Each semester instructors spend many hours preparing their courses with the expectation or hope that students will experience significant learning outcomes in their classes. The sad fact is that while instructors spend countless hours and energy developing syllabi, formulating learning outcomes, selecting learning activities, building assessments and constructing feedback strategies, etc., some students remain unconcerned and do not pull their weight to learn course content, do not submit well prepared assignments, etc. In short, no matter what an instructor does some students remain unmotivated. The question is; “What can instructors do to influence such students to direct their energy toward the course work”?  In other words, what can be done to help motivate students?

Motivation is very essential to learning as it directs and sustains what students do to learn.  For students to be motivated to work harder they must clearly see the value of what instructors want them to learn. They must also be exposed to the instructors’ expectations for successful completion of the course. In order words, the extent to which students value their learning experiences and expectations are critical for motivating students to engage in behaviors that are essential for successful attainment of course goals. Students who see value in the course and have positive expectations are more likely to do all the readings, participate in class discussions, engage in study strategies that will result in deeper understanding of course contents, look for assistance when necessary, be willing to take on challenging tasks, be attentive in class, and above all attend classes. 

Instructors can be assured that when their course goals and expectations align with their students, they will be motivated to learn. Again, when there is more than one course goal and the goals are linked with student expectations, there will be more excitement in the classroom. Also, when the learning activities encompasses  interesting social and learning goals students will more than likely want to be involved in the class. For instance, how many students will miss a field trip, a visit to the White House, an excursion to NASA, a project for the city that will likely create opportunities for an internship or job?  Instructors should remember that student’s goal provides the context in which values and expectations give meaning and consequently influence motivation.

In their book “How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smarter Teaching”, Ambrose, Bridges, Lovett and others (2010) discuss strategies to increase the value that students place on the class goals and activities. These include; (i) connecting course materials to students’ interests and showing its relevance to students’ future lives (ii) providing students with authentic and real world learning experiences instead of abstract concepts and theories that students find difficult to relate to its relevance and values (iii) Showing relevance of learning experiences to students’ current academic lives,  (iv) helping students to understand the relevance of higher-level skills to their future professional lives and (vi) making every effort to show your own passion and enthusiasm for the discipline to your students.

I believe we will all benefit from each other’s’ experience regarding how to motive students to be successful in our courses. Please join the discussion.

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M, W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., Norman, M. K. (2010) How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass