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To Develop Expertise, Motivation is Necessary but Insufficient

Lots of readers of my entry on learning languages have said that the only reason I learned French well the second time (with the Assimil course) is that I was motivated. Here is one example: "Guy, the main reason that you learned French this time was because you wanted to learn it this time."

Understanding the role of motivation in learning is important for designing productive learning environments — i.e. for learning well — so I would like to discuss it further.

Yes, motivation is important for learning! When I was in high school and training for the U.S. Physics Olympiad team, we heard (maybe apocryphal) stories about how our counterparts were being trained in the USSR: Candidates who didn’t make the cut got sent to the army. This kind of motivation, I thought, would definitely lead me to put in the needed hours.

To agree with the readers' comments more strongly: For learning, motivation is necessary. However, there is a distinction between necessary and sufficient. Although motivation is necessary, it is not sufficient.

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