What does it mean to say a student is “motivated” or “unmotivated”?  How do we determine someone else’s level of motivation? Here are two helpful answers with much overlap:

“Most psychologists concerned with learning and education use the word ‘motivation’ to describe those processes that can (a) arouse and instigate behavior, (b) give direction or purpose to behavior, (c) continue to allow behavior to persist, and (d) lead to choosing or preferring a particular behavior.”  –Raymond J. Wlodkowski, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn 

“Most professionals agree that we infer the presence of motivation from the behavior indicators:

  1. Choice of tasks: Selection of task under free-choice conditions indicates motivation to perform the task.
  2. Effort: High effort—especially on difficult material—is indicative of motivation.
  3. Persistence: Working for a longer time—especially when one encounters obstacles—is associated with higher motivation.
  4. Achievement: Choice, effort, and persistence raise task achievement.”  –Paul R Pintrich & Dale H. Schunk, Motivation in Education

So, labeling students as “unmotivated” is actually shorthand for saying, “My students haven’t chosen to do what I want them to do…at the level of effort I want them to…for the amount of time I want them to…and they’ve failed to achieve the level of accomplishment I want them to.”

Simultaneously, the basketball coach may be saying of these same students, “I love the energy these players have for the game.  They practice every day, giving it all they have, and that’s why they achieve such great things.  I’ve never had a team as highly motivated as this group! They’re a joy to coach!”

Our challenge in academia is to create educational conditions in which “unmotivated” students consistently choose and expend great energy on behaviors that will lead to academic success.  It is helpful to realize that “educational conditions” are comprised of the Seven Domains of Influence available to educators for shaping students behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes: Activities, Assignments, Feedback, Policies and Rules, Modeling, Environment, and Programs and Curricula.  The choices we make in these Seven Domains will determine whether the educational conditions are or are not favorable to high student motivation.

–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshop, Skip@OnCourseWorkshop.com

Forum Image OptionDetermining Motivational Level Forum