Motivation in Learning & Instruction

Motivation is something I have often thought about since beginning my career as student and educator. What motived me to stay up late to finish a paper; social pressure, fear of negative consequences, desire for a good grade, a high value placed on schoolwork, or a confidence that staying up late would produce a good result? Why would one of my students spend so much time and energy on a project while the others forgot about it? While motivating students was something I regularly sought to do, mostly through engaging, relevant lessons,  and positive affirmation; it was not something I can say that I systematically embedded within the design of each unit of instruction. The flexibility the ARCS model affords by easily paralleling and combining with countless instructional design models is a remarkable strength (Cheng & Yeh, 2009). Motivation may not  be included as an instructional objective, but it should be considered alongside all instruction with corresponding outcomes.

Pintrich’s (2002) three part definition helped me to realize that motivation is far more complex than I was led to believe. Like learning, it can be viewed from multiple perspectives such as cognitive or behaviorist. Others even define is as characteristic someone inherently posseses much like the debate of nature vs. nurture. The perspective one espouses would then contribute to the theory of motivation they feel explains the phenomena the best. However, the various theories such as need theories and self-determination theory are not confined by a single ontological argument (Cheng & Yeh, 2009).

Motivation of graduate student and work being accomplished. http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=124

The expectancy * value theory is one that simply yet profoundly suggests reasons why a persons chooses to persist and exude effort on a task or toward a goal. For example, consider the gruesome PhD process illustrated above. The week begins with a fantasy of how much work will be accomplished and ends with guilt over how little was accomplished. Expectancy was low at the beginning of the week and finshed just as low. So much was assigned, and the student felt it was impossible to complete the tasks. However, the work peaks midweek for the meeting with the advisor. It may not be that the student felt anymore confident in what was being accomplished but valued their life as a PhD student, the potential to make progress, the advisor’s time, and the overarching knowledge that every successful meeting with the advisor is one step closer to the prized achievement. Value was high, and the effort soared! Work plummets after the meeting which leads to the need to go where everybody knows your name and be reminded that there are people who believe you can succeed.

This simple comic shows the reciprical relationship many have studied between motivation and learning and performance. “When students attain learning goals, goal attainment conveys to them that they possess the requisite capabilities for learning. These beliefs motivate them to set new, challenging goals. Students who are motivated to learn often find that once they do, they are intrinsically motivated to continue their learning (Meece as cited in Pintrich, 2002, pg. 6).” This is encouraging though, because if it is true, this means we can choose which side of the relationship is easier to target, learning or motivation. Conversely, if we design for both, we may hope to at least achieve one.

Knowing that little will be accomplished when the product of expectancy and value is zero augments the need for motivation within the design of instruction. If either value of expectancy reaches zero, the properties of multiplication demand that no effort will be put forth by the learner. In my experience, it has been more difficult to get students to increase their value of learning, and I have focused on increasing their self-efficacy and confidence. Following the ARCS model or Howland’s framework for meaningful learning can both aid in guiding students to see the value in the learning process and outcome (Keller, 1983; Howland, Jonassen, & Marra, 2011).

Cheng, Y. C., & Yeh, H. T. (2009). From concepts of motivation to its application in instructional design: Reconsidering motivation from an instructional design perspective. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(4), 597–605. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00857.x
Howland, J. L., Jonassen, D., & Marra, R. M. (2011). Meaningful Learning with Technology. Pearson Education Inc.
Keller, J. (1983). Motivational design of instruction.
Pintrich. (2002). Motivation: Introduction and historical foundations.

4 thoughts on “Motivation in Learning & Instruction

  1. Hi, Jake! I truly enjoyed your well-written, thoughtful blog post, and I could see myself reflected in your statements at many times—often nodding my head along with you.

    You stated, “Why would one of my students spend so much time and energy on a project while the others forgot about it? While motivating students was something I regularly sought to do, mostly through engaging, relevant lessons, and positive affirmation; it was not something I can say that I systematically embedded within the design of each unit of instruction.” Your opening question is something I’ve often wondered myself, especially this past year, which was my first year teaching Honors students. Their differing personalities and consistent feedback about what was working and what wasn’t really made me consider motivation and ultimately lead me here. I, too, regularly seek to motivate my students, but it wasn’t systematic for me, either. I feel good enough already after one week of this class to make considering my students’ motivational needs more systematic in the future, though.

    I also really enjoyed the cartoon you posted: it totally relates to many’s experiences both as students and teachers. I’m currently in the “fantasy” stage, where I’m imagining all of the wonderful changes I’m going to make so next year is the best yet, but as the year goes on, that motivation and positive energy wanes. Perhaps our administrators should take this class to help us get through the second- and third-quarter slump!

  2. Hi there, Jake! Richard here…from the SU class. I liked reading your text connections and opinions (and your graphic at the top of the page). In your fourth paragraph, do you begin to tough on a “which comes first” discussion? Does motivation derive from learning/attainment of goals? Or does motivation prompt learning? I have not yet read Meece or Pintrich, perhaps they address this? This discussion outcome could help us arrive at more efficient planning for design?

    1. Hello Richard! Thanks for visiting. Pintrich does touch on this a little and believes they are reciprical. Attaining a goal, as the ARCS model explains, relates to satisfaction and can motivate on to continue learning. However, learning that is relevant can be intrinsically motivating. They work together harmoniously, or so it should be in well designed motivational instruction.

  3. The comic reminded me of just why I scheduled those meetings (every 2 wks) with my dissertation chair. 😉

    I too tend to be reflective about what gets me excited…. and learning about motivation reminds me that not everyone finds doing Math Problem sets fun.

    So I want to comment on one thing you mentioned “Motivation may not be included as an instructional objective, but it should be considered alongside all instruction with corresponding outcomes.” When I first started teaching this course I had people write motivation objectives. They can be included as some of your instructional objectives, and they also can be more difficult to determine how you will measure whether you’ve succeeded.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s