The motivation of students is important to all teachers at every level. We worry over students who appear disengaged, attend sporadically, or whose cell phones seem busy with social media rather than note-taking. The ideal classroom contains students who are motivated to learn, attend classes, participate during class, and make an effort to prepare. Consequently, understanding student motivation and designing classes to improve desire can make a big difference in learning and performance.
In an earlier blog below, we described motivation theory. There is a fundamental human need for autonomy and self-determination that can be tapped to motivate. The more we give students a sense of control by providing choices the better students are motivated. Comparing intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation we made the case that intrinsic is the best type because students value activities more than external rewards (grades). Students can be motivated by the pleasure of learning and by setting their own educational path. Teaching entrepreneurship has taught facilitators that intrinsic, experiential-type learning promotes understanding, develops creativity, and increases involvement. Self-discovery while engaged in a project can by itself impart knowledge, and students want to learn more. If the instructor can stimulate curiosity, offer choices and provide challenges in an activity, students are motivated to engage.
We emphasized the importance of motivation to the entrepreneurial process and made the case using evidenced-based facts, anyone can build a successful startup so long as there is overwhelming desire. Being motivated to perform one’s best and persist in the face of obstacles makes entrepreneurs successful. Motivation is described as a desire to do something with your personal life, work or any pursuit. Babe Ruth said, “it’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” How then can we help others achieve their goals, realize their desires or reach their objectives? Humans, being complex beings, have made motivation both a science and an art. Different people are motivated by different things. Purpose can be a great motivator. When someone makes progress and sees a project to fruition, they were invariably highly motivated.
Because knowing what motivates other people and the desire to influence other people, it’s important to know how a person acts upon their needs. American psychologist Abraham Maslow in a 1943 paper, Theory of Human Motivation, related needs to stages of human growth per his famous triangle below:
These needs are split between deficiency and growth. Maslow explained humans intrinsically (inherently) take part in this motivational behavior. Each stage must be satisfied for motivation to rise through the pyramid. The goal of the hierarchy is to attain the highest level of self-actualization at the top, a stage of self-transcendence, the most inclusive level of human consciousness. Psychologist Steven Reiss argues that there are core motives based on values. Knowing how we and others prioritize these motives can explain why we do the things we do. Some of these motives are:
- Curiosity – The desire for knowledge and experience.
- Acceptance – The desire for inclusion.
- Order – The desire for organization.
- Physical activity – The desire for the exercise of muscles.
- Honor – The desire to be loyal to one’s parents and heritage.
- Power – The desire to influence others.
- Independence – The desire for self-reliance.
- Social contact – The desire for companionship.
If we want to motivate other people, we must learn what motivates them.
Here’s a list of how to use these values to motivate someone:
- Use specific, not generic, motivational words -say the person’s name and tailor words to suit the situation.
- Use “I” instead of “you” phrasing -“you’ puts them on the defensive while “I” offers encouragement and support.
- Motivate with positivity, not negativity -negative approaches do not work.
- Prioritize their activities over results -focus your motivational efforts on the “climb” rather than the “summit”.
- Identify smaller goals in the big picture -it’s easier to see success when goals are smaller.
- Praise for working hard -motivate future achievements by rewarding current efforts.
- Encourage them to reward themselves -self-praise is a great motivator.
- Don’t go overboard with commitments -prioritize quality motivational words, not quantity.
Educational consultant Axelrod says there are a variety of reasons why someone may not be motivated in which case he recommends talking to them, asking about their personal life and reasons for not being interested. He advises always encouraging people, being helpful and supportive, changing their perspective, and breaking goals into manageable changes. If an instructor can arouse the student’s curiosity, present the right kind of challenge, and offer choices to enhance control, they have excelled at intrinsic motivation. This method is not to say extrinsic motivation cannot improve the mix. Extrinsic rewards at the beginning of a course are productive while the student gains mastery of the subject. Earning a good grade can also foster an increased interest in the material. Rewards are more beneficial when they involve feedback that helps students improve by providing specific actions.
Another form of motivation is the expectancy value where students direct effort towards activities they value and for which they have an expectancy of success. Instructors do best when they motivate using both methods -student expectancy for success along with the value in the outcome. Entrepreneurship projects are more successful worked in teams. While a successful startup venture can be quite valuable, the expectancy of success is greater with diverse teammates bringing complementary skills to the table. A good motivator points out the benefits to be realized by accomplishing the task or goal, and his or her enthusiasm and passion can be contagious. Appeal to student autonomy with experiential exercises, build fun and variety into the curriculum, lavish praise on students, bring excitement to the course, call students by name and show a personal interest, and tell stories to make a point. Both students and faculty will be richly rewarded by enjoyment, understanding, and self-actualization.