Pedagogy Focus: Abraham Maslow

As part of our Pedagogy Focus series, Tes looks at how Maslow's theories on motivation and the hierarchy of needs have influenced education

Tes Editorial

Pedagogy: Psychologist Abraham Maslow's theories around motivation continue to have a big influence on education and teaching

Who was Maslow?

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was a US psychologist, best known for his theories surrounding human needs and motivation. 

He was also a leading name in the field of humanist psychology, proposing a holistic approach when exploring human behaviour.

What did he have to say about education?

As a humanist, Maslow was interested in human potential and how we are motivated to seek fulfilment through personal growth. 

Taking a positive approach towards human behaviour and learning, Maslow believed that we all have it in us to be all that we want to be. The key to learning, then, is being motivated by this pursuit of self-actualisation.

Maslow is most famous for his “hierarchy of needs” model, which proposes a series of human needs in a hierarchical order, ranging from basic physiological needs through to self-esteem and self-actualisation.

Read more: Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Based on these principles, Maslow suggested that a desire to learn and develop can only be realised once all basic human needs that precede this have been met.    

How has this influenced pedagogy?

Maslow’s ideas have been hugely influential in education, with his approach to motivation affecting schools and classrooms in several ways, including:

  • Teaching that emphasises the role of the individual and considers the environmental factors that may be affecting students (and therefore their learning and progress). This enables staff to offer greater support to students and intervene when necessary.
  • Treatment of students that shows they are valued and respected in the classroom and wider school setting.  Pupils need supportive and safe environments if they are to learn effectively: according to the hierarchy of needs, those with low self-esteem will not progress academically. 

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