13 Engagement

Did you know that students are more likely to learn if they are motivated to do so? It seems obvious, but when we build motivating factors into our courses they help students to learn more deeply. It also helps them to engage and keep up their performance when they are faced with shifting priorities and expectations from the other parts of their lives. 

In the context of learning, motivation influences the direction, persistence, and quality of the learning behaviours in which students engage… As students enter college and gain greater autonomy over what, when, and how they study and learn, motivation plays a crucial role in guiding their behaviours. In addition, because there are many competing goals that vie for their attention, time, and energy, it is crucial to understand what may increase or decrease students’ motivations to pursue specific goals related to learning.

Susan A. Ambrose, 2010

Often, when we think about student motivations, we think about extrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivation is the external rewards that you receive. Daniel Pink calls these “if/then” rewards. Some of the extrinsic motivators of education are credentialization, bonus points and good grades. These drive students to complete tasks that they may not otherwise want to, but they do not foster a love of learning or a love of a particular discipline.


Learning science suggests that extrinsic motivations are useful in the short term, but are ineffective in the long term. In fact, if we rely too heavily on extrinsic motivations, some students will lose their intrinsic motivation and actually lose interest in a topic they once loved. Intrinsic motivations are incentives to do something because you anticipate you will enjoy the activity on its own terms. It is not about an external benefit but instead is about enjoying the moment and getting lost in the work. Many of us choose to become academics because of our intrinsic love of our subject matter— we get totally caught up in the nuances of our discipline because the discipline itself excites us.


This is why intrinsic motivations are important to consider when building your course. Intrinsic motivation can also be linked to mastery. When students are internally driven to do something because they really see the value in it, then they are far more likely to put effort into achieving mastery.


Watch this short video to learn more about motivation:

Video: “Daniel Pink – Motivation” can be found online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZySf0NQUP0


Here is a variety of teaching approaches that support student well being and increase their intrinsic motivation: http://unistudentwellbeing.edu.au/teaching-practice/support/



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