Thursday, 23 March 2017

motivating our students to learn

Our SoTL Teaching Circle met again a couple of weeks ago to discuss the third chapter of How Learning Works by Ambrose et al. All of us strive to motivate our students to learn because we understand that unless the motivation to learn and master the material exists, then learning is simply too painful to occur. Learning is difficult and time-consuming work. So, if students aren't motivated to study, they simply will not exert the effort required to learn. Ambrose et al explain in this chapter that there are a number of factors that impact students' motivation to learn. Students need to be aware of how the course material enables their ability to achieve their own goals, that the course material has value to them, and that the time and effort required to learn the material will produce acceptable results. Thus, if students do not believe that success in the course will occur as a result of their own efforts, then they will not put in the effort required to succeed. Similarly, if students do not view the particular course as contributing to their own career, professional or development goals, they will not find it worth their effort to learn.

Studies reported in this third chapter indicate that motivation is impacted by both internal and external factors and that intrinsic motivation produces better learning outcomes. Ironically, if students are learning to achieve a good grade they probably will not earn as good a mark as when they learn to master the material. Are they learning to impress someone else or are they learning for their own development as a person? Do they view learning the course material as developing their own skills that will contribute to their ability to succeed in their desired vocation?

So the task of teaching to produce successful learning is to make it apparent to students that what they are learning has significance to the students themselves. This is part of what my learning philosophy study is trying to do for students. By having students' reflect on and articulate their own learning philosophy, my hope is that they will internalize their desire to learn and thus exert the effort to become engaged rather than passive learners. Of course, there are many factors which impact our motivation to accomplish tasks, but if we can design a venue that enables students to reflect on their own values and goals and place their current coursework in the context of those learning values and goals, then this may develop the internal motivation to master the course content. As instructors, we need to facilitate and nurture students' connection to what they are learning.


Ambrose SA, Bridges MW, DiPietro M, Lovett MC, Norman MK. 2010. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. San Francisco, CA.
Chapter 3 - What Factors Motivate Students to Learn? pp 66-90.