Student Motivation

While students need to do the work themselves, they will only do so if they understand the value of course tasks and believe they can succeed at them.

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What is motivation?

Motivation is the drive or reason to do something. There are two primary types of motivation.

  • Intrinsic motivation
    Intrinsic motivation comes from your internal desires and the actions you take are for your own satisfaction. This is often a more robust and long-lasting form of motivation.
  • Extrinsic motivation
    Extrinsic motivation comes from external desires such as for rewards or to avoid punishment. This type of motivation may disappear when rewards and punishments are removed and may lead to more superficial learning.

Motivation and Goals

Motivation is affected by two components of goals:

  • Value of the goal.
  • Expectancy: The perceived feasibility of achieving the goal.

Three Types of Value

How much students care about succeeding at a goal will contribute to the amount of effort they put forth. There are several types of value that may contribute to this.

  • Attainment value
    The satisfaction one gains from accomplishing a goal or task. For example, having done the work to complete a large semester-long project, students may feel good knowing they are able to complete something that was difficult and that they can do difficult things.
  • Intrinsic value
    The satisfaction that comes not from the accomplishment but from doing the task itself. If students value a topic, they will enjoy reading about and furthering their understanding for its own sake.
  • Instrumental value
    The degree to which an activity or goal helps one accomplish other important goals and can often be related to extrinsic rewards. For example, students may not enjoy practicing scales to improve their singing, but they may be happy to know they are doing something to improve their singing.

To increase your student’s motivation to learn, increase overall course value by incorporating all three types of value.

Two Types of Expectancy (of Success)

How much students believe they can succeed at a goal will contribute to the amount of effort they put forth. There are several types of expectancy that may contribute to this, two of which are described here.

  • Outcome expectancies
    Beliefs that specific actions will bring about desired outcomes.
  • Efficacy expectancies
    Beliefs that one is capable of identifying, organizing, initializing and executing courses of action to bring about desired outcomes

                                                                                                                                               (Ambrose et al., 2010)

Students will have positive outcome expectancies for your course if they believe you have constructed a path that helps students to learn and succeed at your assessments. This may mean readings and lectures that teach needed content knowledge as well as exercises and feedback that help develop needed skills. While these are necessary for students to feel they can succeed, it is not sufficient. Students also need positive efficacy expectancies, which means they feel capable of doing the work.

To increase your students' motivation to learn, help your learners build positive outcome and efficacy expectancies for your course.

Why is motivation important?

A common problem faced by instructors is that students come to class with mainly an extrinsic motivation to learn. That is, they are typically motivated by the desire for a good grade or to pass the class as part of a requirement rather than being motivated by a desire to learn (intrinsic motivation). This is problematic because extrinsic motivators tend to result in more superficial learning (i.e., learning in order to pass an exam) than intrinsic motivators (i.e., learning to understand a topic).

While it is not your job to do the work for students, how you present information in your class will have an effect on the amount of effort they put in. As an expert in your content area, what you communicate is information that students use to determine what is worth doing. To maximize your students’ learning and enhance their learning experience, employ strategies to help build your students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.

Strategies to Motivate Your Students to Learn

Your students’ motivations to learn will be highest when:

  • They see value in your course and the content, skills and strategies they will gain by taking your course.
  • They hold positive expectancies for their ability to succeed (efficacy expectancies) and the possibility of success (outcome expectancies) in your class.

Maximizing Course Value

To enhance attainment value:

  • Make course tasks coherent, organized or finite.

To enhance intrinsic value:

  • Connect course material to learners' lives and interests.
  • Provide authentic or real-world tasks.
  • Show your own passion and enthusiasm.

To enhance instrumental value:

  • Show learners how what they learn in your course is relevant to higher-level skills pertinent for their future professional lives.
  • Identify what is of value for their current academic lives.
  • Identify and reward what you value in the class to connect content that matters to the instrumental value of their course grade.

Example: Enhancing your course’s instrumental value

One way to enhance your course’s value is to identify aspects of your course that are universally valuable in students’ varied academic lives. For example, writing is a relatively universal academic skill and helping learners understand how to organize their thoughts and communicate clearly is a skill that will help in any academic discipline. Therefore, communicate this value to students when they are learning about and practicing these skills in your course.

If you’ve chosen these exercises and activities for an important reason it should be communicated. With this awareness, students may then see the instrumental value in what they are learning, and in turn they may be more motivated to learn.

Maximizing Course Efficacy

Strategies to build positive expectancies in your students.

  • Ensure alignment of outcomes, assessments and instructional strategies.
  • Identify an appropriate level of challenge.
  • Create assignments that provide the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Provide opportunities for success early on.
  • Articulate your expectations.
  • Provide rubrics.
  • Provide targeted feedback.
  • Describe effective study strategies.

Example: Building positive expectancies

Two ways to build positive outcome expectancies among your students are to provide your students with a clearly defined “road-map” to succeed in your course and to clearly articulate your expectations.

One strategy to accomplish both goals is to provide your students with detailed rubrics for projects and assignments. In this way, students can see exactly what they need to do to be successful in their assignments and will understand your expectations of them. Because a clear path is laid out they may feel more capable of succeeding in your course. With these positive expectancies, they may in turn feel more motivated to learn.  

CATT Quick Tips

Building Student Confidence

CATT Quick Tips: Building Student Confidence

Motivating Students

CATT Quick Tips: Motivating Students

Day 1 – "Who Wants an A?"

CATT Quick Tips: Day 1 – "Who Wants an A?"

Early Semester Survey

CATT Quick Tips: Early Semester Survey

Providing an outline

CATT Quick Tips: Providing an Outline

Connecting Grades with Learning

CATT Quick Tips: Connecting Grades with Learning

Student Motivation

CATT Quick Tips: Motivating Students

Side Conversations

CATT Quick Tips: Side Conversations