The Scando Review
The Scando Review
Factors that motivate students to learn

Factors that motivate students to learn

In the article titled Understanding motivation and schooling: Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we need to go, written by Martin L. Maehr and Heather A. Mayer and published in the Educational Psychology Review, motivation refers to the personal investment that an individual has in reaching a desired state or outcome. When we analyse motivation in the context of learning, it influences the direction, intensity, persistence and quality of the learning behaviours in which students engage.

Motivation’s role in learning cannot be overstated. When students enter college, where they gain greater autonomy over what, when and how they study, and motivation plays a crucial role in guiding their learning behaviours. In addition, it is an age where many competing goals demand their attention, time and energy. So, it is important to understand the factors that may increase or decrease students’ motivation to pursue specific goals related to learning.

There are mainly two difficulties that students might come across during a course. While studying a course, if students do not find it relevant or interesting, they may see no value in mastering it. Likewise, if students do not expect themselves to be successful in a course, they might disengage from the behaviours necessary for learning. From the above two instances, we can understand that two main factors influence motivation. First, the subjective value of the goal and, second, expectancies or the expectations for the successful attainment of that goal.

Before we delve into values and expectancies, we can take a quick look at goals as they provide the context in which values and expectancies derive meaning and influence motivation. Goals serve as the basic organising feature of motivated behaviour. According to the book Motivating Humans: Goals, Emotions and Personal Agency Beliefs, written by Martin E. Ford, goals act as a compass that guides a wide range of actions that relate to a person’s intellectual and creative pursuits, social and interpersonal relationships, identity and self-concept, needs for safety and material possessions, and desires to be productive and competent in the world.

A number of goals will be in operation at a given point in time. Let us take a college student as an example. He or she will seek to learn and acquire new skill sets, make new friends, have fun and gain a sense of independence. These all happen at the same time.

When considering the ways in which students’ goals influence their learning behaviour, it is also important to note that their goals will be different from teachers’ or parents’ goals for them. Another mismatch occurs when teachers want students to pursue learning for its own sake (learning goals), but students get motivated by performance goals. Performance goals involve protecting the desired self-image and presenting a positive reputation. When students are motivated by performance goals, they strive to meet normative standards and will go above and beyond to appear smart, achieve status, and receive praise and recognition.

In his studies, Andrew J. Elliot, a professor of psychology, suggests that performance goals take up two forms: performance-approach goals and performance-avoidance goals. Students guided by performance-approach goals focus on attaining competence by meeting normative standards. Students with performance-avoidance goals focus on avoiding incompetence by meeting standards. Elliot’s research suggests that the cognitive framework of both these groups are different and students with the performance-approach goals have an advantage over the other when it comes to learning.

In contrast to performance goals, students guided by learning goals try to gain competence and truly learn what an activity or task can teach them. To have a meaningful learning experience, students should be motivated by learning goals as they involve deep understanding that comes from exploring the subjects and analysing them beneath the surface level. If students only want to get a good grade (performance goal), teachers may not obtain the kinds of learning behaviours they desire. Research suggests that students who are guided by learning goals are more likely to use strategies that lead to deeper comprehension, to ask for assistance, when necessary, to persevere in trying circumstances, and to seek out and feel comfortable with challenging tasks.

Today, we talked about goals. In the next part, we can discuss more on values and expectancies that influence motivation.

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Happy Teaching!