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Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds In 1943, eminent Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow presented a motivational theory that included a five-tier model of human needs, where the needs at the lower end of the tier must be met before we can all move on to meet those needs higher up the tier. This model is known as Maslow’s hierarchy of need and is used as a way of understanding individual development in all areas of life be it personal, professional, or educational.

Skip to 0 minutes and 32 seconds Understanding how we move up the hierarchy will help us to understand how, as a returning learner, we must meet certain needs; Maslow calls these ‘deficiency needs’, before we can gain the full benefit of the learning experience (Maslow calls these ‘growth or being needs’), to become what we are capable of; to be in a place of ‘self actualisation’. Using one of the lowest level needs as an example, when we are hungry, we go looking for food, or plan our activity around fitting food in. the hungrier we get, the less we can concentrate on any other activity, until we have satisfied that need. Once satisfied, we can move on to other needs.

Skip to 1 minute and 27 seconds Maslow recognised that because of individual differences and life experiences, we may not move up the hierarchy in a straight line; we may move back and forth between the levels. For example, if we lose our job or our relationship breaks down, we may move downwards from the level of ‘love and belonging’ where we have previously felt that we were part of a group, had respect, friendship and acceptance, to a place where our confidence has reduced, or we feel fearful or insecure and our ‘Safety’ needs are then not being met which then leaves us vulnerable to not taking care of ourselves, eating well, getting enough sleep; we may even not be able to pay our rent or bills which may mean that we can’t satisfy the most basic of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that of ‘Physiological’ needs.

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 seconds As a returning learner, once we can be satisfied that we will have enough money to pay our bills, pay childcare and commuting fees if these apply to us, then we have our physiological and safety needs met, we can then explore what it is to become a learner within an institution such as a college or university, and this meets our safety and belonging needs, while alongside this we can begin to explore our ‘Esteem needs’ and that comes in the form of esteem for oneself in the form of achievement, independence, dignity, and that of esteem from others in the form of positive and developmental feedback, gaining respect from others and building a reputation as an accomplished scholar.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds By realising our own potential, success becomes self-fulling and we are motivated to maintain our desire for personal growth and what Maslow calls ‘peak experiences’; the desire to ‘become everything one is capable of becoming’.

We all have needs

We all face new situations at points in our lives. Starting a new job, moving to a new town or starting a new course can feel daunting, even though we know there will be a period of time as we settle in.

Maslow suggested that we all have deficiency needs and growth needs and we are motivated to secure the various stages of growth, to a point of self-actualisation; ‘achieving what we are capable of’

Returning to education is likely to offer opportunities, but only if our deficiency needs are met first.

Consider what deficiency needs you may have and what goals you have to achieve the growth needs within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

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Returning to Education as a Mature Student

University of York

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