One of the biggest challenges almost every teacher faces on an everyday basis is how to motivate students to participate actively in the classroom and learn.
From your own experience, you surely are aware that not only is it easier for you as a teacher to work with motivated students but that motivated students are much more successful in their undertakings in school and outside of it.
You might sometimes feel like you lack the resources to motivate your students appropriately or even miss the understanding of what motivates them. Students’ motivation to learn is a specific type of motivation and a challenging one to achieve since all students need to meet the same set learning outcomes, no matter what their interests are.
There is no easy answer to the question of how to motivate students to learn, nor is there a recipe you could use in any given situation. Most importantly, every educator needs to be aware of the differences in all students. Each individual brings his or her own specific life experiences, family background, intellectual, emotional and social skills, habits and ambitions into the classroom. The teacher’s main challenge is to find appropriate ways to motivate all of them to successfully learn and meet the previewed learning outcomes.
In this post, we’re going to discuss the main factors of students’ motivation you should and need to address so they can develop the necessary motivation to learn.
Read on to find out how you can raise your students’ motivation in the classroom and why experiential learning is such an efficient method in motivating your students to actively engage in the learning process.
What is learning motivation?
Students’ motivation to learn is a topic that has led to a large amount of research in the field of education and psychology, along with many complex theories it has produced. As Jere Brophy, Distinguished Professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University states:
Motivation is what drives a person to act towards a certain goal and persist in doing so. Motives are hypothetical constructs used to explain why somebody does something. They differ from the immediate goals and strategies used to achieve them.
Motivation can be viewed from different perspectives, for example by differing extrinsic from intrinsic motivation:
1. Intrinsic motivation
An intrinsically motivated person acts on the reasons she freely chooses and the goals she wants to achieve, as opposed to what she must do.
When it comes to learning, the motive can be curiosity, enjoyment of the activity or interest in a topic. According to self-determination theories, students are more likely to be intrinsically motivated in class if their needs for autonomy, competence, and social connection are fulfilled. (Brophy, 2010)
2. Extrinsic motivation
An extrinsically motivated person acts because of an external consequence of a certain behavior, namely a possible reward or punishment. Teachers motivate students with extrinsic methods using grades, praise or meaningful rewards.
Jere Brophy recommends teachers to combine strategies of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation with their students.
Although extrinsic motivation usually doesn’t have a very good reputation, professor Brophy suggests that – in the reality of an education system where schooling is standardized and compulsory – it is unrealistic to expect all students to be intrinsically motivated at all times in class. As a teacher, your goal should be to develop your students’ motivation by letting them understand the value and meaning of acquiring knowledge and skills.
Below you will find out which three aspects of students learning motivation you can have an impact on as a teacher.
Self-knowledge as a key to learning motivation
Learning motivation largely depends on the beliefs a student holds about him and his abilities as well as the level of difficulty he reads into a task. A growth mindset is usually characteristic for students who are motivated to learn and open towards challenges, which is why you should introduce your students to it.
Back in 1993, the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found out that, contrary to popular beliefs, people enjoy being active more than resting. We feel best when we engage in challenging activities that require us to stretch our physical and mental borders. He called the state we achieve when we are doing something fully focused and time feels like it’s flying by – the flow state. (Brophy, 2010)
To get into the flow state, a person’s skills need to be aligned with or exceed the level of challenge a task presents. It is also easier to get into a state of flow when we’re engaging with a topic we take interest in and are good at.
What prevents students from feeling motivated to learn?
- A student who does not see herself as competent enough to perform a certain task is likely to experience anxiety, worry, and a fear of failure. A student who regularly experiences failure in his performance in school can become frustrated, a feeling which is difficult to deal with and which causes his learning motivation to gradually decline.
- Boredom is one of the most common feelings students experience in school. Apart from feeling bored because of the teacher’s methods and required tasks, students also experience this feeling often when their capabilities exceed the level of challenge that the class poses to them. It is in that case that students also tend to become passive and uninterested in the lesson.
Teachers and students need to try to get to know the students’ capabilities well and to be able to assess them realistically. The tasks that the students are asked to fulfill have to present a challenge to them but still be achievable so that they would be motivated to engage in them.
Learning to learn helps students to develop their learning motivation, both the students who are struggling as well as the ones who are capable of achieving much more. Learning to learn implies being accustomed to ways of efficient information processing and strategies of skill development.
Finding a learning method that is suitable to their abilities, interests, and learning style can help students who are struggling in school to better organize their studying and be more successful. For those students, it can be useful to learn how to divide large tasks that cause them anxiety into smaller and more easily achievable steps.
Students who are capable of achieving more need to recognize their boredom as space they should fill with additional topics, activities, and challenges which will cater to their curiosity.
Students are motivated to learn when they value the knowledge and skills they gain
Besides self-knowledge and a realistic assessment of skills, another key aspect of motivation lies in the perceived value of attaining certain knowledge and skills.
