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Motivations to Learn

I recommend reading the summary` of this page,
although for the first part it sends you back here.

Learning for Life

People use design in a wide variety of ways, for "almost everything in life", so teachers can use design-thinking to build educational bridges from school into life, and help students see that their design experiences in school (when they do design activities and learn design process) will help them in life outside school, due to transfers of learning from school into life.  When students are motivated to learn for life, design experiences can be one part of an overall plan for increasing their motivation to learn in school. 

An important personal benefit is improved skill in making decisions.  When students build a solid foundation of ideas-and-skills knowledge — with a wide range of useful-and-accurate theories about “how the world works” — they can make accurate predictions that, along with their good values and priorities, will help them make wise decisions, both personally and professionally.


Personal Education (a problem-solving approach)

Hopefully, our students will want to Learn for Life.  IF they are motivated by forward-looking expectations that what they are learning in school will be personally useful because it will help them achieve their personal goals for life, they will adopt a proactive attitude of problem solving (trying to "make things better" in their life) with the objective of converting their actual current state (of knowledge) into a more desirable future state (of improved knowledge).  When a student is pursuing this objective, personal motivation is essential because it's the driving force for a student's commitment to their own Personal Education, which is a long-term project* that requires dedication and self-discipline.

* Although a student's life-long education is long-term, they can make significant short-term progress by learning key principles (as with using Design Process for Thinking Strategies) and improving important skills.  A personal illustration of efficient principles-based learning, which can be generalized to many other areas, is how I didn't learn to ski - and then did learn.


Enjoyable Activities

Personal Education is a long-term motivation.  Students also have short-term motivation when teachers ask them to do enjoyable activities that are intrinsically interesting, challenging (in a good way), and fun.  These experiences can foster long-term motivations when students experience The Natural Joys of Thinking in Design and Science and expect transfers of learning from school into their personal lives.    short-term FUN plus long-term SATISFACTIONS


Motivational Persuasion by Teachers — Part 1

Sources of Motivational Persuasion:   Students can be motivated to think “learning is fun and will be personally useful for me” by persuading themselves, and being influenced by role models that include peers, parents, and teachers.

Educational Teamwork with Matching Goals:   An ideal school situation requires teamwork between teachers and students;*  goal-directed teaching (by teachers) and goal-directed learning (by students) should be in harmony, with our goals matching their goals.

Matching of Goals by Adjusting & Persuading:   We can achieve a closer match between teacher-goals and student-goals in two ways:  by thinking with empathy so we can adjust our goals to more closely match the way students are thinking (about what is fun now, or will be useful later), and by persuading students to adjust their thinking so our teaching-goals become their learning-goals, so they enthusiastically embrace our educational goals for them.  For example, we can motivate students to also pursue long-term satisfactions in the blend of enjoying (now) + performing (now) + learning (for later) they want.

* A classroom needs productive educational teamwork between a teacher and their students;  a school needs teamwork between teachers and between students and, more generally, between all stakeholders who "will be involved in or affected by" the process & results of education.


When we try to motivate students, we should consider all aspects of their total motivation:  personal (improving the quality of their life, now and/or later) which includes interpersonal (improving relationships with others), extrinsic (as in working for grades), intrinsic (enjoying an activity), and more.  All of these motivations are “internal” because all contribute to how a student thinks about their strategies-and-actions aimed at getting “what they want” in their whole life as a whole person.

With our words (what we say in “pep talks”) and actions (what we do), we can try to persuade students that we have good intentions (we care for them and are trying to help them improve their lives) and we are competent (in defining worthy educational goals, and helping students achieve these goals).  And with words-and-actions we share our enthusiasm for the joys of thinking-and-learning.

MORE - Motivational Persuasion - Part 2


Confident Humility:  I'm confident that the topics in this page are important, and humble about my level of expertise.  Therefore, this page (with its summary of basic ideas) ends with links if you want to learn more from those who are more expert.


Self-Perception affects Motivation

Most aspects of a person's total motivation are affected by their system of self-perceptions.


Self-Efficacy — Accuracy plus Optimism

An important aspect of self-perception is self-efficacy, which is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed.  Some students are motivated to learn-and-perform well, but they don't feel confident about succeeding.  This unfortunately common problem can lead to unproductive attitudes and responses, with decreased motivation and effort.  Feelings of self-efficacy can be improved, so motivation is maintained, if students have an accurate self-perception, plus optimism about their potential for improvement and growth.*

Because self-efficacy depends on context, it varies from one situation to another.  This variation is a reason to use variety in teaching, because it seems likely that if students "succeed with either traditional instruction or design activities, they... will become more motivated in school."


More broadly, "the self-system [of self-perceptions] — which includes constructs such as self-efficacy, self-esteem, locus of control, motivation, and attributional beliefs — is a complex, interdependent system that supports both metacognitive functions and academic performance. (Kavita Seeratan)"


Personal Theories of Intelligence

* Optimism about "potential for improvement and growth" is easier if students have an incremental theory of intelligence (believing that their intelligence, and intellectual performance, can be improved through their efforts) because this view-of-self promotes a confidence that their efforts to self-improve will be rewarded.  By contrast, an entity theory of intelligence (believing that their intelligence is fixed) tends to promote unproductive attitudes & responses when a student reasons that “if I can't change my intelligence (and performance), why should I try?”

A Brain-and-Muscle Analogy:  We can encourage students to adopt an incremental theory of intelligence, and try to improve, by explaining how our muscles and brains both improve when they are used.


