Motivation vs Education

A common misconception

Educating people about an issue - or "raising awareness" - is a vital and valid form of action for change-makers. The Quaker activist Parker Palmer writes: “Good teachers... weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects and their students - so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” ― Parker J. PalmerThe Courage to Teach

However: educating people about an issue is not the same as motivating them to act in a specific way.

If your goal is to create a specific change in a system or community then raising awareness is unlikely to be enough by itself. That's where campaigns and new alternatives come in: they give people a singular choice (e.g. to buy Fair Trade coffee or not - see video below), and then creating a narrative which helps them make that choice. Education, by contrast, broadens people's understanding and widens their sense of choice. Education opens doors. Motivation pushes you through them. Knowing the difference - and what you are trying to achieve - is invaluable to making any action effective.



The poster below educates. It provides various facts about the issue of driving at 20 mph rather than 30 mph in pedestrian areas. What effect does it have on you?


The poster below motivates. It conveys one simple demand of the people who read it. What effect does it have on you?

If information were power, the world would be run by librarians.
— Chris Rose