That is why one of the main reasons for students lacking learning motivation is that they don’t see the use of what they have to learn in school.
When asked – “What will I ever need this for?” don’t simply ignore their question. We’ve already written about how important it is to Generation Z students to know the practical use of what they learn and how it can be connected to their lives.
Csikszentmihaly has also pointed out that role modeling is an important aspect of how a teacher can support students to develop learning motivation. A teacher who shows enthusiasm for learning and her subject can transfer that enthusiasm on to her students. (Brophy, 2010)
We recommend you start the preparation of each of your lessons from the following questions: Can I find within myself the enthusiasm to teach this topic to my students? How will acquiring the knowledge or skills I try to transfer them be of use in my students’ lives? The questions you’ve found should serve you as a guideline when delivering your class. During the introduction, you can mention a situation that your students are familiar with from their own lives or remind them of a question they’ve previously encountered. At the end of the class, follow up on the introduction and connect what they’ve learned with the students’ future lives.
Does student–teacher rapport influence learning motivation?
This aspect of motivation is based on the idea that students need to feel comfortable in school to be motivated to go there and learn in the first place.
According to Maslow’s pyramid theory, the needs that are found in the base of the pyramid, physiological needs, safety, and love or belonging, have to be fulfilled so that a person can be motivated to act towards fulfilling higher-level needs, namely confidence and self-actualization. Although in reality, students don’t always act in line with Maslow’s theory, it’s still useful to remind yourself of your students’ needs that have to be fulfilled so that they would be motivated to learn.
What type of school environment caters to the students’ needs so that they can be motivated to learn?
Primarily, it should be a physically and emotionally safe environment where students’ physiological needs are taken into consideration. But more importantly, what makes a school environment beneficial or not is the rapport among students, teachers, other school staff and particularly between student and teacher.
A large influence on how students will perceive classes is the opinion they hold of their respective teachers. A supportive student-teacher report that allows for a learning motivation to flourish answers the student’s need for acceptance and belonging to the learning community and opens the door towards the development of confidence and self-actualization.
Teachers’ characteristics and behaviors that build positive rapport with students:
- A teacher who is warm, approachable, empathetic and has a good sense of humor
- A teacher who is motivated to work with students and cherishes them
- A teacher who actively works on being objective and treating everyone the same, who regularly examines his behavior and perception of the students he might be in conflict with
- A teacher who is ready to enter a discussion with his students and question the rules, who prefers a democratic approach to an autocratic one
As an educator, it is of the highest importance to continuously work your one’s emotional competence, communication, and education skills to maintain a positive rapport full of trust and respect with your students.
As a teacher, you also shouldn’t disregard the relations among the students and their group dynamics. Students who have friends in school and support each other are more likely to hold a good feeling about going to school and actively participate in class.
Read on to find out how experiential learning supports all the mentioned aspects of students’ learning motivation.
Experiential learning motivates students to become actively engaged
Experiential learning is a powerful method you can use in class and in activities outside of school to motivate your students to be more active. It encompasses all the mentioned key aspects of learning motivation:
- It encourages students to get to know themselves better through facilitated self-observation and reflection. Students are included in the planning of activity and the evaluation of their performance, which develops their ability to set goals and achieve them. If the planned activity is challenging and in line with their abilities, the students will engage actively and learn from it.
- Experiential learning necessarily includes the practical use of what the students need to learn. Engaging in an experiential activity and reflecting on it later, usually leads students to new questions and strikes their curiosity on a topic.
- Since the student-teacher relation turns into one where the teacher provides support while the student is active, both get the chance to see each other in a completely new light. Experiential learning activities also push the students to cooperate more with each other than usually necessary.
Motivating your students to learn and actively participate in class is one of the most challenging tasks you encounter as a teacher. As educators, we must support the development of the students’ love for knowledge and skills, above all by leading through example.
For you as a teacher, it is important to know that you can support your students’ motivation to learn by following means:
- Teach your students how to organize their studying, set goals and look for additional activities and intellectual stimulation
- Organize your class by asking yourself how the knowledge and skills the students need to acquire will be useful to them in life and discuss this topic with them
- Acknowledge your students’ needs, build a relationship of trust and respect among teachers and students and encourage positive relations among students
Experiential learning is an efficient method to support the development of learning motivation. Have a look at our outdoor school courses that use experiential learning to encourage your students’ learning motivation!
To conclude, one may say that a teacher has done her task if she has contributed to the students’ preparation for what awaits them in life by fostering their curiosity, their love for knowledge and their drive for developing their full potential.
Tell us in the comment section below:
When it comes to students’ learning motivation – what presents the biggest challenge to you?
What are the most efficient methods you use to motivate them?
Brophy, Jere (2010) Motivating students to learn. Routledge: New York.
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