Archive for the ‘ Motivation ’ Category

Student Motivation: Changing our Approach and understanding Intrinisic Motivation

This journal entry focuses on motivation and takes a in-depth look at a statement made by Eric Jensen (in the Objective section), and also the speech made by Dan Pink in a TedTalks video.


“There is no such thing as an unmotivated student. There are, however, students in unmotivated states” — Eric Jensen.

In the Ted Talks video, Dan Pink shares his insight on motivation. Here’s the summary from the Ted Talks website:

If you want people to perform better, you reward them, right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. … But that’s not happening here. You’ve got an incentive designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.” (Dan Pink)


Upon reading the statement above, I thought, “Ah ha! What an empowering statement!”
Upon watching Dan Pink in the TedTalks video, I thought, “That comes as no surprise. I agree!”


With his statement, I believe Eric Jensen is conveying that if students are unmotivated, it isn’t of permanence or necessarily consistent with their character. Rather, being unmotivated is a state from which students can be moved. I relate it to the concept in physics about potential energy, (energy at rest), and kinetic energy, (energy in motion). To move something from the state of potential energy to kinetic energy, something has to change in the environment or an action needs to be taken upon the item in the potential state. Thus, I found the statement empowering: I, as an instructor, can build an appropriate environment or approach teaching in a way that sparks students to learn. This is important as motivation paired with active learning results in student engagement (Barkley, 2010, p.6) which results in increased knowledge acquisition and general cognitive development (Pascarella and Terenzini, 1999, as cited in Barkley, 2010, p.4).

Pairing what I’ve discovered from Jensen’s statement with Dan Pink’s talk about motivation, gives me a plan of action in motivating students (discussed in the Decisional section). Pink explained that incentives can do the opposite of what you want them to do if you are looking to motivate individuals to be creative and think beyond whatever task you have put in front of them . If I were to relate this to teaching, it would be akin to using “good grades” as an incentive for students to learn. For some students and some learning tasks, this may work, but they may not go beyond course material, gain insight from other sources, relate it to their own experiences, etc. They would do what was necessary to get the grades. I can relate to what Pink is saying. In my own teaching scenario, I am teaching clients to use a software tool in a business environment. They wouldn’t be motivated by grades. It also wouldn’t make sense for me to provide them with monetary incentive to learn, as I’d probably put my employer out of business. Something else needs to be done to move my students into a motivated state.

Pink mentions that motivation for creativity and use of cognitive ability needs to incorporate three factors:

  • Autonomy: the urge for individuals to direct their own lives.
  • Mastery: the desire to get better at something that matters.
  • Purpose: the desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

I concur with what Pink is saying. When training clients, I incorporate these three factors in my learning activities. In incorporating autonomy, when I train clients virtually on my company’s market research software tool, they are passed mouse control to complete learning tasks. I teach them the steps in the software, and repeat them if necessary; however, they are flying solo as the course progresses. I also ask them to work on their projects while taking the course so that they can immediately apply what they learn. They are responsible for their own education, their own projects, and their own successes.

Mastery is also incorporated. During the training sessions, there are discussions about how the learner’s success in learning the software tool translates into success in their jobs and for their companies. Their mastery of the tool means that they can rely on the tool when making million dollar decisions that can improve experiences for their own customers.

With respects to purpose, there are student discussions about how online research is a new area in the market research industry. The learners are part of a greater change that is taking place in their discipline; they are part pioneers. This relays to them that they are part of a larger movement.

These factors incorporated into the training program has resulted in many enthusiastic students. They are motivated to learn and to strive for success. However, based in my interpretations, I think more can be done in motivating my learners.


From my interpretation, I have identified that if I were to come upon a student in an unmotivated state, I would first need to check my perspective on the situation. I would need to recognize that being unmotivated is a state and that I have the resources to move them into a motivated one. I feel as though there should never be a point where there isn’t something I could do for my students. I would need to assess why they are unmotivated to learn. I will set up a meeting with my training team to discuss the adoption of this attitude and to set up guidelines for assessing such situations.

Taking what Dan Pink has said in the TedTalk video, I will need to adopt more instructional strategies that incorporate Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. One that comes to mind is the Jigsaw instructional strategy. This activity requires students to become experts on a topic and sharing this information with a group consisting of students who are experts on different but related topics. Learners are autonomous as they are in control of how they want to learn or present the information to the group. Mastery is accounted for as they need to be experts on their subject matter. Purpose is fulfilled in that they are part of something larger. In order to get a full picture of what is being learned, they are driven to learn from other members in their group and to teach the other members. The motivation lies in the learning activity itself.

Before I can adopt strategies like Jigsaw, I will need to research them. I will set time aside for my trainers (myself included) to research instructional strategies that satisfy the three mentioned factors. This may be through online resources (asking the Training & Development group on LinkedIn, watching YouTube videos, searching in Educational Databases, etc.) or a trip to the local library.

Although I feel the learners of my training program are motivated overall, there may be specific instances where they are not motivated. For example, they may be willing to learn in class, but they may not be motivated to complete assignments that would be beneficial to them. I will identify the areas where my learners are not motivated, and will develop strategies for approaching this issue. However, before we can do this, I think more research should be done on motivation.

Motivation has many theories and we can not rely solely on the one described by Pink. For instance, while studying for my Business degree, I had come upon a lot of theories about motivation. This includes Maslow’s Hierarchy, the Two Factor theory, etc. I believe some of these could be applied to teaching. I will ask my trainers to present a motivational theory in our next training seminar and to facilitate a discussion of it suitability.

