Academic Technology Center
Teaching with Technology Collaboratory

Motivating Your Students

Teaching Goal

To increase the degree to which students are motivated to achieve established course objectives.

Benefits of Addressing

Considerable research indicates that students who are highly motivated...

Methods for Addressing

1. Gain students' attention

Primary Techniques Example
Clearly articulate your goals, objectives and expectations for the course.

When students understand what is expected of them, they have a clear focus of what they must do in order to achieve success.

Post your syllabus online and make your goals and objectives clear to students. You might also consider writing objectives for each class meeting so that students know what they should be taking away from a specific class.

Clearly articulate how content being taught in the course will have practical application for students after the course ends.

Students are more motivated to learn when they see that the content will be applicable to their life after the class ends. This is particularly true of adult learners (Caffarella, 1983; Kasworm, 1983; Knowles, 1970; Lindquist, 1975).

Using video to capture skills being practiced by professionals in work settings will make student learning more concrete, and will lead to greater retention.

Using videoconferencing or discussion boards to enable an expert from the field to participate in your class in some way is also an effective way to accomplish this.

Vary your teaching methods so that lecture is interspersed with the use of visuals, group activities, role playing, multimedia demonstrations, games, online activities, and other instructional techniques.

The use of a single mode of instruction, such as lecture, PowerPoint, or group discussion, often leads to complacency and boredom in the classroom. By varying the methods you use each class meeting, students will be more engaged (Forsyth & McMillan, 1991; Tomlinson, 1999).

In addition, using technology has been shown to increase student interest and motivation. Integrating the Internet, CPS ("clickers"), audio, video, images, charts, graphs and other visual and active stimuli into your instruction will increase student motivation.

Start each class with a thought question related to the practical application of the content being examined.

Use the discussion boards in myWPI to pose questions to students before a class session begins. Their responses will assist you with directing the in-class conversation, with judging students' prior knowledge, and with grounding the content of the class in a practical context.

The Classroom Performance System (CPS) is a great way to gauge student opinions in a class. Learn how to use the CPS.

Provide your students with a sense of ownership over their learning, including how they will demonstrate their learning.

When students are involved in the design of their instruction and the means by which they will be assessed, they are much more motivated to complete high-quality work (Hom & Murphy, 1983).

Require your students to write a Learning Contract that includes goals, objectives, assignments, and even the means by which they will demonstrate learning. The breadth of technologies now available enables students to demonstrate learning in many different ways, including text, digital presentations, discussion boards, images, charts & graphs, etc. Such choice, as provided through a learning contract, provides students with a sense of ownership over their learning, which has been shown to increase both motivation and learning (Ames & Ames, 1990; Davis, 1993; Knowles, 1986; Newcomb & Warmbrod, 1974).

Learning Contracts, which are especially effective with adult learners (Caffarella, 1983; Kasworm, 1983; Lindquist, 1975), are usually designed by the student in consultation with the faculty member early in a semester. This can take place using email, the reviewing tools in a word processing application, or through discussion boards in myWPI. View a sample learning contract (PDF).

Learn more about Learning Contracts.

Show personal interest in the success of each of your students.

When a student feels their instructor cares about their success in the class, they have a greater propensity to work hard and succeed. A positive rapport between instructor and student can result in higher levels of motivation and performance (Davis, 1993).

Personal emails and positively quoting or referring to a student's work to the entire class via a discussion board are particularly effective techniques.

Be enthusiastic about the subject matter you are teaching.

An instructor who shows enthusiasm about their subject matter more readily retains student interest (Atkinson, 2000).

The use of different instructional methods, including technology, demonstrates to students that you are invested in both the course and in their learning.

2. Demonstrate the relevance of learning the content

Primary Techniques Example
Identify and demonstrate practical applications of the content.

Conduct virtual field trips to locations in which the skills being taught are practiced.

Use video to capture short demonstrations of skills being practiced in the workplace.

Use video or web conferencing to connect students in real-time with experts in the field.

Invite experts in the field to participate in asynchronous discussion board conversation, enabling students to collaborate with practitioners.

Explicitly state the current value of the content.

When students are aware of the immediate importance of certain content, they are much more likely to focus their energies on understanding the material (Keller, 1987).

Students should be made aware of the class-level importance of content being taught - that it will appear on a test, be used as part of a laboratory, is a step in a safety procedure, etc. Use analogies to relate new learning to prior knowledge learners already possess. The activation of prior learning is an important step in enabling students to understand new learning. Draw connections between what students have already studied to the new content, enabling students to leverage their prior learning more fully.

Though verbal cues are effective at stimulating prior learning, concept maps, models, charts, diagrams, videos, and other visual stimuli assist students in recalling prior learning much more effectively.

