3 Keys to Student Motivation

student motivation in classroom

The vast majority of teachers and trainers today agree that active involvement of
students in their own learning – such as through internal motivation – produces better learning outcomes. Research on how the
brain learns supports this view, as does the thinking of revered figures in the history of
education like John Dewey.

While few disagree with the theory, putting it into practice is another matter. Some
teachers and trainers bend over backwards to incorporate the latest educational
techniques in their learning environments only to find some students just do not buy in
with the enthusiasm and passion they expected to see.

The key phrase there is “buy in.” While it is possible to try to force active involvement
with group discussions and other methods, forced involvement often breeds passive
acquiescence. Learners merely go through the motions and go along with the program.

The missing ingredient is internal motivation. While some students find new learning
methodologies intrinsically interesting and rewarding, others have other needs to be met
before motivation can grow within the student. Here are 3 keys to student motivation
some teachers overlook:

1. Competence
2. Control
3. Community


Competence can be defined as the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.
Ability to perform depends on having the prerequisite knowledge and skills to perform
the task. Simply put, many students lack a feeling of competence. Questioning their own
knowledge and skill is only part of the problem. A person with high competence not only
needs knowledge and skill, but also the tools required for the job.


Control can be defined as the ability to manage or direct. In traditional educational
approaches, control lies exclusively in the hands of the teacher. To get real active
involvement from students motivated to learn, the students must have a sense they control
their own destiny. In essence, they have to feel they have a choice in the matter. Even
those students who feel competent will pull back in the face of external control.


Humans are social animals and while some students can thrive without community
support, most cannot. In a learning community, students feel a sense of relatedness to
each other. In essence, there exists a “we are all in this together” mentality. However,

it is possible for students to form a community of relatedness for the purpose of
getting through the course with a minimum amount of effort. To unleash the power of
community, learners need to see some relevance of the learning to their own lives.

Good teachers set the stage for all three of these motivational components. As a first
step, acknowledge the possibility of competence issues for all students. Reassure them
you know what you are doing and will be there to help them overcome any obstacles.
Show them you have the tools they will need to learn.

Acknowledge that the decision to get totally engaged in the learning is up to them, not up
to you.

Do whatever you can to demonstrate the relevance of what they are about to learn. Share
stories of successful students you have taught in the past. Do this all with passion and
enthusiasm, two additional prerequisites for internal motivation. When teachers appear
unenthusiastic about what they are doing, why should the students be enthusiastic about