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Maslow for Teachers...

Fox's Educational Hierarchy of Needs

Recently, in Episode 2 of the Virtual Reality Podcast, ‘Ready Humanity One’, Alex Chaucer of Saratoga Springs and co host, brought up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how virtual reality in education isn’t feasible for impoverished schools and students around the world, mainly due to lack of access to the type of immersive learning experiences VR affords students. Chaucer says, if they don’t have ‘food, water, shelter, you know, a safe environment, a safe home life, a safe place to do work, and if none of those are met there is no way that person is going to be able to be successful.” He goes on to mention other constraints that are barriers to benefitting from this type of technology, such as the ability to read, and navigate technology. These are all obstacles that those in impoverished circumstances face daily.

James McCrary, co host for #VRpodcast from Baton Rouge, brings up the idea of Wifi

becoming a basic need in education, and hopes of it expanding out in the future to homes, neighborhoods, buses, and communities--something that is already happening in some places in the United States. After bringing up a meme model of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Chaucer gets more serious and responds with the question “At what point has wifi become less of a need and more of a right?” This question prompts me to inquire about what an Educational Hierarchy of Needs would look like….

To start, for those not familiar with Abraham Maslow, in 1943 he created a hierarchical pyramid that explored the psychology of human motivation based on needs (refer to the model below). In this pyramid the bottom level of needs were basic requirements that needed to be fulfilled prior to moving on to what he called “growth needs”, or basic physiological needs to important psychological needs (Huitt, 20017). The pyramid was later expanded and evolved to include aesthetic needs, need to know and understand, and self-transcendence. The triangular theory can be broken down into three basic concepts: Basic Needs, Psychological Needs, and Self-Fulfillment Needs.

Revisiting the question I posed “What would an Educational Hierarchy of Needs look like?”, I attempted to create an educational hierarchical pyramid with necessary tiers for what educators and admin would consider a successful education system or experience for a student. Through discussion, feedback and time I’m sure it will become more refined and evolve to reflect a more accurate perspective of educational needs--especially after the twittersphere gets a hold of it.

The diagram below visualizes how I view The Educational Hierarchy of Needs--Fox's Educational Hierarchy of Needs. Now to break down the model below and explain my logic and reasoning for the hierarchical order and educational tiers I chose.

Physical, Digital, and Access

The very basic need for learning to happen is a learning environment: the prescribed constructs for learning to occur. Now whether this is online, or in a brick and mortar building will change how tier two is achieved: access. When we enter a virtual or online class, we need wifi to get there, and our learning environment may be comprised of other tools as well; a computer, a mobile device, a virtual reality headset if we want to contextualize this further within Ready Player One and the Oasis. The digital classroom is usually housed in some sort of LMS, or virtual classroom, where students meet and interact asynchronously. A brick and mortar building however has more variables. Transportation and buses are needed to get to the school, and the building itself will need to provide a safe, inviting space to learn. When we looked at Maslow’s bottom tier he mentions physiological needs, and this is where some of our students who come to our brick and mortar receive this level of care. They eat meals, stay warm, and are shielded from the elements.The disparity of quality/state-of the-art learning spaces will depend on geography, socioeconomic status, and age of the building. Additionally, not all buildings are equipped with the same technology and tools. And while wifi in the digital learning environment is a way to access content and learn, it should be part of the physical infrastructure for the brick and mortar school. It is a differentiator and helps shift learning from rote, to critical thinking and application when leveraged correctly by tier three; teachers.

Informal learning constructs can occur as well outside of formal learning environments. This may manifest in the form of a community, experience, or a game in informal interactions. For the purpose of the model above, I am going to explore only within the context of classrooms that have been intentionally constructed for learning .

What other elements should be included in this section of educational hierarchy?

Teacher and Pedagogy

Tier three in The Educational Hierarchy of Needs, is the teacher. When we look at Maslow’s basic needs, the tiers of safety and belongingness are essentially fulfilled by the teacher. It is there job to build rapport, make students feel welcome, and figure out the interests of the group individually, and collectively. In online environments the teacher can be global, or anywhere in the world, and while a student may participate in a blended brick-and-mortar classroom with global teachers, traditionally the physical classroom is led or facilitated by a local teacher. Teacher is the last tier that has a dotted line dividing digital and brick-and-mortar learning environments. As we enter pedagogy, the 4th tier, great, artful teaching does not change whether in person or online. Though instructional design frameworks and strategies geared toward online instruction may inform the virtual classroom teacher and that differ from methods used F2F, good teaching is the goal, and the teacher is the agent that drives good pedagogy. This includes learning activities, projects, assessments, and reflections.

Metacognition and Transference

The final two tiers of The Educational Hierarchy of Needs mirrors Maslow’s Hierarchy in the sense of the individual or student becoming self aware. The contrast is with education the goal is awareness in the sense of metacognitive processes, and knowing how to know; essentially, the ability to reflect on how we learn best as an individual and understand that process. When learning processes shift from a tacit understanding of going through the motions of activities, to an explicit understanding of critically analyzing what it takes to learn, students can shift to the final tier of transference. Transference means students can apply the process of learning to new situations and become autonomous learners, constructing their own learning experiences.


Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with the physiological and safety tiers, elements in the educational hierarchy can be beyond our control as students, and teachers. Government, societal infrastructure, and funding need to be antecedents to learning environments if we really want to achieve equity and equality. The big question outside of what should be included in the educational hierarchy of needs, is how to ensure everyone has equitable access to the quality education they deserve.

Have thoughts on this blog? Share them with us on twitter using the #vrpodcast hashtag, or find on Facebook by searching for the Virtual Reality Podcast.


Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [April 16th, 2018] from,

Maslow's hierarchy of needs.svg. (2015, June 14). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 18:11, April 16, 2018 from

Maslow's hierarchy of needs.svg. (2015, June 14). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 18:11, April 16, 2018 from

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