Two Reasons to say why bother” and Avoid Effort

Students have a wide range of abilities (of various types) and attitudes (of various types), based on inherited tendencies and influenced by experiences inside & outside school.  Student attitudes toward themselves, and schoolwork, span a wide multi-dimensional range, so there is no “formula for motivation” that works for all students.

Different combinations of views can lead to unproductive responses for different reasons.  For example, imagine that you encourage students to invest extra effort in Personal Education and Learning Strategies.  A low-performing student may think “why bother? it won't help me and I'll fail anyway.”  A higher-performing student may think “why bother? I'm doing fine so I don't need it.”

The first attitude may lead to increased difficulties, academically and in other ways.  And even if the second student continues "doing fine," they could do better.

Each student who thinks "why bother" — because they assume "it won't help" or "I don't need it" or (for different aspects of their life) both — are not developing their full potential.  But helping students develop their full potential is the main goal of education, so for them our educational efforts are not fully effective.  And students who think "why bother" may be the majority.

Complexity and Humility:  The attitudes of students — including these two responses and "both" — are part of the complexity of education.  When we try to improve learning-performing-enjoying for all students, for ideas-and-skills and more, we should consider many factors that vary from one student to another, and (for each student) from one situation to another.   I'm not an expert in this area, so:  my responses below are just ideas to consider;  even if my suggestions would be helpful, they would be only one part of an overall improving of education;  my responses & suggestions are not original, they're similar to what many other educators have been thinking and saying.

How can we help the second student, who says "why bother" because "I don’t need it"?  To persuade students that they want to “be all they can be,” one possibility (to use as a primitive starting point for further development) is a story similar to Emily and You (be all you can be).

How can the first student – who thinks “investing more effort won’t bring me success” – be helped?  This is a tough question, and I'll share only one suggestion.  It's to offer more variety, and is based on a general agreement that when a student has personal experiences of success in school, they will be more motivated to invest more effort in their schoolwork.  These students, and all others, need some...


Short-Term Satisfaction from Success, and Long-Term Satisfactions:  If during their school experiences a student can succeed in any way — in either traditional activities or design activities — they will feel more successful in school, and probably will become more motivated in school.  If we use eclectic instruction (see 1d) that includes both kinds of activities, each student will have a wider variety of opportunities to feel the intellectual-and-emotional rewards of success.  Maybe we can help more students develop-and-maintain a better perception of self-efficacy and "reduce some emotional obstacles to learning" if we build bridges from life into school by persuading students that "during a process of design they are using skills they already know" so they will think "I have done this before (during design-in-life) so I can do it again (for design-in-school)."  A wider variety of instructional activities can help more students experience the super-motivating thrill of success.  The short-term satisfaction of success is a strong motivator, and it becomes more powerful when a student decides to pursue their own long-term satisfactions so they want to learn for life with Personal Education.

The Value of Learning Process-Principles:  How can we help students see the connections between satisfactions that are short-term and long-term?  One way is to help them appreciate the usefulness of learning principles-for-process and (In another kind of design-thinking) how they can benefit from the “pleasant cycle” of mutual support that occurs when they use metacognitive Thinking Strategies to improve their own Personal Education.


Motivational Persuasion — Part 2

Because motivation is very important in education, dedicated teachers and counselors (plus coaches, parents,...) want to help more students decide to invest more of the intelligent effort (by working smart and working hard) that will help them improve their learning, thinking, and performing.

Part 1 focused on teamwork between a teacher and their students, and the motivating effects of teachers.  But other aspects of teamwork-and-motivation also are important, in the relationships among students, teachers, parents, administrators, politicians, and others in the community.  Especially important is the productive cooperation between students that is promoted by collaboration and by attitudes (such as empathy plus kindness & caring) that encourage students to help other students pursue their own personal educations.

Two Types of Personal Benefits:  The foundation for a student's total motivation is "what they want in their whole life as a whole person."  More students will be motivated, more fully, with better matching between what they want and what is available in school, if we define education more broadly.  Let's look at two aspects of what people want, for themselves and for others.

Using Education to Help Yourself:   Earlier, Personal Education emphasizes the personal benefits for each individual.  Improved skills with design will be personally useful because this will help students achieve their goals for life.

Using Education to Help Others:   A major motivation for teachers is wanting to help others.  Teachers want to also promote this attitude in students, by influencing "what they want... as a whole person" so there is an increase in students' natural desire to help other people.*  Because design includes "almost everything we do," improved design skills can be useful in a wide variety of ways to help others, with many opportunities in the everyday lives of students and in the careers they choose.

* In an illustrative example from the arts, my bio-page explains why It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite movie, "partly for its artistic value (plot, dialogue, acting,...) but mainly for the message:  Each of us affects other people, and life is better if we affect others in ways that are beneficial for them."




Confidence and Humility — Even though I’m not an expert in motivation and self-perception, I do know that they're important so I want to share some basic principles with you, and show their connections with Using Design Process for Education.  Here is "more" from psychologists and educators with more expertise:

Self-Efficacy and the Self-System has links to pages written by Kavita Seeratan (quoted above) and other authors:  Attitudes & Motivations in the Affective Domain (plus selected literature) and Motivating Students (principles & links) and How Motivation Affects Learning & Behavior and Student Attitudes (engagement & perceived competence) and Academic Achievement.   /   a disclaimer: These links are not comprehensive (i.e. many excellent resources are not included) but they're a start.