Relevance, Active Learning, Task Difficulty, Anxiety/Voice Tone
Relevance (Make Learning Useful)
Often times, students are not interested in a course or lecture because they fail to recognize how the material is relevant to their lives or career plans. This disinterest may translate into a lack of motivation for attending class, taking notes, completing assignments, or participating.
Instructors can improve student motivation by making learning more meaningful (Hoxmeier, 1987). Students, under the guidance of facilitators, also can work to increase their own motivation levels by identifying the relevance of course material. Three ways to do so are to emphasize the value of the new information, to establish information links with previous knowledge, and to thoughtfully design assignments.
Value of Information
One way to make learning more meaningful is to stress the value of the new information. New material may be important socially, economically, culturally, morally, or ethically. The following strategies may be used by instructors and students alike. Instructors may point out how new information is of value to them personally or to a social group, while students may search for the value of the new information in some facet(s) of their own lives.
Instructors or facilitators can help students link new information with prior knowledge and/or experiences. This motivates students because it aids in establishing the value of information and it is easier to register and recall information associated with existing knowledge. Prior knowledge may derive from other courses, assigned readings, work experiences, social experiences, the media, family, etc. The following strategies help to establish information links.
This strategy is intended for use by instructors. Its goal is to help instructors plan effective assignments that stress the relevance of the work rather than assigning "busy work." The guidelines listed below assist the instructor in designing assignments that make learning more meaningful.
When designing an assignment, the instructor should ask him/herself the following questions:
Is the assignment worthwhile? In what ways?
Does the assignment seem worthwhile to the students?
Are links to prior knowledge gained from required readings or other sources clear?
Does the assignment allow students the opportunity to consider and evaluate the relevance of the work?
Is the assignment clear to the students?
Is the assignment definite?
Is the assignment reasonable?
Does the student know how to prepare the assignment?
Does the student have the necessary skills and background to successfully complete the assignment?
Make Learning Active
Student motivation may be increased by making learning more active. This is especially true for kinesthetic learners (see the Modality Strength section of the Monitoring page). Activity improves motivation because in encourages students to use more senses and it increases student involvement.
The strategies outlined on the following cards are intended for use by instructors and students alike (Hoxmeier, 1987). Often times, active learning is a cooperative effort between the two. The strategies vary in the amount of instructor intervention and student independence.
Additional strategies for making learning active, such as adding novelty, are discussed in the Creating Interest section of this page.
Direct instruction involves more instructor intervention than discovery strategies. It may be the preferred strategy for difficult learning tasks or physical skills. The phase-in, phase-out method described below is from Singer (1978).
Direct Instruction: Phase-In, Phase-Out Method
Instructor: Introduce the skill or task to be taught by using description or action.
Instructor: Explain the specific steps of the skill or task.
Instructor: Demonstrate how the skill works.
Instructor and Student(s): Work together on an example of the skill or task.
Instructor: Formulate a similar example or problem.
Student(s): Apply the new knowledge.
Student(s): Restate and explain the basic components of the skill or task.
Discovery Strategies: The Problem Method
Discovery strategies involve more student involvement than direct instruction. They may be the preferred strategies for critical thinking or problem-solving tasks. The problem method outlined below is from Loomer, Kuhn, and Turner (1977).
1. Learner becomes aware of a problem.
2. Learner defines and delimits the problem.
3. Learner gathers evidence to help solve the problem.
4. Learner forms hypothesis of solution.
5. Learner tests hypothesis.
6. Learner solves the problem or repeats steps 2-5.
Level of Task Difficulty
The level of difficulty of a task is closely related to anxiety levels and may enhance or inhibit motivation. For best results, the task should be started at an appropriate level of difficulty and the level should be raised a little at a time. If raised too dramatically or started too high, students may become overwhelmed, unsuccessful, and unmotivated. If raised too slowly or initiated too low, students may become bored and loose motivation.
A number of factors should be considered when selecting an effective starting point or rate of raising task difficulty. These include student preparation, student capabilities, student interest level, the skills required to complete the task, the nature of the task, and the time allowed for completing the task.
It is helpful to allow for student feedback related to task difficulty. Give students the opportunity to express questions and concerns about initial levels and rates of increase of task difficulty. Ask them to relate these to their own learning styles, capabilities, and levels of preparation.
Anxiety and Voice Tone
Some level of anxiety, here defined as concern about a learning task, is necessary for learning to occur. Without anxiety, few people would be motivated to complete assignments or to learn. When one considers the relationship between attention and the learning curve, one can see that anxiety and arousal need to be moderately high for learning to occur. In other words, tension and anxiety increase motivation up to a point. However, if anxiety and arousal are too high, too much energy is directed to dealing with the anxiety and learning is inhibited. In sum, then, moderate levels of anxiety may act to motivate individuals to complete learning tasks.
The point at which anxiety becomes counterproductive varies by individual. Anxiety may be created by setting deadlines for completing tasks, by increasing the level of difficulty of a task, or by setting goals for specific levels of performance. Such anxiety may be self-generated or imposed by others.
Tone of voice is another form of motivation. Pleasant tones have the greatest positive impact on learning. For unresponsive individuals, slightly unpleasant tones may be effective motivators; however, there may be undesirable side effects. Neutral tones, in most situations, have little to no influence on motivation.