The Motivational Challenge!

Why do we need motivation?

In the days of our ancestors, expending ‘unnecessary’ energy not knowing where our next meal was coming from was fraught with danger. Today, this is why most of us can relate to the internal battle to resist taking the path of least resistance – we’re hard-wired to conserve energy.

Essentially, motivation is needed to help us overcome this inherent tendency to conserve energy. When we are successfully motivated to take action, our willpower simply outweighs our desire to remain comfortable and not exert energy.

Motivation: an increasing problem in today’s world

One could argue that as economic conditions change, we need more motivation to fulfil our aspirations and dreams. For example, gone are the days where you can walk into a desired job and be employed based on eagerness. Even a double-degree doesn`t guarantee a job!

Nowadays we are required to do much more to get ahead. Essentially, this is due to the ever increasing population stretching the demand for resources and quality of life. There’s more people and less resources to go around…

However, the irony is that today’s technology can save a lot of energy all at the touch of a button. So on one hand, this convenience may in fact reinforce our desire to take ‘short cuts’, all in a world where we’re required to expend more energy to get ahead!

The educational environment is no different. There are more students and teachers competing for their respective resources, whether it be for positions into Uni or within the school administrative hierarchy. For students, the demand to be entitled to various learning and career privileges is increasing, yet it’s self-evident that students have the same level of energy that they’ve always had.

Motivation: the key to learning

Studies have demonstrated that motivation is a critical requirement for learning; without motivation, learning and thus improvement stagnates. Here lies the battle teachers face with students in the classroom, how can the spark of motivation be ignited within a student?

According to studies by E. Deci, students who are motivated to learn have higher academic achievement and show better understanding of the concepts they are taught. It seems to be an easy solution; be motivated, and you will achieve. Ask any teacher and they will all concur that there is no easy answer when it comes to motivating students. Perhaps the solution as to how teachers motivate their students, lies within the definition of motivation itself. Motivation means having a reason for doing something. Could it be as simple as providing students with more reasons related to why they are learning the concept? Self Determination Theory lends itself to this very idea –  make it relevant.

Self Determination Theory

Self Determination Theory (SDT) is one of the most popular theories of motivation applied to education. The theory entails four requirements for students to be motivated:

Autonomy – the need to have some control over learning

Competence – the need to experience success in learning

Relatedness – the need to be connected to others while learning

Relevance – the need to see the links between learning with one’s own life so as to create meaning.

Scholars suggest that only one of the four requirements need to be present for students to be more academically motivated; although most would agree that there’s great scope for many of these facets to be satisfied.

Additionally, underpinning SDT theory is the concept of intrinsic motivation. This means initiating an activity for its own sake because it is interesting and satisfying in itself, as opposed to doing an activity to obtain an external goal (extrinsic motivation). Numerous studies have suggested that students are much more likely to feel long lasting motivation and succeed when fueled by an intrinsic motivation for learning.

Who’s Responsible for Motivation?

Teachers can’t be placed solely responsible for motivating students and nor can parents. The onus is also on the students. As opposed to simply ‘motivate the student’, the teacher’s role must be to provide an environment which helps students ignite the spark of motivation from within.

So motivation is not actively done to someone, it can only ever be encouraged.

Therefore, students need to make the relevant connections and be willing participants themselves to help improve their own motivation. It’s a two-pronged approach.

So from a teacher’s point of view, where does a teacher’s responsibility stop and a student’s start? Can a student who is seemly demotivated ever turn it around? What can students do themselves to ignite their own motivation for learning?

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