How to encourage motivation in your students

We know that motivation is an important tool in helping students to achieve more. When combined with other self-management abilities like planning and organising work, motivation is a bigger predictor of grades than IQ. So how can you encourage this in your students? Dan Belenky,...

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We know that motivation is an important tool in helping students to achieve more. When combined with other self-management abilities like planning and organising work, motivation is a bigger predictor of grades than IQ. So how can you encourage this in your students? Dan Belenky, Director of Learning Science Research at Pearson shares some strategies.

Frequently, people think of motivation as something either present or absent. “Jo is a motivated student, but Ali isn’t.” However, academic research on motivation has revealed that a more productive question to focus on is, “What factors are motivating this person’s behaviours right now?” With this lens, we don’t focus as much on whether or not a person is motivated, we focus on whether the motivation a person is experiencing is appropriate for goals they are pursuing, and the environment.

As learning is increasingly happening in online environments, independently driven, and over the course of the lifetime, this kind of lens becomes even more critical. As we move from thinking of motivation as “the fuel” of behaviour to considering it as a tool to effectively “steer and accelerate” towards your goals, the following strategies will give you ideas on how to better support different aspects of motivation to lead to improved learning outcomes.

  1. A growth mindset will help students if they hit a bump in the road.
  2. A student’s motivation is more likely to increase if they gauge their progress by looking at their own improvements, rather than by comparing themselves to others.
  3. You should encourage mastery goals as a general approach and think strategically about places where performance goals can be used effectively.
  4. It is important to have a classroom oriented more around progress than markers of performance (like scores).
  5. Help students see that it’s worth the effort.
  6. Carefully balance external rewards with activities that increase internal motivation.

Read our full guide ‘How to motivate your students’ for an explanation of each of these strategies and more ideas on how to better support different aspects of motivation to lead to improved learning outcomes.

About the author

Dan Belenky is Director of Learning Science Research at Pearson. Prior to joining Pearson, he was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Dan earned his PhD in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied how student motivation interacts with (and is impacted by) innovative instructional methods. His current research projects explore how insights from cognitive psychology and behavioural science can be used to improve learner outcomes, at scale.

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