Why is motivation so important for learning success?

Why is motivation so important for learning success?

Any analysis of student achievement, in order to guide strategies for improvement, must include an examination of what drives behavior- motivation. Why is motivation so important for learning success? It is the “key to persistence and to learning that lasts. The challenge is to help each person clarify his or her important purposes and then to find, or create, the combination of educational experiences that lead to those desired outcomes” (Chickering and Kuh, 2005, p. 1).

Student motivation both typically and naturally has to do with the student’s desire to participate in the learning process. Motivation reflects the reasons or goals that underlie their involvement or non involvement in academic activities (Lumsden, 1994). Greater initiative, tenacity, and self-discipline are needed to take courses in the online environment than in the traditional classroom (Mandernach, et al., 2006).

A student who is intrinsically motivated undertakes an activity “for its own sake, for the enjoyment it provides, the learning it permits, or the feelings of accomplishment it evokes” (Lepper, 1988, p. 290).

Conversely, an extrinsically motivated student performs and strives to succeed “in order to obtain some reward or avoid some punishment external to the activity itself,” such as grades or teacher approval (Lepper, 1988, p. 290). For example, some students are motivated more by the goal of the certificate than the education; some may be motivated by the promotion that follows the certificate; still others by the prestige in the eyes of their family and friends. Although students may be equally motivated to perform a task, the sources of their motivation may differ. As teachers we must find these differences and, subsequently, the differing motivators. We must determine if they are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, or a combination thereof

Goal Orientation Motivation derives from a variety of forces. It is dynamic, highly subject to change, and a major factor in readiness and desire to learn. Students choose to exert a specific type and level of effort, and their reasons are as diverse as their attitudes and abilities. Students may be equally motivated to perform a task, yet the sources of their motivation may differ. Teachers must recognize, monitor, and attempt to influence those factors that motivate students.

Among the motivation-related concepts examined was achievement goal orientation (Dweck, 1986). Dweck proposed that students who possess intrinsic (or mastery) orientation long for new skills and knowledge. They find satisfaction in the innate rewards of learning. This attitude guides their achievement behavior, which emphasizes contextualized learning. Intrinsically or mastery oriented students engage with the content, their peers, and faculty, netting a longer retention span
and a greater ability to use what they learn. Such students are independent, lifelong learners (Chasteuneuf, 2006).

In contrast, students with extrinsic (or performance) orientation concern themselves with achievement chiefly in relation to their peers (Vansteenkiste and Lens, 2006). They use rote memorization and study for immediate gain according to what they expect to see on a test. These behaviors may be observed in students enrolled in introductory-level courses or general education requirements. Such learning carries a brief life expectancy and is superficial (Ames, 1990). Extrinsically motivated students are seeking benefits such as grades, positive feedback or other indicators of teacher approval. Many such students openly disclose the incentives that motivate their efforts, such as maintaining a grade average to preserve financial aid, fulfilling exam requirements, improving career prospects, or winning the approval of significant others.

Another individual variable relates to perception of one’s ability to learn subject matter successfully. Self-efficacy, as described by Bandura (1986), refers to one’s sense of ability to succeed at a given task to a specified level. Self-efficacy is a task-specific quality; a student may be a talented and confident pianist (and therefore enjoy a sense of self-efficacy at piano-playing), yet be painfully aware of low achievement in a history class (and will feel inefficacious there as a result).
Students who perceive themselves as limited in capability lack the confidence, energy and motivation that successful study efforts bring. Their achievement behavior is limited. They regulate themselves away from attempting a rigorous academic effort because, based on experience, they do not “see” it happening (Ames, 1990). needs and purposes. In a course that fosters commitment and motivation to learn, students can thrive.

Of all the situational variables affecting student motivation, perhaps none exerts such a strong and pervasive effect as staff attitudes and behavior.

Communication such as giving feedback on performance constitutes a prime opportunity either to enhance motivation or decimate it. Receiving feedback or a grade on performance creates a high-stakes situation for students, for they take it very personally, and not only in the academic sense. Their self-esteem and self-efficacy are affected; they either find themselves on solid footing or in quicksand. Therefore, the manner in which feedback is delivered, is of paramount importance.

Additional strategies to enhance motivation include guiding students toward their own discoveries of facts and relationships. Self-esteem grows when students realize success in acquiring, storing, and retrieving key information (Alutu, 2006).


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