How Learning Meets Your Needs

You may not realize it, but there is a basic list of needs that every person has, and there is even a specific order to those needs. Your needs influence your internal sense of self-motivation because you will act based upon what you believe is the most important unfulfilled need.

One of the most popular explanations provided for understanding human needs is called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which establishes an order of importance for our needs. For example, the most basic need listed in this hierarchy is a need for food and shelter, which is referred to as our physiological needs. After our basic or physiological needs are met, we then look to satisfy our other needs, which, according to Maslow, include a need for security, social, esteem, and self-actualization — the need for personal growth that can prompt our decision to obtain a degree.

When we decide to pursue a formal education such as an online degree, it is due to a need that we cannot meet on our own; one that requires specialized knowledge and skill sets. As a student, knowing how your needs can be met will help you understand what classroom environment and conditions are necessary in order for you to perform your best. Let’s look closely at each need.

Physiological Needs

The most basic of human needs is a physiological need, or need to feel good about our physical environment. Physiological needs are translated into a classroom learning environment through a need to feel that you have been provided with all of the tools, techniques, and resources necessary to be successful in the class. For example, if you are given a textbook, but you are not given any tools to support the development of your writing skills, the very first or primary need may remain unmet and pose a challenge for the process of learning.

Security Needs
Next is safety, or a need for a secure environment. Within a classroom environment, your instructor cannot guarantee safety. However, they can monitor classroom conditions to ensure that student interactions are respectful and professional. In addition, they can promote a perception or feeling of safety in the process of learning. For example, your instructor can encourage all students to share their opinions, beliefs, contributions, ideas, and experiences during class discussions in a welcoming manner. Your instructor should also be available to address your questions and concerns.

Social Needs
After physiological and security needs are met, the next important human need is a social need, which includes socialization elements such as belonging. Within a classroom environment, this need can be met when students feel there is a sense of community with others in the class.  Participation in group or learning team exercises helps students learn to work together, which can strengthen class discussions and interactions because there is a sense of belonging.

Developing a sense of community is challenging for online classes because students are not physically present to interact with each other. Weekly participation within discussion threads is a method utilized to increase the level of interactions among students. As a student, the more often you participate, the more likely you will feel engaged in the process of learning and connected to the class.

Esteem Needs
After physiological, safety, and social needs have been met, the next need on the hierarchical list is esteem. This includes social status, a need for respect from your peers, and a well-identified self-image. Within a classroom environment, you will develop a stronger sense of self-awareness as you receive feedback from your instructor about your performance in the class. You want to feel good about your progress in class, so if you aren’t receiving enough feedback about your performance, be sure to talk to your instructor and ask about your strengths and areas of needed development.

Finally, there is a need for self-actualization, which is related to growth and personal development. For students, this need can be addressed when there is a sense of accomplishment experienced because of the knowledge gained or skills acquired. You may not fully realize that this need has been met until after the class has concluded and the final feedback or grade has been received. However, as you make progress throughout the class, you are likely to develop an awareness of your capacity to learn. This will provide a sense of self-motivation and a perception that this need is being met.

A classroom environment should meet your basic needs, including physiological and security needs. Once you believe those needs are met, you can focus on other needs that are important to you. If you have a strong social need, you can seek out opportunities to participate in discussions and interact with other students. If you have a high need for esteem, you can request additional feedback from your instructor. Finally, if self-actualization is a priority for you, periodically assess your progress and acknowledge the achievements you’ve made throughout the class.

-Dr. J

About the Author
An education writer for, Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning. Throughout his entire career, he has been involved in many forms of adult education, including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a MBA and a Ph.D. in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Dr. J’s background includes work as an instructor (online and on-ground, undergraduate and graduate level), faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor. He has published articles related to adult education and the focus of his doctoral studies and dissertation involved adult learning within an online classroom environment.

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