Another important aspect of learning is the motivation
to learn. Research in the last decade reinforces
what many faculty have always suspected: motivation is
created by more than just the desire for rewards. Motivation
is also shaped by expectancy (what we believe we can
accomplish) and value (what we think is important). Expectancy
is based on self-perception. Some students fear success
while others fear failure. Success often leads to greater
expectations (read responsibility) and failure may lead
people to question their intelligence or self-worth.
Those who are motivated to succeed will often respond
well to tasks were they believe they have a 50% or better
chance of success. While those who fear failure need
a far higher guarantee of success. Those who fear failure
may appear indifferent, choose extremely easy tasks,
or even pick tasks that are so difficult that failure
is ensured (in that situation they can blame the external
challenge, rather than take personal responsibility).
Youth culture often reinforces the view that it is better
to appear lazy than stupid, further reducing the appearance
Often students believe that their ability to succeed or
fail in a task is fixed (I've never been good at math and
I never will be). Faculty often assert that effort is the
key to success. Others may attribute success to task difficulty
or even luck. Yet, if students lack motivation (read the
perception they are able to learn) and lack the ability
(read sufficient information) to believe the learning is
valuable their lack of motivation is not caused by some
external factor, but instead by their belief system.
How can we help students understand their belief system
and take joyful (or at least willing) responsibility for
Give an anonymous survey to learn more about your students.
Ask them the following and give them time to think through
their responses. Be sure they understand that you want
information about their interests so that you will be able
to help facilitate their learning. You might even wish
to explain the notion of facilitating learning so they
understand that both of you are engaged in their learning
- What do you value about this course?
- Aside from grades what will help you to feel a sense
of accomplishment by the conclusion of this course?
- What about this subject do you most enjoy?
- How will this class help you to meet other goals you
- What are you sacrificing to make time for this course?
After reviewing the findings at your leisure, think about
inserting comments into your course which will help to
enhance student's confidence, sense of accomplishment,
and value of learning the material.
For more on this topic see K. Patricia Cross, "Motivation:
Er...Will That Be on the Test?" The Cross Papers,
Number 5, League for Innovation in the Community Colleges,