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Motivation matters: What we’ve learnt about education from a pandemic – Opinion

Understanding the importance of motivation in education has never been more significant than now.

Studies have shown that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation directly correlates with an improvement in students’ academic performance and grades. However, the current educational discord as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that, in order to revive Australian students in both a physical and virtual classroom, they must be intrinsically motivated.

By recognising that self-motivation and self-discipline are critical characteristics for students to effectively learn from home, we have a greater understanding of how much academic potential teachers and tutors can unlock if they redirect their teaching method to focus on motivating, uplifting and inspiring students to enjoy learning educational content.

The ramifications of a habitual study routine based in content dumping, memorisation and blind repetition are particularly reflected by high school students who, after falling out of their school routine, are now struggling to find the motivation and self discipline to commit to their studies. While this is expected among students worldwide during a pandemic, it illustrates the significance of motivation in directing student behaviours.

What does the research say?

In the age of COVID-19 and distance learning, a 2020 study released by Pivot revealed that almost 80 per cent of teachers believed that student engagement and motivation are critical to supporting home learning.

In fact, it should be no surprise that countless studies support this idea, highlighting that students who are intrinsically motivated carry a willingness to learn that enhances the way students engage with and process information. As Tohidi and Jabbari showed in their 2012 study, motivation in education can lead to improved student persistence in activities, enhanced cognitive processing, increased effort and energy and improved performance.

Students who are inspired by the content or the way in which educators present the content experience education in a way that transcends the process of rote learning. Rather, they actively participate in the learning experience by engaging the cognitive processes that result in effective, long-term learning, including attention, perception and sensation.

It’s important to note that humans have an innate desire to learn. So, creating an environment that inspires students to be curious encourages intrinsic motivation which is why it is effective for long-term learning. 

So what does this mean for educators?

If educators are to truly focus on motivating, uplifting and inspiring students in order to maximise their academic potential, it’s important to understand the three key principles of the Self-Determination Theory within educational discourse:

  1. Relatedness – The desire to feel connected to others or your environment
  2. Competence – The desire to feel effective in your environment
  3. Autonomy – The need for behaviours to be self-endorsed

Ryan and Niemiec in a 2009 research report explain how educators can use these principles to create a learning environment that focuses on enabling students to unlock their natural willingness to learn.

Relatedness refers to students’ need to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom. This connectedness with their teachers and peers encourages collaboration and creates a space for students to question, clarify and suggest ideas which stimulates and deepens their cognition.

While students need to be challenged in order to see growth in their performance, a student should feel competent in their abilities to complete assigned tasks. Educators can encourage feelings of competence by motivating and empowering students with self-belief. They should also assign tasks that are difficult enough to challenge the student, but also allow students to showcase their current skill-set and abilities.

A student needs to feel as though they are initiating their own learning.  Students who are autonomous are intrinsically motivated because they want to learn and engage with their studies. This gives students a sense of control where they ultimately choose to learn, which results in improved performance because they act out of their own will.

Educators can encourage this by communicating topics in a way that is interesting and fun in order to inspire students to want to learn more.

As educators and tutors, we have a responsibility to facilitate students with a motivationally-supportive learning environment.

In doing so, educators and tutors can curate an engaging lesson plan that facilitates the basic psychological need for competence, relatedness and autonomy to achieve academic success, in accordance with the principles of the Self-Determination Theory of motivation.

While the education system has been tested and challenged this year, by both students and teachers, we would argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has merely reminded us that effective learning is ultimately up to the individual.

However, as teachers and tutors, we have the power to maximise students’ learning potential by empowering them and fuelling their self-belief and determination with exciting lessons that make students fall in love with learning again.  

Michael Black is the franchise director for Success Tutoring.

Caitlin Pace is the Content Developer for Success Tutoring.

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