Ways to Motivate Student Learning

This week I embarked on leading my first online discussion forum for PIDP 3250. The term ‘self-determined learning’ has shown its head. It is essentially based off of motivation theory. Motivation is at the crux of student engagement. So I looked for a video on how to increase student motivation and I came across this TED Talk on that search.  In this blog post I will reflect on some of the concepts and ideas presented in this TED talk.

I appreciated this speaker’s opening stance. He spoke about the hidden rules of education and the word SAME stuck out like a sore thumb (that students must be: same age, learn same material, use same learning tools, get same answer, be judged the same way, behave the same, etc.) Learning is so individual because each learner is completely unique so what makes us think that the way we teach should be uniform? It comes back to needing to individualize teaching which ultimately is helping move students towards self-directed, self-determined and self-regulated learning.

This reminded me of a person I once knew that had been diagnosed with ADHD in his late 30s. Neither he nor I were convinced that he truly had ADHD (there were other factors affecting his ability to concentrate) but he was reluctant to remove this learning disability label from his university file. He felt strongly that this label afforded him some luxuries that helped his learning. He was given more time for exams, he could write his exams by himself, he was able to articulate his other learning needs and the teachers listened and accommodated. It is ludicrous to think that a student needs a learning disability diagnosis to have his individualized learning needs addressed. This type of individualized learning plan should be afforded to each and every student. As we strive to move our students towards being self-directed learners, students will become more self aware of what their learning needs are and the strategies to achieve them. With this awareness, the students should be invited to share these needs with their instructors. Our role as instructors is to listen to those needs and accommodate them as best we can.

In this TED talk the speaker suggested some tangible strategies to increase student motivation and as I outline each one I will briefly interject with my own thoughts:

  • Play: children learn best through play but so do adults too. This is a topic I plan to explore further in blog post next week so stay tuned. I will explore the diverse benefits and ways to infuse play into learning.
  • Build on curiosity of students: this reminds me of a recent discussion in the online forum I am participating in. Encouraging the students to generate the questions and inquiry to drive the learning. If the student cares about finding the answer to the problem then he/she will invest time and energy into answering it.
  • Give control to students: students need to have some control over how and what they learn. Based on andragogy it needs to be relevant and have some intrinsic or extrinsic benefit to them.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction, peer learning, cooperation and collaboration: this leads us to using various forms of group work (i.e. think-ink-pair-share, or CAFÉ style learning, debates, etc.)
  • Ensuring that students comprehend the material: this requires regular assessment by the teacher to ensure everyone is on track using technology in the classroom such as iclickers to do quizzes in class or if no technology is available having 4 different coloured sheets that represent a)b)c) and d) can also be used to administer class quizzes. Other techniques include: 5 minute papers, questions “what was the muddiest point?” or tests that get handed in at the end of class so the instructor can see where confusion lies and clarify the following class.
  • Regular feedback by the teacher: so students have an opportunity to improve, and so students build skills to understand where their thinking and strengths lie.
  • Students engaging in metacognition: This term “refers to higher order thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning. Activities such as planning how to approach a given learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating progress toward the completion of a task are metacognitive in nature” (Livingstone, 1997).
  • Scaffolding: when he spoke about the brilliance of how video games engage people he spoke about how the gamer gains competence at each level, and each level gets more complex and builds on the skills. We can build this same principle into our teaching. (Livingston, 1997).

These some few ways to increase student motivation…


Gardenfors, P. (2011). How to motivate students? TED X Talk. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blWcbY5qA58

Livingstone, J.A. (1997). Metacognition: An overview. Available at http://gse.buffalo.edu/fas/shuell/cep564/metacog.htm


About turnera2014

I am a Nursing (RN) Instructor taking the Professional Instructor Diploma Program at Vancouver Community College in hopes to challenge my current teaching modalities and inspire me to be the best teacher I can be.
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