There have been literally hundreds of studies aimed at determining the best means of motivating students, and probably as many self-proclaimed motivational experts as there are motivated students. One of the foremost models for enhancing students’ motivation to learn is the ARCS Motivation Model, developed in 1979 at the Syracuse University School of Education by John M. Keller, Ph.D.. In his model, Keller describes the four primary requisites for motivation, which, when properly addressed, provide the essentials that motivate students – both K-12 students and adults – to learn:
Before you can even begin to motivate a student, you have to get his or her attention and stimulate his or her curiosity. This is best accomplished by offering the student something unexpected. Some professors offer examples of seemingly unrelated phenomena or concepts, and then link them back to one another in a unique fashion. Others find it effective to break the academic ice by using humor to stimulate their students’ curiosity. Whatever means of stimulating the student is most natural to the instructor is the one that should be applied. Few things will turn a student off more quickly than an instructor who forces an approach that is clearly out of his or her element. It can often be useful to introduce a guest speaker whose presentation appears superficially to be at variance with the instructor’s lessons, then to demonstrate how the seeming incongruity is not a deviation from the regular lesson theme.
Once the student’s curiosity is tweaked, the subsequent presentations must be shown to have some relevance to the student’s interests and goals. All but the most devoted mathematicians can clearly recall the frustration they felt in grade school when they were first instructed in trigonometry, and could see no feasible reason why they would ever need the knowledge they were supposed to be absorbing. The promise of future relevance appears empty when students cannot imagine how the subject at hand will benefit them in their future endeavors. It is generally best to challenge students to come up with original examples showing how lessons are applicable and relevant.
Give each student a clearly-defined and achievable objective to strive for in the course of his or her studies, and they will be much more motivated to put forth greater effort; digging deeply into the material. To put it simply, the students need to feel that they are capable of winning if their appetites for knowledge are to be whetted. We’ve all had at least one instructor who seemed to structure lessons and examinations to ensure that students’ grades were less than stellar. This typically translates to arrogant egotism in the students’ minds, and serves to discourage them, rather than motivating them to learn.
Provide students with opportunities to creatively apply their new-found knowledge, and give them honest feedback as to how well their efforts demonstrate their understanding. Honest feedback provides objective but compassionate evaluations of their work. You certainly don’t want to be overly critical of students’ efforts, but by the same token, you don’t want to heap false praise on what appears to be a half-hearted or mediocre effort. The “reward,” should be commensurate with the effort students put-forth.
We instructors are as human as our students, and can sometimes overlook the potential
Further information on the ARCS Motivational model is available on Dr. Keller’s Florida State University web page at http://mailer.fsu.edu/~jkeller/JohnsHome/index.htm .challenges they face grasping and processing information we are so intimately familiar with. Providing the proper motivation helps bridge the gap of understanding, prompting adult students to perform at higher levels.