According to renowned higher education researcher Ken Bain, all exceptionally successful teachers have a single quality in common: the ability to spark their students' enthusiasm and reinforce their intrinsic motivation. But what actually is motivation how does it develop, and how can we nurture it in our students?
Motivation constitutes the single most important factor in successful learning. Studies have shown that most first-semester students are highly motivated when they begin their studies – but that their motivation soon begins to wane. For this reason, it is important to build educational settings in which students stay motivated.
How, as teachers, can we establish these settings? Generally speaking, most people are driven by three fundamental motives: the desire for autonomy ("I want to be able to choose what to do and when to do it"), the aspiration to competence ("I want to be capable of something"), and the need to feel connected ("I want to be part of a community"). Thus, students can be motivated by means such as presenting them with challenges, offering feedback on their performance, and packaging educational content in such a way that they grasp the connection to their personal goals.
Most students will have chosen their degree program carefully and will be eager to delve into their studies; as teachers, it will be up to us to nurture this enthusiasm, or to revive it. Toward this end, we can avail ourselves of a variety of tactics for spurring students' motivation – such as presenting lively introductions to individual topics, focusing on the practical relevance of course content, assigning group tasks, and encouraging interactivity, to name a few.