How Student Motivation Influences Learning (Part Two)


BruceBy Bruce A. Johnson, PhD, MBA

With this two part series the concept of student motivation is examined. As noted in my first blog posting, student motivation is an internalized process that manifests itself through engagement in the class and overall performance. The actions that students take in the class, from their participation in the learning process to the effort put into their class assignments, are influenced by external and internal motivational factors. External motivation often includes the anticipated results and rewards for completing the class and degree program. Internal motivation consists of students’ needs, perceptions, and expectations. In order for students to maintain progress throughout their academic journey they also need to develop self-motivation. This second and final blog in the series will consider how motivation is manifested and observed by instructors; along with techniques instructors can implement to encourage development of self-motivation.

What is the relationship of self-directed learning to student motivation?
Adults are considered to be self-directed learners by nature, which means that they want to participate in the process of learning and have choices about their level of involvement. Karin Kirk indicates that “students can have increased motivation when they feel some sense of autonomy in the learning process, and that motivation declines when students have no voice in the class structure.” Students can be given a voice during class discussions when they are encouraged to share their ideas and experiences. Students can also be given choices about an assignment topic so that learning is relevant to their needs. Being a self-directed learner also comes with an expectation on the part of the student. Adults as students are expected to take responsibility for their self-motivation, which means they are expected to come to class prepared and willing to learn.

How is student motivation manifested?
Instructors are able to observe students with strong motivation when they are actively involved in the class. They are engaged in the class discussions and their performance demonstrates progress made towards meeting the expected learning objectives.  Students are likely to stay motivated when they believe they can complete the assigned tasks or participate in class discussions in a meaningful way, and the information acquired through this learning process will lead to the creation of knowledge that is relevant to their personal and professional needs. Barbara Gross Davis has found that “failure to attain unrealistic goals can disappoint and frustrate students,” and that instructors need to “encourage students to focus on their continued improvement, not just on their grade on any one test or assignment.” A course grade may be measured against internalized motivational factors; however, continuous self-development and the acquisition of relevant knowledge will ensure long-term self-motivation.

What can instructors do to have a positive influence on student motivation?
Instructors can establish conditions that help students stay motivated. What is often most effective for sustaining student motivation is a strong working relationship, one that creates a positive emotional state, while providing support and guidance for their progress, growth, increased capacity, and overall development. Students may or may not have a built-in support system from family members or friends and this can influence their level of self-motivation, especially when they experience challenges with the course or their assignments. Students that have developed a working relationship with their instructor will feel that they can ask questions about their progress along the way. Karin Kirk notes that “a supportive teaching style that allows for student autonomy can foster increased student interest, enjoyment, engagement and performance.”

Conversations that instructors have with students can also have a direct impact on student motivation and the development of a working relationship. Kathleen D. Kelsey, Ph.D. explains that “guided didactic conversation promotes a personal relationship between the instructor and the student, thus creating greater motivation in the student and increased learning outcomes.” This is a good reminder for instructors to consider the power of their class discussions, interactions, and feedback. Students can be motivated to participate, communicate, and consider suggestions for improvement if the message reflects sincerity and a genuine interest in the their developmental needs.

Consider your students and their current level of motivation.
When you think about your students now do you recognize their internal and external motivational factors? Would it be beneficial to talk to them about their expectations and perceptions? Understanding the basis of your students’ needs may be helpful when making decisions about instructional strategies, including the development of assignments and course materials utilized. Also consider these questions: Do your students appear to be highly motivated and involved in class? Are they making progress with their assignments? Instructors can have a positive impact on self-motivation when they develop strong working relationships and productive communication. Motivated students are not only active they are also engaged in the process of learning.

About the Mentor: Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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