What Motivates You to Learn?

What kind of carrots do you need to motivate yourself to learn?My first touch of how motivation is related to learning is from my last university year when I was completing teacher’s pedagogical studies and was in teaching practice. The guiding teacher of the practising school had a paper where I had to plan the lesson and also write down my ideas about motivating the pupils.

I never really knew what to write except “the pupil learns the instructed issue”. Retrospectively, it’s too bad that the issue wasn’t given more attention, let alone tools to motivate the pupils. I thought back then that it’s almost impossible to try to motivate a youngster who doesn’t like math. But that’s not at all true.

In my last blog post I introduced my ideas about how to teach ICT skills. Now I’m going to dig into the meaning of motivation in learning and also dive a bit into gamification. During my years of teaching adult learners I’ve been very satisfied with their motivation, because each of them has come to my course voluntarily. This isn’t however always the case. Sometimes one comes to training because there are no other options. A while back I was teaching a poorly motivated group of employees. Afterwards I started thinking about my role as a teacher and what defines a good teacher from excellent one.

It has been discovered in several studies that motivation has a great significance in learning (for example, see Boekaerts 2002). There are a lot of different motivation theories, but roughly motivation can be divided into intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsically motivated student studies in order to get a (good) grade, graduate from school, get into the desired university or college or gain her parents’ approval. In other words, she’s reaching for some sort of extrinsic reward. Intrinsically motivated learner is truly interested in the subject and wants to learn despite the extrinsic rewards. When motivation is intrinsic, learning is more efficient. For example, intrinsically motivated learners give up less than learners motivated by extrinsic rewards. Motivation thus has an important role in learning results. How to motivate learners so that they gain better learning results?

A parenting program where a “super nanny” comes to help the family with problematic offspring has run in the Finnish television for a few years now. Almost every time the solution to the family’s problems is gamification! Some sort of bonus system is developed for the child: she can have a scoreboard from which she can follow her progression or she can have a simple reward system, like a new pearl in the jar for every attempt or success. In addition the child gets feedback and the entire family participates in the gamification of parenting. Sometimes the child gets a surprise reward when she’s done especially well. In the gaming world all these methods (and many more) are in use: progress, missions, credit, feedback, surprise, people and engagement. If all of these were used in teaching, would it increase motivation and intensify learning? At least for the children in the program the method works surprisingly well.

In primary school such game-like methods are for sure being used, but for older pupils and learners the methods could be used more often. The challenge is how to figure out a way to motivate all learners. If I develop a game where in the end of the course the winner receives a book as a reward, it will surely motivate only those who really want the book. One learner may be motivated by public acknowledgement as for others that kind of a reward may be terrifying. After all, there still is a lot of room for development in understanding motivation factors and gamifying teaching. What motivates you to learn?

In my next blog post I’ll discuss more about how different students and learners can be motivated.

Anu Nevalainen

Positive things happen to positive people.