities, and observing as well as reflecting on the actions and reviewing them. Therefore, the learner is involved, both physically and emotionally, with the subject that they are learning in order to give them a direct and lasting experience in this learning system. Adult learning is mostly about gaining the kind of information that is useful or at least relevant in the learner’s life. The fact that it is focused on the learner’s needs and can thus be easily a part of their individual experiences makes it a self-directed approach driven by personal motivations such as the need to improve the skills that would be useful to the individual’s career or intellectual capital. On the other hand, transformational learning is a kind of rationality that leads to a shift in consciousness and changes the perspective of the students with regard to themselves and the whole world. Transformational learning implies sharing, discussing, and scrutinizing the worldviews in order to establish a new perspective that is considerably more justifiable, based on the kind and amount of knowledge acquired.

All these theories of adult learning have the concept of the self with respect to the learner in common. Thus, it can be asserted that the adult learner is often in control of their learning process, and that the idea of teaching in this case is more like playing the role of a facilitator of the learning process, as long as the knowledge primarily exists in terms of experience and speculation. Therefore, the trick herein is communication and understanding between the teachers and the students as well as amongst the other students.

Culture and Motivation

Wlodkowski (2008) reiterates that when considering the concept of culture, it is in most instances easier to look at language differences rather than considering the entire subject of communication because this is the thing that separates entire cultures from one another. The consideration here is thus on communication and social construction. Communication is about how people express themselves and understand each other often in terms of language, tone, wording, gestures, personal space, and even facial expressions. As an entire concept, communication affects motivation in such a way that people end up summing up their individual self-worth, based on how people relate with them and their ability to express themselves. Thus, the need to learn is more about how it will help the individual’s self-esteem and his or her ability to express their thoughts and to understand other people. Each cultural community has its own norms and expectations as well as interpretations when it comes to communication, thus making cultural competence a great issue in teaching culturally diverse learners. Eventually, the right communication affects the student’s motivation positively, while misunderstanding may totally kill their motivation.

Social construction is also somewhat a concept that affects communication, given that it is all about how the individual understands and perceives the world as it is. Each culture has its own set of norms as well as definitions of various subjects like morality, etiquette, and success among the other things. This also affects the motivation of the learner because they are only interested in the things that are approved by their society based on these social constructs. For , in a community where doctors are considered to be prestigious, the students will be motivated to learn as much about medicine as they can in order to fit in with the doctors and to belong to the prestigious people. If the student in this case works in an organization where the managers are accorded a lot of respect, they are likely to strive towards improving their skill sets to fit in with the management.

In some cases, the way people talk to an individual affects the way they perceive themselves, thus impeding their ability of self-motivation. However, the challenge in such circumstances is not the way people talk but rather the way the individual perceives other people talking to them.

Motivation and Learning

Considering that adult learning is mostly a self-directed and problem-based process, it is expected to take a lot of commitment, as long as the individual already has a wealth of knowledge built on experience and previous learning processes from childhood. Cranton (2006) notes that young students often get motivation from the need to pass their exams, go to college, pursue a dream career, and other things. Adult students, on the other hand, need a different sort of motivation because they are usually in their chosen career path or have little hope for the distant future. Their goals are often more realistic and inspired by rational thinking. In this case, the need to learn something must have a purpose or a place in the life of the learner, including a salary increment or promotional opportunity, career advancement or elevation to a higher social or even financial status. Each individual learner has a reason for a desire to learn, and thus they are individually motivated in a way that enables them to pay attention and learn.

Ideas for Further Research

In the need to answer the question of motivation’s measurability, further research is required for establishing how motivation really affects learning, so as to remove the need for making safe assumptions based on generalized observations of motivated and unmotivated students. It is worthy to note that some kinds of motivation could be so deep seated that they may not be noticed on the outside, given that they fail to have an impact on one’s learning or other activities. Thus, it remains a desire among the scholars to shed more light on the subject of motivation as a whole, especially with respect to its influence on learning.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Culture not only defines the individual but also affects the way they relate with the rest of the world. Therefore, it can be stated that cultural context affects one’s motivation, and in the end it also affects their learning. The cultural dispensation of an individual affects the way they communicate with the rest of the world, thus defining how they see correction and collaboration, how they participate in group discussions, and how they respond to the situations that open them up to the new ideas. This is how their motivation is affected, giving them a purpose for learning or discouraging them from linking up with the world and absorbing new information to correct themselves for the better. Adult learning requires from a person to draw the relevance within the context of their daily lives in order for them to actually learn, and thus motivation must be a part of their culture in order for them to learn something.

Eventually, it can be stated that in order to effectively conduct an adult learning class, cultural competence is invaluable. The facilitator must be able to relate to each student, regardless of his or her cultural uniqueness in terms of communication. The students must also be empowered to be culturally competent so that they can understand the people from other cultures as well. Another recommendation is for the content of learning to be relevant to the students in order to improve their concentration and interest in the class. Meanwhile, the concept of motivation in terms of learning outcomes continues to be investigated by scholars in the field of adult learning.


Cranton, P. (2006). Understanding and promoting transformative learning: A guide for educators of adults. Boston, MA: Jossey-Bass.

Ginsberg, M. B. (2011). Transformative professional learning: A system to enhance teacher and student motivation. New York, NY: Corwin.

Wlodkowski, R. J. (2008). Enhancing adult motivation to learn: A comprehensive guide for teaching all adults. Boston, MA: Jossey-Bass.

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