Educational Goals and Student Motivations — Part 2

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

        Part 1 [in Teaching Scientific Methods of Thinking in Science Labs] emphasizes the importance of designing personally useful education that motivates students by connecting with "their own desires for goal-directed learning, ... [so they will be] motivated by a forward-looking expectation that what they are learning now will be personally useful in their future. ... so they can improve their own lives."
        Part 2 examines these topics:  additive components of motivation (intrinsic, personal, interpersonal, external);  learning intentionally, in a problem-solving approach to personal self-improvement;  educational teamwork and the value of motivational persuasion by teachers, with words & actions, in pep talks & building trust.

        Components of Motivation — Reasons to Learn
A person's reasons for being motivated can be intrinsic (to enjoy an interesting activity), personal (to learn ideas-and-skills that will improve their quality of life, now or later), interpersonal (to impress fellow students or a teacher), or external (to perform well on an assignment or exam).
        These reasons are components of motivation that, when added together, produce a person's total motivation.  Although sometimes it can be useful to distinguish between motivators that are internal or external, we should recognize that all components of motivation are internal because all of these reasons contribute to the way a person is thinking about “what they want” in their whole life as a whole person.

        Intentional Learning in a Problem-Solving Approach to Personal Education
Ideally, personal motivation will lead to this educationally beneficial attitude:
If students are motivated to learn so they can improve their own lives, they will adopt a strategy of intentional learning — by working diligently and enthusiastically, investing extra mental effort beyond what is required just to complete a task, with the intention of achieving personal goals for learning — that is a problem-solving approach to personal education if problem solving is defined as "converting an actual current state [of knowledge] into a desired future state [of improved knowledge]."    quoted from Aesop's Activities for Goal-Directed Education
        Educational Teamwork and Motivational Persuasion
        Here, again quoting from ...Goal-Directed Education, are the basic ideas:
  When we-and-they agree... [because] educational goals are "the ideas-and-skills we want students to learn, and they are motivated to learn" ... so teachers and students are sharing similar goals, education becomes a teamwork effort with an “us” feeling. .....
    Motivation of students is easier when our design of instruction is based on an accurate understanding of students' ideas about what is fun now or will be useful later.  And we can let students play a role in deciding what to study and how to study it, as in some types of inquiry instruction.
    But teachers can also work on another aspect of achieving a better match between the goals of teachers and students.  Teachers can persuade students to modify their goals, by showing them why they should want to learn what is being taught, encouraging them to wisely ask, "What can I learn now that will help me in the future?"  Hopefully, we can help students discover that learning/thinking is fun and useful, so they will want to do it more often and more skillfully!

In this page, for linguistic clarity I'll continuing using “we” and “they” for teachers and students.  But we (teachers) should always remember that a bigger “we” is the whole community of teachers and students working together for cooperative education.
        Our Goals and Their Goals:  As outlined above, a useful strategy for improving a we-and-they match is to think about possibilities for modifying both our goals and their goals, by defining our educational goals based on an accurate understanding of student motivations, and by persuading students so they will be motivated to achieve these goals.
        Components of Total Motivation:  In both goal modifications we can think about students' total motivation, which includes components that are intrinsic (am I having fun now?), personal (will this improve my life later?), interpersonal (will others, both inside and outside our community, like-and-respect me more?), and external (will I get a better grade? will I get paid more money later?).  Students are motivated by what they think is fun (intrinsic) and/or useful (personal, interpersonal, external).
        Strategies for Persuasion:  One obvious approach is to simply say, "These labs are designed to help you improve your thinking skills, and this will happen more effectively if you cooperate and give your full effort before lab (preparing), during lab (concentrating), and after lab (reviewing)."  This basic message, with variations, can be repeated occasionally throughout the semester.
        Words and Actions, Intentions and Competence:  With a combination of words (what we say) and actions (what we do) we should try to persuade students that we have good intentions and we are competent, that we are “on their side” so we have defined goals with the intention of helping them improve their lives, and we are competent in both defining these educational goals and designing effective instruction to help students achieve the goals.
        Being Trustworthy and Building Trust:  We are trying to show students, by our words-and-actions, that we can be trusted because we are caring and competent.  Of course, it's important to actually BE trustworthy, not just try to persuade students that we are.  And building trust is valuable in many ways, not just for improving motivation.
        Changing the Self-Image of Students:  Teachers can explain how, in a wide range of careers (not just science) and in many other aspects of life as a whole, students will be rewarded for high-quality thinking, so there is a high personal value in learning how to think more skillfully.  This is especially useful in college because these students are planning to enter a career where thinking skills will be highly valued.  If students are persuaded that the instruction has been successful (hopefully this is true!) so their thinking skills have improved, they will have more confidence in their abilities, thus improving their self-image.  They will see themselves as people who are skilled at thinking, and this self-perception will help them place a higher value on thinking.
        The Ethics of Persuasion:  If teachers are trying to change the self-image of students, is this ethical?  I think the answer is YES because...  First, when the scope of self-image modification is appropriately limited (as it should be in education for thinking skills) this is generally accepted as an ethical-and-useful function of education that has an overall goal of helping students more completely fulfill their personal potential by helping them develop their natural abilities in the form of improved knowledge and skills.  Second, education is only one of many strong outside-the-family influencers in the modern world — which include marketers (with ads in print and on TV, radio, internet,...) and peers (in person, on the phone, and in social media like Facebook) — that shape self-images and associated goals, and in this environment I think education tries to be (and usually is) a beneficial influence.   /   We also can think about time, which is valuable because, in the words of Ben Franklin, "that is the stuff life is made of."  If we are trying to motivate students so they will invest a little more of their valuable time to develop their thinking skills, this seems like a wise investment.

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