The Roots of Motivation
Why do some students, when faced with a challenging assignment, work hard to complete every aspect of the task, whereas other students quit early without devoting much effort. Why do some students persist on tasks while others give up? What motivates students to want to learn? What are the roots of students' motivation to learn? These are the kinds of questions that we explore in this chapter. In particular, we examine four possible answers to questions about what motivates students to work hard:
Motivation is based on interest: Students work hard when they value what they are learning; that is, when what they are learning is important to them.
Motivation is based on self-efficacy: Students work hard when they perceive themselves as capable of doing well; that is, when they have confidence in their capabilities for a learning task.
Motivation is based on attribution: Students work hard when they believe that their efforts will payoff; that is, when they attribute their successes and failures to personal effort.
Motivation is based on achievement goals: Students work hard when their goal is to understand the material, which can be called having a mastery goal orientation.
These four views of motivation are summarized in the table below, along with instructional implications. As you can see, each answer assumes that a student's motivation to learn in school is based on how the student interprets the learning situation. The motivation to learn may depend on how the student thinks about the personal relevance of the material, about his or her own competence, about whether hard work leads to success, and about whether his or her goal is to understand the material.
In a recent review Pintrich (2003a, p. 671) asked, "What motivates students in classrooms?" Fortunately for us, this question has been the focus of extensive scientific research (Pintrich, 2003a, 2003b). As you can see in the table below, the four answers are not mutually exclusive; that is, they tend to complement one another. Pintrich (2003b) argues that the four views in the table below form an expectancy-value model in which motivation depends on the learner's expectancies (e.g., efficacy beliefs and attributional beliefs) and on the learner's values (e.g., interest and goal orientation). Values get you started (such as liking the material) and expectancies keep you going (such as expecting that hard work will help you learn).
If you are interested in promoting meaningful learning, you must also be interested in priming the learner's motivation to learn. When students are motivated to learn, they try harder to understand the material and thereby learn more deeply, resulting in better ability to transfer what they have learned to new situations. In particular, I focus on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. When the learner's motivation is intrinsic, it comes from within the learner. When motivation is extrinsic, it is imposed on the learner from the outside, such as through external rewards and punishments.
|Interest theory||Students learn better when they are interested in the material.||I work hard because I value this; it is important to me.||Embed lessons within the context of larger projects that personally interest students. Display and model interest in the material.|
|Self-efficacy theory||Students learn better when they see themselves as competent for the task.||I work hard because I am good at this; I am capable of doing this.||Ask peers to model appropriate learning, along with positive efficacy cues such as "I can do this." Provide feedback designed to build comprehension and self-efficacy; design challenging tasks that offer opportunities for success.|
|Students learn better when they attribute academic successes and failure to effort during learning.||I work hard because I know my effort will pay off. If I fail, it's because I didn't try hard enough.||Avoid condescending cues, such as pity and sympathy when a student fails. Allow the learner to have some control during learning. Provide feedback that emphasizes effort.|
|Goal orientation theory||Students learn better when they want to understand the material.||I work hard because my goal is to learn as well as I can.||Discuss the value of understanding the material; reward progress toward understanding the material.|
Adapted from Pintrich (2003b).
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