How can we keep students motivated in self-directed learning? In this article, we will approach this topic from educational psychology and share a few learning design strategies and practical approaches.

Motivation sustains our effort and explains why people take on challenges. While learning requires extra effort, motivation affects how much energy a learner can allocate to a task.

So how do you find and maintain your motivation to learn?

Strategy1: Set learning goals rather than performance goals

Learning Goal refers to learning to acquire new knowledge or to solve a problem. Performance Goal refers to learning to demonstrate one’s ability or to gain an advantage over others. Studies have shown that meaningful learning is most likely to occur when learners pursue learning goals rather than performance goals.

  • Practical approach #1: Invest in your learning goals

Teachers and instructional designers can set learning goals for students and lead them to greater buy-in to these goals. For instance, having students fill out the KWL form (know, what, learn) allows them to actively connect with what they already know and stimulate their curiosity to learn more.

  • Practical approach #2: Use more problem-solving examples when introducing new knowledge

Sweller found that when students see a new problem, they focus on how to do it correctly. With this in mind, Sweller points out that teachers can introduce new knowledge by providing more examples of the thought processes, rather than asking students to complete exercises. Thus, students will not focus on task completion at the expense of a more in-depth thinking process. They can tend to their learning goals and learn more effectively.

Strategy2: Build a Growth Mindset

Dweck and Leggett’s research discover that students with fixed mindsets set goals based on their past successes and failures and tend to avoid challenges. Students with a growth mindset are confident that they can improve through their efforts and are more motivated.

Practical approach #1: Ensure that students can complete learning tasks through effort

If student put in their effort but fail, they may believe that grades are not based on hard work but luck or talent. Conversely, students become more motivated to learn when they discover that hard work helps them to achieve their goals. Therefore, when designing learning materials, teachers and instructional designers should try to ensure that students can complete the tasks through their effort.

  • Practical approach #2: Convey the message that “you reap what you grow.”

Teachers should inform students that “progress is achieved through hard work”. Teachers should also avoid using expressions like “smart” and “IQ.” These expressions imply that talent is innate, which discourage students from making effort.

Strategy 3: Develop students’ interest in learning

Situational interest refers to attention being drawn to something unusual. Many studies have shown that people are more likely to remember interesting information when learning. Personal interest is an adjunct to our experience. If we pursue our goals over time, we will become more interested in them. Both situational and personal interest can direct attention and motivate students to learn.

  • Practical Approach #1: Design creative learning materials to induce situational interest

Teachers and instructional designers can use creative learning materials to stimulate students’ situational interest and motivation, such as using hands-on activities. However, potential problems may arise. For instance, situational interest may even distract students with irrelevant details. When using contextual design, teachers and instructional designers must plan carefully to ensure that students also receive the relevant content.

  • Practical Approach #2: Use personal interests to learn other skills

In contrast to situational interest, personal interest arises as students continue to learn a subject and varies from person to person. Teachers and instructional designers are unable to influence personal interest directly. However, it is a great channel to practice other skills. For example, teachers can encourage elementary school students to improve their literacy skills by reading books of their choice.

(Liu Weijing,Zhao Di)