Adult learners especially benefit from the activation of prior learning, particularly if the prior learning relates specifically to their occupation (Belzer, 2004; Knowles, 1970). As adults make up the great majority of online learners at this time, this point is of particular importance to online instructors.

Relate the content to learner interests.

Students are naturally more motivated to learn about subjects and content of personal interest to them (Lepper & Cordova, 1992). By understanding the interests of your students, who will be better able to relate to them the connections between the content you are teaching and their interests.

Using myWPI, you might ask students to...

  • Answer several questions about themselves and their interests using a discussion board;
  • Create a student homepage about themselves;
  • Actively participate in an ongoing water cooler discussion board.
Leverage a student's intrinsic motivation whenever possible.

Students who are intrinsically motivated use more logical information-gathering and decision-making strategies (Condry & Chambers, 1978), as well as strategies that enable them to process information more deeply (Lepper, 1988) than those who are extrinsically motivated.

Technology can assist you with leveraging intrinsic motivation by providing visual representations that illustrate the many practical applications of subject matter. Video, images, simulations, and virtual field trips demonstrate for students the myriad ways content is relevant to their unique interests.

3. Instill confidence in your students that they will be able to learn the content

Primary Techniques Example
Provide encouraging feedback to all students on an individual basis.

Tuckman & Sexton (1991) found that providing encouraging feedback to students led to higher levels of both self-efficacy and motivation.

Emailing encouragement, displaying or quoting student work to the rest of the class, and empowering students to facilitate discussion board conversations with the entire class are great ways to tell a student they are doing a good job.

Provide informational feedback to students who have expressed doubt in their ability to successfully learn the material

Tuckman & Sexton (1991) found that providing informational feedback to students with low self-efficacy resulted in markedly higher task engagement thereafter.

Cashin (1979) also found that providing very specific negative feedback has more positive results than providing negative feedback that lacks a focus.

Sequence instruction in increasing levels of difficulty so that new learning becomes progressively more difficult and is always based on prior learning.

Increasing the difficulty of course material as a semester progresses enables students to develop confidence in their ability to master the subject matter (Cashin, 1979).

Visually displaying how content learned in the early weeks of a term connects with more difficult material covered late in the term is effective at accomplishing this. The use of concept maps is especially effective at this. View a handout of sample concept maps (PDF).

Concept maps are easily created using commonly available software packages such as Microsoft Visio and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Empower students in ways that enable them to attribute success to themselves, not the instructor.

When students attribute success to themselves, not an external force such as an instructor, they develop greater confidence in their abilities and become more motivated to succeed (Cashin, 1979; Lucas, 1990; Weiner, 1974, 1980, 1986).

To do this, provide positive feedback to students via email, display or quote their work to the rest of the class, and empower them to facilitate discussion board conversations with the entire class.

Use participant modeling as a means of demonstrating skills and the application of content.

Newman and Tuckman (1997) determined that participant modeling had a positive effect on both self-efficacy and the value students placed on specific tasks and subject matter.

Use video or Camtasia to capture yourself demonstrating the skills you teach in a practical setting.

4. Provide students with a sense of satisfaction after learning the content

Primary Techniques Example
Employ both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards systems.

Extrinsic rewards, such as grades, are effective at motivating students to a certain degree. Intrinsic motivation, however, is a much more powerful instrument if it can be leveraged effectively (Keller, 1987; Lepper & Cordova, 1992).

To tap into intrinsic motivation, provide students with practical examples of how the content you want them to learn relates to their interests and will be of value to them in their chosen profession. Images, video clips, and other media that help to visually illustrate these points are especially effective, as are virtual field trips that demonstrate practical applications of their learning.

Provide timely praise, feedback and personal attention.

The provision of praise, feedback, and personal attention is certainly important, as is the timeframe in which it is provided. After a student has completed an assignment, taken an exam, or posted a comment to a discussion board for review, feedback should be returned in a timely fashion.

Waiting too long to provide feedback often gives students the impression that their work or comments were not of high quality, lessening their level of motivation.

When using discussion boards in myWPI, when to respond to a student posting can be difficult to identify. Much learning that takes place in such venues occurs between students. To that end, an instructor might want to wait until students have had ample enough time to respond to one another before posting a response.

Read more about how to improve your use of discussion boards.

Require students to apply newly learned skills/knowledge in practical settings. When students are able to apply their learning outside the classroom they are able to make more clear value judgments about the content in question. If students see positive results in the practical application of the content, they will be more motivated to learn more about the subject.


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Last modified: Mar 31, 2009, 07:41 EDT
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