Motivation | Bangkok Post: learning

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Research concerning the role played by motivation in effective learning typically examines only the motivation to attend a learning session, to remain during the learning session and to make the most of what is being taught. 

These students are clearly motivated and are having fun as they learn. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN

While a great deal has been written about what motivates adult students to begin, or return to university, college or language class, the most important thing is to understand why they have decided to come to a class and how they can be motivated to become and remain motivated once they start a class.

Intrinsic motivation

While many adults will claim they came for extrinsic reasons - a certificate, a better job - these reasons often seem to decrease in value once a course begins and they begin to realise how much work will be involved.

With this in mind, intrinsic techniques or conditions within the learner become important in creating motivation to learn. These motivators include to what extent students are able to see and then accept the benefit of what they are learning and how they acquire and maintain confidence in their ability to learn.

With mixed abilities, ages and interests, it is often difficult to know how to encourage intrinsic motivation with a group of students. However, in examining each question, as teachers, it is our role to motivate students to reach their particular learning goals.

While students can be led into activities outside the class that may reinforce intrinsic motivation through practical work and study, our teaching must also include adequate reinforcement to ensure that students continue with their learning.

This reinforcement can be provided through continually demonstrating how much has been accomplished, the skills they have acquired both prior to the class with other teachers and in this class, and the increased ease or skills they have now compared with the situation before they started.

Success flagging

Confidence-building strategies include ideas and techniques used to prevent or to help students work through attitudes or beliefs that can limit or stop their participation in learning tasks.

One answer is to use "success flagging", in which students are reminded about the successes previous students have had; or ways in which their work or social life will be easier or more profitable when they have learned or acquired the benefits of the course.

In companies where a variety of students come through the same course, gaining permission from previous students to mention their names and successes can often be very motivating and can provide students with a possible mentor for the skill areas being presented.


An additional and important motivational concern is the need to ensure that content and the way it is presented continually draws student attention to what is being learned.

Motivational strategies related to content include the need to ensure that what is presented, the way in which it is presented and all related activities match their expectations and experience. With this in mind, stories, visual presentation and humour are often very helpful.

A personal story that explains an idea or clarifies a concept is a very powerful and often very enjoyable way of gaining the kind of interest needed for learning. For example, a story about how something to do with the content has value for the teacher can be a useful means to show how a topic, skill or knowledge does have personal worth.

While most research on motivation in adult education recommends involving participants in the planning stage, this is seldom an option.

In this case, motivational techniques are limited to those we can use in class and face to face with students, such as the sequencing of material or the inclusion of personal stories and examples.

Dr Timothy Cornwall has been teaching EFL for 30 years and is part of the Shinawatra University faculty. Co-founder of Thailand Educators Network, he can be reached through , through his web site, at  or on 081-834-8982.

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