Motivating your Students
While students must ultimately motivate themselves to learn, faculty may employ strategies to create an environment that motivates learning, and may also design instruction in a way that stimulates, enhances, and sustains the motivation to learn. Thoughtful instructional designs and learning environments can be mutually reinforcing, leading to both increased class-meeting attendance and greater student motivation. Look through the tips below to see what strategies will work for you and your course.Create a welcoming classroom environment that fosters positive attitudes toward learning
Students are more likely to be motivated to learn when they perceive the content to be relevant to their needs, when they believe they are able to master the skills and knowledge, and when they experience satisfaction from learning the skill or knowledge (Keller 1987). Faculty members also should strive to create an in-class learning environment that is inclusive and respectful--i.e., a learning environment that does not detract from or discourage learning.
Create an Inclusive Class Environment
- Establish norms of mutual respect. Explicitly announce and model norms of participation and response.
- Provide opportunities for multicultural sharing to develop connections among students. Alternate between randomly-assigned and self-selected groups to encourage learning and networking.
- Communicate responsiveness to different student backgrounds. Ask students to talk or write about their experiences and respond in ways that show that you paid attention to what they said.
Cultivate Positive Attitudes towards Learning
- Communicate your enthusiasm for your subject. Tell students how you became interested in your subject and how your research interests developed.
- Relate learning goals to students’ experiences. Ask students to state learning objectives in terms of their own academic, professional, and personal goals (Keller 1987).
- Choose knowledge and skills that are worth learning and make relevance an explicit part of the learning process either by direct demonstration or having students determine relevance.
- Encourage students to be more independent in their learning. Set up a framework that shows students how to learn and progressively gives them more control over their learning.
Encourage Students to Strive Towards Mastery
- Expect your students to succeed and tell them so. Create tasks that are a challenge, but within their reach. Provide positive reinforcement towards tackling progressively difficult tasks.
- Encourage the building of a community, so that students support others’ attempts to learn. Make the classroom a safe place to be wrong and to take the risks necessary to learn deeply.
- Regularly assess student learning outcomes and provide constructive feedback about student progress. Recognize improvement, not just in terms of grades, but in terms of work output and mastery.
- Reinforce effort and time on task when progress is slow. Provide rewards for persistence until students reach levels of skill that are personally satisfying.
Make Class-Meetings Essential to Students' Learning
Class-meetings are more often motivating when they are events of real learning, rather than events in which students only take notes to prepare for future learning. Consider ways to structure class meetings so that students apply and engage the concepts of the course, and allow time to give feedback on students' application and understanding of course concepts. Students should also be held accountable for their participation in (and contributions to) the learning community of students.
Make Class Meetings Necessary for Student Success
- Incorporate active instructional methods into your course. For ideas, see Tips for Making Lectures More Active.
- Make participation in class-meeting activities a substantial part of the final grade.
- Avoid creating lectures that are condensed versions of the assigned reading. Instead, have students read part or all of the reading prior to class and use class time to work with concepts in an active way.
- Foster peer interdependence by devoting part of class to working in groups (assignments, problems, quizzes), and have students sign their completed group work prior to turning it in.
- Use a portion of class time to do things not easily accomplished in another way, such as instituting a daily or weekly Q&A time or having students work on their group projects.
Communicate a Rationale for Student Attendance at Class-Meetings
- Set the tone for the semester on the first day of class by explicitly stating why attendance is important.
- Emphasize the importance of attendance in your syllabus and include a policy on tardiness.
Articulate the Benefits of Attending and the Costs of Not Attending Class-Meetings
- Let students know what they will gain from attending class (e.g. material covered in class not available in other ways; practice in applying concepts; active involvement with course content; participation in collaborative activities; points for participation). Recent research shows that attendance is a better predictor of college grades than any other predictor of academic performance (Crede, et. al., 2010).
- Let students know what they will lose by not attending class (e.g. valuable information necessary to do well in the course; opportunities to learn from peers; chances to find out how well they understand material; practice for exams; points towards grades; opportunities to ask questions).
Make Students' Preparation for Class-Meetings Essential to Engage in Class-Meeting Activities
- Assess students individually or as groups (quiz, informal assessment, or group activity) at the start of class to ensure individual class-meeting preparation.
