Summary of Motivating Learners

by Opal Virgo – Friday, 26 February 2016, 2:30 PM

Thank you for your participation in the forum on motivation. Here is a summary of the forum. There were 3 discussion threads yielding a total of 62 postings and comments as follows:  

1. Motivation and how to achieve it?

A quote from Barkley (2010) defines motivation as “ the feeling of interest or enthusiasm that makes somebody want to do something,” she further states that as educators we “want students to want to learn”(p 9).

What strategies are you using to motivate your students to the place where they want to learn?

  2. Motivation and what hinders it?

Barkley (2010) shares that “students must have confidence that, with appropriate effort, they can succeed. If there is no hope, then there is no motivation” (p 11).

What factors prevent motivation in learners?

3. Motivation but no engagement?

“A classroom filled with enthusiastic, motivated students is great but it is educationally meaningless if the enthusiasm does not result in learning” Barkley (2010) p6. 

Is it possible to be motivated but not be engaged in the learning process and if so, can the motivation be sustained?


Tread #1 – Motivation and how to achieve it?

Mark started the discussion by pointing out that getting to know students is important when motivating learners. In response I posted a TED Talk by Rita Pierson an educator of 40 years. Her talk generated 2 significant points that Barkley (2010) also makes reference to in her Tips and Strategies for motivating learners:

1.    Tips/Strategy #2 – (Develop and Display the qualities of engaging teachers) to this point Barkley (2010) states “teacher personality and behaviour have a powerful impact on whether students feel motivated in a course.” she continues by clarifying that “this does not mean that you have to be false to your basic personality”…however she suggest that “students will be more likely engaged in your class if you cultivate and display attributes of well-liked and respected teachers, such as energy, enthusiasm, passion, approachability, fairness and optimism.”

Students benefit when teachers show they care and model passion, which then helps to build community and morale in the class.

2.     The other is praise and encouragement – Interestingly enough Barkley, cautions that we need to praise effectively as “praise does not always have the effect we intend.” 

As a follow-up to the question, how to praise learners?  Vivienne shared a video on inspiration another element to encourage motivation.

Finally, the video on GRIT by Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth was the highlight of this thread. True motivation comes from having GRIT.

In her TED Talk presentation on The Key to Success, Grit? Dr. Duckworth mentioned that a growth mindset is a great idea for building grit.  She defines GRIT as “perseverance and passion for your long term goals”. It is having the stamina to get things done. Mark shared graphic that summarizes grit quite beautifully.

Thread #2 – Motivation and what hinders it?

This tread had 2 interesting and important theories that surfaced:

      1.   Doug shared a video on: The theory of flow by Dr Csikszentmihalyi’s. In this discussion, Vivienne shared her own experience of achieving flow and how it motivated her to succeed. She said “the more I was challenged the more skillful I got, the more I wanted to be better.”

Wikipedia define the flow zone as:  “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity”.

Quite often learners who are not experiencing flow will not be motivated.

2.     The other theory: Maslow’s Theory – the Heirarchy of Needs – Here Naomi reminded us that if the basic needs (as identified by Maslow) of learners have not been met, it becomes difficult to motivate them to learn. She made the point “if we forget to address the basic needs of our students (water breaks, bathroom breaks, safety and security, social belonging, respect, boosting self-esteem, individuality, recognition, praise) then our students will not reach the self-actualization stage where they are most motivated to learn. 

Here are some factors that were identified as hindrances to motivation:

1.     Lack of relevance and value to the learner

2.     Unclear goals

3.     Lack of achievement or recognition of effect

4.     Students not achieving “flow”

5.     Fear of failure

6.     Procrastination

7.     Having a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset which motivates learning

The final discussion thread:

Thread #3 – Motivation but no engagement?

In answer to the question, is it possible to have motivated students who are not engaged? Karen responded: “Yes, I believe it is possible to be motivated but not engaged.”

Key points included:

1.     Motivation ebbs and flows – depending on the extrinsic factors

2.     Teachers need to constantly assess students

3.     Assessing and evaluating the learning are essential tools for achieving the desired learning outcomes. More so, assessing, allows teachers to make the necessary adjustment to ensure learning and sustained motivation

4.     Student teacher match is important to achieve engagement

Here is a list for motivating learners shared in the forum – 17 steps by Pappas (2013). The source can be found in the sources below: for quick and easy access.

  1. Create useful and relevant learning experiences based on the age group and interests of your learners
    Emphasize on the practical knowledge. It is important to design a course that provides immediate relevancy. Learning materials that can be put into practice. Adult learners appreciate more practical knowledge, rather than extraneous facts and theories.
  2. Facilitate exploration
    Even though children are famous for their exploratory nature and curiosity, adult learners, too, sometimes like to take the opportunity to construct knowledge in a way that is meaningful to them. For this reason, you should have all sorts of materials, references, infographics, short videos, lectures, podcasts and free resources available.  In such a perfect learning environment learners are more likely to get inspired or find something that makes them want to learn more.
  3. Build community and integrate social media
    Keep in mind that social media websites are a powerful tool for collaboration, commenting and sharing. You can facilitate group discussions and communities. People will quickly start exchanging knowledge, and will also have fun, social media is fun!
  4. A voice behind the video is not enough
    Add a personal touch. Your course needs to have a face. Make yourself available to people, invite subject-matter experts, authors, professors and other specialists in live online discussions and question and answer sessions.
  5. Challenge through games
    Come up with different problem solving exercises and case studies. Make your learners look for and find solutions.
  6. Use humor
    Humor would work great even with the most demotivated learners on your course. When your students know you are funny, they will listen to your material carefully, cause they wouldn’t want to miss on your witty sense of humor. You can never lose with that.
  7. Chunk information
    Chunking is essential, as it helps people remember and assimilate information. Small bits are easier to process.
  8. Add suspense
    Don’t give out everything your course is about in the beginning. Yes, you need an overview, but keep some interesting points until the time is right. No one likes to read a book if they know what’s about to happen.
  9. Accommodate individual interests and career goals
    Empower learners to work on these goals and individualize the training to suit their needs.
  10. Stimulate your learners
    Encourage them to think by either providing them with brain teasers, or by asking thought-provoking questions.
  11. Let learning occur through mistakes
    According to a German proverb “you will become clever through your mistakes“. Have you heard the famous expression: “Practice makes perfect“? Of course you have! Henry Roediger who started a learning experiment divided his students in two groups. Group A studied natural sciences paper for 4 sessions, while group B studied the same paper for one session and was tested on it three times. According to the experimenter, one week later, students from group B performed 50% better than Group A, even though they studied the paper less. The results clearly support the argument that “practice makes perfect“.
  12. Make it visually-compelling
    Did you know that 83% of learning occurs visually?
  13. Get Emotional
    If you don’t sound inspiring, if your materials are not exciting, how will you motivate your learners? Get them emotionally involved too – come up with controversial statements, tap on memories, add real-life stories.
  14. Get examples of their workplace
    Your learners may not always remember to associate what is learned with its application at the workplace. Sometimes they might need reminders and a clue to help them make that connection.
  15. Be respectful to them.

  16. Ask for feedback
    It is motivating to know that your opinion contributes to the course.
  17. Present the benefits of undertaking the course
    I don’t know why I didn’t start with this one. Sometimes outlining the benefits is all it takes.


VIDEOS and Web Articles


Other References

 Barkley, E. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. Tips and Strategies for Promoting Active Learning: p.124. Jossey-Bass: John Wiley & Sons; San Francisco, CA.

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