Jigsaw Strategy: Instructional Strategy for Active Learning and Motivation

I made the following video presentation on the Jigsaw Instructional Strategy. In this video, I explore how the method works, the advantages, limitations, best context and practices, and more.

To summarize the video, students are assigned to expert groups where each groups learns a different subtopic of the course and develops a teaching approach. Jigsaw groups are then formed and is comprised of a student from each expert group. Each student in the jigsaw group takes turns teaching their area of expertise.

The Jigsaw Method is great not only because of its demonstration of Active Learning and its ability to encourage depth of knowledge,  but also because it has built-in factors for intrinsic motivation.

If we revisit the three factors that Dan Pink mentions in his TedTalks video, we can see that the Jigsaw strategy satisfies the factors.

Intrinsic Motivator How Jigsaw Fits In
Autonomy Learners are autonomous as they are in control of how they want to learn or present the information to their groups – expert and jigsaw.
Mastery Mastery is accounted for as they need to be experts on their subject matter to be able to teach others.
Purpose Purpose is fulfilled in that they are part of something larger. In order to get a full picture of what is being learned, they are driven to learn from other members in their group and to teach the other members.

Jigsaw does have its limitations. For instance, you do need to ensure that the number of subtopics you have (for the expert groups) are equally divisible by the number of students in your classroom. Otherwise, you may have students who are left out.

Do all instructional strategies that involve active learning have built-in intrinsic motivators? I suppose as I explore more instructional strategies in this blog, I will take note of any correlations. If there is a correlation, this means this approach to teaching is sound and best suited for adult learners.

Strategies: Analyzing why Students are Unmotivated

Leave a comment for your rationale!

For myself, I feel that I need to work on motivating students. Before taking the course on Student Engagement, I felt that I could only take students so far. However, my attitude now is that there is always something I could do for my students to ignite their internal drive to learn.

My challenge has been that my learners will come to class, but they will not complete homework exercises outside of class time. From that statement, you can probably guess that I do not teach in a typical educational institute. I work in a software company where the clients learn the tool from my department. They typically do not complete the assignments as they have other pressing projects and demands in their job role.

The change in my attitude for motivating students has already set me on a path of looking for a solution.

Although we do practice using the tool in class, and I can get students to complete learning tasks, there is the missing element of relevance. Without the “Meaning” that Nick Place discusses in his PowerPoint (mentioned in the last post), the information is less sticky in the minds of the learner. Although I do ask the learners how it is they plan to use the tool in their own setting, and ask them to provide examples, there is a gap between their intent and what will actually occur. The urges they get to learn the material won’t come until they have to actually implement their own projects. This may be a week or months down the road.

One may suggest that we delay the training until the learner is going to apply what they’ve learned, but this is difficult as learners sometimes cannot predict when they will be applying their knowledge (i.e. they are not sure when it is they will be starting the projects related to the software). Thus, the training program can remain as is to provide them with context of possibility, but perhaps a practicum element will need to be added to the course where learners work on their own projects under the guidance of one of the trainers. This should give learners a sense of meaning. In addition, from Dan Pink’s perspective, it gives them autonomy (control in their application of knowledge), mastery (their desire to be an expert at the tool is more real when they realize they need it to complete their projects), and purpose (their sense of feeling that they are contributing to their company’s ability to make good decisions because of their effective use of the tool).

This is just one solution that satisfies the factors for intrinsic motivation.

By knowing what factors motivate adult learners discussed in a previous post, it becomes apparent which factors are missing when you have students in unmotivated states.

Read more about motivational strategies by clicking the Motivation category in the sidebar.

Concepts: Motivation and Adult Learners

According to Elizabeth F. Barkley in her book, Student Engagement Techniques (2010), Motivation works in tandem with Active Learning to foster Student Engagement. As mentioned in previous posts, this increases knowledge acquisition in students. This is the first post of many that explores motivational strategies. To check out more motivational strategies on this blog, click the Motivation category in the sidebar. Also check out the other blogs in the Resource section and the Motivation section in the Other Resource.

In the TedTalks video below, Dan Pink discusses motivation and whether reward-based (extrinsic) motivation works.

To summarize, incentive-based motivation only works for tasks that have a clearly defined path, however, it does not encourage individuals to be creative or use their cognitive abilities. He mentions that the following motivates adults:

  • Autonomy: the urge for individuals to direct their own lives.
  • Mastery: the desire to get better at something that matters.
  • Purpose: the desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

These are factors of intrinsic motivation. According to Jesse Meijer’s blog entry titled, “Intrinsic Motivation versus Extrinsic Motivation”, individuals perform better if they are intrinsically motivated than if they were extrinsically motivated. He goes into detail with an experiment that was conducted where this was proven so. His blog entry resonates with what Dan Pink is saying in his TedTalks presentation.

Nick Place, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at the University of Florida, developed a PowerPoint presentation on Adult Motivation (source). The PowerPoint can be found here: To summarize the presentation, Place mentions that four factors motivate Adult Learners:

  • Inclusion: The learner feels they are a part of the class and are respected. The instructor-student relationship is key here.
  • Meaning: Concepts are tied to the an important goal or ultimate purpose of the learners.
  • Attitude: Concepts, Information or emotions that affect the learner’s predisposition to respond favorably or unfavorably towards people, groups, ideas, events, or objects.
  • Competence: The learner desires to be competent on what they value. (This is similar to the idea of Mastery discussed by Dan Pink).

Continue reading the blog for what these concepts mean for the classroom. (Click the Motivation Category in the sidebar to pull up Motivation-related posts).