- Avoid reviewing pre-class reading or problems before assessing students for their preparation through some kind of activity (quiz, individual or group activity). If students believe you will cover what was important in the reading during lecture, then they have no reason to do the reading themselves. Make it clear that class time will be used to work with and not review the material.
- Have students undertake activities during class that depend on students' individual preparation for the class-meeting.
- Devote part of class to working in groups (assignments, problems, quizzes), and have students sign their completed group work prior to turning it in.
Guide Students' Preparation for Class-Meetings
- Create guiding questions (reading or study questions) for students to consider before class meetings (Bandura 1977; Dweck 1986). These will help students focus their attention on what is most important. Other possibilities would be to ask students to record their thoughts and reactions to assignments, write potential test questions over assigned reading material, or think about how something they read could be applied to their own lives (Weimer 2010).
- Give students tasks to accomplish as they read. Give students an empty or partially completed outline or matrix to complete. Have students take notes on “survival cards,” or 3x5 cards that they turn in to you on the day the reading assignment is due. Return the cards for use on the day of a quiz or exam. Ask students to write potential test questions based on the reading. Have students compose a summary (or abstract) and/or reflection of the reading that highlights how the reading expands upon what they have learned.
- Be sure to hold students accountable for pre-class preparation; assess your students frequently during class. At the beginning of class, give students a quiz, group assignment, or discussion question that cannot be undertaken without pre-class preparation. Incorporate Classroom Assessment Techniques to assess student preparation and current understanding (Cross and Angelo, 1993).
Connect with Your Students
- Learn students’ names and something about them. Meet with them individually, if possible. Get your office hours out of the office---invite students to meet you somewhere neutral, like a cafeteria or campus coffee shop.
- Provide incentives for students to visit during office hours, communicate with you via email, and/or participate in online discussion forums.
- Post course materials online or hand out a detailed activity plan to provide students who have to miss class the feeling that they can keep up. Provide alternatives for students with legitimate reasons for missing class to make up work.
- Send an email message to those students whose attendance is lagging. Show your concern and ask them to get in touch. If it is early in the semester and your student has not been attending regularly (even if it has yet to affect his/her grade), use the IUPUI Early Warning System.
- Students want to learn. Students want to be successful. Students want to enjoy the process.
Ginsberg, M. B. & Wlodkowski, R. J. (2009). Diversity and motivation: Culturally responsive teaching in college. (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schunk, D. H., Pintrich, P.R., & Meece, J. (2007). Motivation in education: Theory, research, and application. (3rd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill Prentice-Hall.
Svinicki, M. D. (2004). Learning and motivation in the postsecondary classroom. Bolton, MA: Anker.
Wlodkowski, R. J. (2008). Enhancing adult motivation to learn: A comprehensive guide for teaching all adults. (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C. & Norman, M. K. (2010). What factors motivate students to learn? (p. 66-90). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques (2nd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 195-215.
Crede, M., Roche, S. G., & Kieszczynka, U. M. (2010). Class attendance in college: a meta-analytic review of the relationship of class attendance with grades and student characteristics. Review of Educational Research. 80(2), p. 272-295.
Davis, B. G. (2009). Motivating students. (p. 278-289). Tools for Teaching. (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dweck, C. S. (1986). Motivational processes affecting learning. American Psychologist, 41(10), 1040-1048.
Brophy, J. E. (2010). Motivating students to learn. (3rd ed.) New York: Routledge.
Hofer, B. K. (2010). Motivation in the college classroom. (p. 140-150). In Svinicki & McKeachie (Eds.), McKeachie's teaching tips : Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. (13th ed.). Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.
Keller, J. M. (1987). Development and use of the ARCS Model of instructional design, Journal of instructional Development, 10(3), 2-10.
Svinicki, M. D. (2005). Student goal orientation, motivation, and learning. Idea Paper No. 41. Retrieved from: http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_41.pdf
Weimer, M. (2010). 11 strategies for getting students to read what’s assigned. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/11-strategies-for-getting-students-to-read-whats-assigned/
Authored by CTL Staff (July, 2001)
Revised by Sarah Lang (August, 2011)
Revised by Doug Jerolimov (April, 2016)