Techniques for Motivating College Students

Motivation is a crucial tool in the process of learning. It is generally agreed that having a variety of techniques to motivate is essential for successful learning. Stimulating and sustaining learner persistence and motivation is a great challenge among mature college learners.  It is possible to stimulate learner motivation within a lecture of one hour but a challenge comes in maintaining the persistence over a prolonged duration of study such as a semester prolonged for up to sixteen weeks. The strategies to be employed for a long duration are in a great way different from those that should be adopted within a short period. This study will attempt to make general conclusions on strategies that can be adopted both in the short time and in the short period. It is possible that in a course persisting over a long period of time, students begin the course with a lot of enthusiasm which generally wanes with time. Researches agree that an instructor such as a professor should aim and develop strategies to motivate and maintain the motivation. Two broad approaches are identified as crucial. Any instructor should use a combination of both motivational strategies and volitional tactics. Motivation strategies help the learners to initiate and develop a positive attitude to a course while vocational tactics helps the students to be persistent for a long period until they achieve the desired goals.

Motivational Theories

A wide range of theories have been developed in the area of motivation. These theories can be broadly categorized in specific classes. The first type of theories is behavioral theories.  Underlying this theory is the belief that there are actions which stimulate and energize behavior. In classical conditioning, it is shown that biological responses to specific stimuli direct and energize behavior. The argument in operant learning is that the crucial factor in motivation is consequences. Application of awards or reinforcements provides stimulus to accelerate and increase behavior while the application of negative reinforcements such as a punishment serves to decrease behavior. Another category of motivation theory lies in cognitive category. These theories attribute motivation to be as a result of processing of information within the learner. Attribution theory which falls under the broad cognitive theory proposes that individual learners attempt to explain failure or success by attributing them to some factor. These attributes can either be internal or external and can be controlled either by the learner or can be out of control.

Table 1

 

Internal

External

Control

Effort

Level of task difficulty

No control

Ability

luck

Table 1 shows internal and external factor that a learner can attribute to either success or failure.

Adopted from Huitt, W. (2001)

In a learning environment, learners should be assisted in developing self attributes to explain efforts that is, they should develop internal attributes which they feel they can be able to control. A student who has an attribute of ability i.e., internal and no control, implies that as soon as the student gets some difficulty in the process of learning, the student will decrease in desired learning behavior. In such a case, the learner will conclude that he is not good in what he is doing. If the person relies on external attributes, such as, the quality of the instructor, then the student can do nothing to improve in the absence of the instructor. Other theories are crucial in this study such as Abraham Maslaw’s hierarchy of needs, psychoanalytic theories and they will be used as guideline s for this study.

Types of Motivation

For college professors to offer comprehensive motivation there would be need to appreciate diversity among their learners. Two broad categories of motivation have been identified in psychology i.e. intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Other types of motivations fall under these two categories. In extrinsic motivation, a person performs a task depending on the expectation of external rewards. The absence of these rewards erodes the motivation and the task may not be accomplished. The intrinsic motivation is driven more by personal internal values such as the desire to get better grades or improve expertise on area. The rewards associated with intrinsic motivation are not necessarily visible but psychological. The specific categories of motivation are specific on the type of responses emanating from a specific stimulus. These include achievement motivation where one works to achieve set targets. A learner in the learning process with this kind of motivation wishes to achieve specific targets such as grades that can be used to help in finding a better job or getting a scholarship. The second category is affiliation motivation where an individual is motivated on social basis. Such a person may be motivated by compliments or being allowed to work in a selected panel consisting of persons deemed as achievers. In competence motivation, an individual desire is to improve n performance or in delivery of quality work. Such an individual strives to develop mastery in a given task and takes pride in developing problem solving skills that works. In power motivation, the individual’s drive is to develop ability to influence other peoples opinions and when this is achieved, the person considerably energized. In attitude motivation, an individual works to build self confidence and improve their personal outlooks.

Strategies that Can Be Adopted by Professors and Lecturers

The typical college student today is more likely to be more than a stereotypical 18 year old who receives full support from the parent. Majorities are laden with financial responsibilities and family issues, some keep a number of jobs to supplement their financial kitty and most of them are apprehensive about being bored with the traditional schooling process. Most of these students lack greatly in study skills and a majority go to school to attain a certificate without caring too much about the content. To effectively motivate students, an instructor requires doing the things discussed hereunder besides others which would fit in different circumstances;

An instructor must identify student needs.

Students who enroll in colleges today have varied backgrounds and abilities. It is possible find very inactive students in class who on the other hand excel in outdoor activities such as sports. This indicates that the need for motivation is also a need in discovering individual students and giving them individual attention. This implies that such instructors should also adopt different methods for motivation for the different categories of students in a class.

Proper explanation of expected performance-

There is a significant proof that most students do not understand what they are taught and the do poorly in their assignments because they do not understand expectations and procedures. Instructors should devote a lot of time on giving explanations relevant to the tasks expected of students. A teacher should spend time explaining the relevance of teaching and giving education real and a human touch. Most students have low motivation on what they do because they view the schooling period as a phase in life which they go through just to pass an education level. Hence, the teacher has a role in explaining significance of concepts and giving detailed analysis of the importance of doing a given topic and of participating in a given activity such as a demonstration or class room practical. A teacher who is enthusiastic in giving detailed explanations and inputting humor in his work is most likely to transmit the enthusiasm to the students. Likewise, instructors should spend considerable time giving explanation on what is expected on assignments and activities.When students are not clear on what is expected of them, they are less likely to participate actively in doing it. There is considerable concern that professors and other instructors are normally vague in their assignments making it very hard for the students to participate actively in seeking desired results.

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