To be clear, motivation is an important element of learning. We cannot make students learn. We cannot learn for them. Learning is a self-constructed process that depends on a degree of intentionality (Wigfield & Wagner, 2005). Motivation, commonly defined as the presence of interest, readiness, and inclination to learn, is a necessary element for engaging in the learning process.
For learning to occur students must be motivated. It is also true that we play an important role in influencing the level and direction of the motivation of our students.
On the other hand, if our attention and efforts related to motivation stop at our attempts to motivate our students, we risk missing an important and powerful aspect of this influential driver of learning. While our efforts to stimulate student interest and readiness for learning are often necessary at the beginning, if we assume full responsibility for stimulating student motivation, we can leave them dependent on us to get ready to learn.
Of course, students may not always be naturally motivated to learn what is scheduled and expected in the formal academic curriculum. Finding ways to convince students to engage in learning on demand in response to a lesson that holds limited intrinsic attraction often depends on our ability and efforts to stimulate their motivation.
Yet, our goal needs to stretch beyond our motivating students to nurturing in them the skills and strategies to motivate themselves. When we instill in learners the ability to generate and direct their motivation, we give them a gift that opens a world of potential learning and success. As long as students see motivation as something we are supposed to create for or generate in them, they will remain dependent on us. We risk leaving them unprepared for a world in which they can ill afford to depend on others to stimulate and direct their motivation for learning.
We can start the journey of transforming students into self-motivated learners by helping them see that motivation is a choice. Certainly, at times motivation comes easily. When we encounter something that is inherently interesting, becoming motivated is easy to choose. However, we also can choose to find something interesting or engaging about issues and tasks that are less inherently compelling. As examples, by connecting a less compelling learning task to an important goal we can transform our perspective from reluctance to commitment. Additionally, we might engage a friend or colleague to learn with us and transform what may have seemed like drudgery to a pleasant social experience.
Many, if not most, students do not realize or appreciate the power they possess to motivate themselves. Fortunately, self-motivation like other skills can be taught. However, it requires our commitment and support to nurture and support its development and application. Here are some places to start:
• Coach students to set and pursue learning goals beyond those you present.
• Encourage students to ask questions about and look for connections with new learning tasks.
• Encourage and stimulate student curiosity in diverse areas.
• Provide students with choices about how they engage in learning tasks.
• Offer students options regarding with whom they will engage in learning tasks.
• Coach students to explore why they find some tasks inherently more interesting and how they can transfer or leverage that interest to a broader array of activities.
• Remind students of their power to make choices about their motivation, regardless of circumstance or challenge.
Wigfield, A. & Wagner, A. L. (2005) Competence, motivation, and identity development during adolescence. In A. Elliott & C. S. Dweck (Eds.), Handbook of competence and motivation. (pp. 222-239). New York, NY: Gilford Publications.