student motivation June 6, 2018

Five Keys to Motivating Students

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Recently I had reason to revisit Paul Pintrich’s meta-analysis on motivation. It’s still the piece I most often see referenced when it comes to what’s known about student motivation. Subsequent research continues to confirm the generalizations reported in it. Like most articles that synthesize the results of many studies, it’s long, detailed, and liberally peppered with educational jargon. It does have a clear, easy to follow organizational structure and most notably, it spells out implications—what teachers might consider doing in response to what the research says motivates students. Here’s a quick run-down of those generalizations and their implications. 


student at white board April 26, 2017

Helping Students Discover What They Can Do

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“What has held me, and what I think hold many who teach basic writing, are the hidden veins of possibility running through students who don’t know—and who strongly doubt—that this is what they were born for, but who may find it out to their own amazement, students who, grim with self-deprecation and prophecies of their own failure . . .can be lured into sticking it out to some moment of breakthrough, when they discover that they have ideas that are valuable, even original, and express those ideas on paper. What fascinates me and gives hope in time of slashed budgets and enlarging class size, and national depression is the possibility that many of these [students] may be gaining the kind of critical perspective on their lives and skill to bear witness that they have never before had.”


student with pile of books March 16, 2016

It’s Not About Hard or Easy Courses

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Now here’s an argument I haven’t heard before: Improving your instruction makes it easier for students to learn. If it’s easier for them to learn, they won’t work as hard in the course, and that means they could learn less. It’s called offsetting behavior and we can’t ask students about it directly because it would be disingenuous for them to admit to studying less when learning becomes easier.


students high fiving December 3, 2015

Self-Directed Learning: Antecedents and Outcomes

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Most faculty now recognize the importance of students being able to direct their own learning. It’s what positions them for a lifetime of learning. And most faculty also recognize that many of our students are more dependent than self-directed. They want the teacher to make most, if not all, of the learning decisions for them. “What do you want in this assignment?” “How long should it be?” “Do I need to have references?” “What do I need to know for the test?” “How many homework problems should I do?” All these are questions self-directed learners ask and answer for themselves.



July 21, 2014

Examining Knowledge Beliefs to Motivate Student Learning

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“I just cram for the exam and then forget everything.”

“If I can just get this last paper done I am in the clear.”

Comments like these make us cringe, but we all know the external factors that motivate students: grades, grades, grades. I spend a great amount of time providing students with concrete, detailed feedback on papers only to hear someone say, “Oh, I didn’t look at the feedback, just the grade.” From a faculty perspective, the grade is the least important. The joy of student engagement and learning drives our work. We ended up in higher education for a reason—most of us see great value in the learning process.


June 16, 2014

The Secret of Self-Regulated Learning

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Self-regulated learning is like your own little secret. It stirs from within you, and is the voice in your head that asks you questions about your learning.

More formally, self-regulated learning is the conscious planning, monitoring, evaluation, and ultimately control of one’s learning in order to maximize it. It’s an ordered process that experts and seasoned learners like us practice automatically. It means being mindful, intentional, reflective, introspective, self-aware, self-controlled, and self-disciplined about learning, and it leads to becoming self-directed.


February 18, 2014

Student Motivation: Moving Beyond "Leading a Horse to Water"

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When it comes to student motivation, does the axiom, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” apply? Although I believe that, as instructors, we cannot force motivation and learning upon students, we do play a vital role regarding student motivation and a student’s ability to gain knowledge and proficiency in the subject matter.


January 13, 2014

Nine Strategies to Spark Adult Students’ Intrinsic Motivation

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Are you an instructor who struggles to change the mindset of your students? Do you find that the students’ first questions are about grades rather than the content of the course? Do you want your students to obtain good grades but realize that the grade is a result of a student who is engaged in the topic with passion, interest, and exuberance? It is this passion to learn that can be described as intrinsic motivation.


December 19, 2013

A Quiz Design that Motivates Students

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Many faculty members use quizzes to keep students prepared and present in class. The approach often tends to be punitive, however, motivating students by extrinsic means. Karen Braun and Drew Sellers, who teach beginning accounting courses, wanted to use quizzes in the usual ways—to get students coming to class having done the reading, to arrive in class on time, and to participate in class discussion, but they wanted their quizzes to be more about intrinsic motivation and less about assessment. How did they achieve that objective? They incorporated a number of “motivational” design features into their use of quizzes.