The Importance of Motivation for the Future of the LD Field

In 1986, the Journal of Learning Disabilities produced a series of articles on “The Future of the LD field.”  Guest editors Howard S. Adelman and Linda Taylor asked Edward L. Deci, well-known for his work on motivation and psychology, to analyze the articles in the series.  The resulting paper, The Importance of Motivation for the Future of the LD Field (Deci & Chandler, 1986), which Deci co-wrote with Cristine L. Chandler, is described by Adelman and Taylor as “a provocative discussion that first reviews the papers in the future series . . . then suggests that a key element missing in most of the presentations is a sophisticated and systematic concept of human motivation” (Deci & Chandler, p. 587).   

Deci and Chandler first examine the definition, causes, prevention, and treatment of learning disabilities (LD).  They describe the two approaches to the definition of LD: a) the biological/neurological approach (mostly used by theorists and researchers), and b) the more practically-oriented definition, which refers to children not meeting the achievement expectations of others, and is mainly used by practitioners.  Deci and Chandler point out that emotional and motivational variables are absent in the first definition, and call for a psychologically-based (as opposed to physiologically-based) theoretical definition of LD which would account for these factors (1986, p. 587).  They then turn to the issue of the causes of learning disabilities, an issue which they report was “not at all well addressed” in the series, adding that it is likely that a combination of  neurological, cognitive, and socio-emotional factors all contribute to LD (Deci & Chandler, 1986, p. 588).  The lack of understanding of the causes of learning disabilities, Deci and Chandler add, also makes it difficult to attempt to prevent learning problems.  In their discussion of treatment, Deci and Chandler review micro- and macro-perspective treatment approaches.  Finally, they call for the adoption macro-approach, a more holistic, organismic motivational perspective in LD research, theory, intervention and prevention.

Although this paper does not specifically focus on intrinsic motivation, Deci and Chandler’s review of the current literature at the time, particularly their suggestions for future research that takes motivation into account, furthered the work done by Adelman (1978) and others in bringing issues of motivation into discussions of LD.  At the time the article was written, Adelman and Taylor noted that Deci and Chandler’s “analysis and ideas have profound implications . . . and warrant careful attention from those concerned with advancing the field” (Deci & Chandler, 1986, p. 587).

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© Rose Atkins 2009