What Motivates Learning?

I continue to consider and reflect on my experiences as a learner to shape my teaching and grow as a teacher. In Teacher as Student I reflected on a recent online learning experience. The focus was on how it feels to be a novice. This post approaches learning from the motivational standpoint- why do we choose to learn something and how can we integrate those motivations into our teaching?

Let’s start with a short reflection: When was the last time you learned something new, for FUN, and experienced what it’s like to be a novice?  The follow up question is more important- WHY did you learn it? What MOTIVATED you?  Three recent learning experiences reflect common motivations for learning outside the academic setting.


Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

Do you Snapchat? I didn’t but I do now, though I’m not very good at it. I wasn’t interested in learning how to use the app until a number of family members started using it. We were at a large event and they were laughing and having fun; I was missing out.  Not being part of the sharing and laughter motivated me to learn.

Teaching Implication: Peer mentors and prior students are excellent resources. Ask them to share their experiences with the class.  This provides opportunities to highlight what current students are or will be “missing” and why the learning is important.


Watching Others / Direct Observation

Similar to FOMO, direct observation can be a powerful draw. My dear friend has been knitting for years. I’ve watched her knit, seen the finished objects, and visited a yarn store with her. None of it motivated me to learn. What got me started? Watching her interact with a novice knitter. They were wholly engrossed and enthusiastically discussed their hobby. What was to me, an abstract and unreachable skill, was now seen in a different light. The fun and creative aspects of knitting were revealed and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Teaching Implication: Recent graduates and advisory board members can share valuable insights about how content learning connects to what they do professionally.


Explicit Invitation

Lovely strip canoe, right? That’s my husband and the boat he built with the help of a good friend. Hubby is not a skilled craftsman. Building a boat was not on his radar. But the friend was going to build a guideboat and invited hubby to build one too. “I don’t have the skills for that” was the initial response. But the friend, sounding very much like a teacher, replied “I have skills enough for both of us. I’ve never done this before either, we’ll figure out how to do this together.”

Teaching Implication: A personal invitation by an expert, whether that is the teacher, administrator, alumni, grad student, or friend is powerful force for learning.  This is especially true if the invitation is to learn together. This simple strategy applies across disciplines and academic levels. It can start with an invitation in the syllabus, followed by additional calls throughout the course.

Other common motivations include:

  • Needing to solve a problem
  • Watching a video/movie or experiencing a demo in person
  • Reading about it
  • Discovering by chance

This is not an exhaustive list. What other motivations for learning have you experienced? How have you integrated motivational strategies in your teaching? Please share below.


About Lolita Paff

Educator. Wife. Mother. Amateur chef. Wine lover.

Posted on July 13, 2017, in Learning, Students, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The mistakes I make motivate me to learn so that I wouldn’t do it again. A convenient example is language learning. I have a dozen stories where my misuse of words diverted the conversation into a joke, and I wondered why people laughed so hard. I am blessed by friendly and patient people who would explain things to me, so I would learn. They provided a safe environment to learn. It’s deeply appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: