One of the most prominent academic problems plaguing today’s teenage youth is a lack of motivation toward academic activities; the paucity of research in education for motivation enhancement is surprising (Ames, 1992). The role of schools and their responsibility in providing students with the necessary motivation to achieve is also up for discussion. The issues regarding a lack of motivation are not exclusively restricted to academic subjects; however, there are concerns over healthy lifestyles and a lack of motivation of many students to participate in regular physical activity (Corbin & Pangrazi, 1992).

Studying motivation looks at the causes of goal-oriented activity (Atkinson, 1964). Adaptive motivational patterns promote the establishment, maintenance and attainment of personally challenging and personally valued achievement goals. Maladaptive motivational patterns, therefore, are associated with a failure: an inability to establish reasonable, valued goals; an inability to effectively strive towards such goals; or ultimately, an inability to attain valued goals that are potentially within one’s reach (Dweck, 1986).

Year after year, numerous students find themselves in a position where they have no desire to carry out academic tasks. This absence of such motivation can lead to feelings of frustration and discontentment, which encumber productivity and even affect students’ well-being. So why do students neglect their studies? And what strategies can we apply to fight this lack of motivation?

  • Many students can be demotivated by the structure/allocation of rewards: the structure of a course and its allocation of rewards can in itself be enough to encourage or discourage effort (Ames & Russell, 1984). Students may lose motivation to keep up with required reading or revision when their exam is not for another few months; the reward of finishing the module is too far ahead for them to see such a payoff. Likewise, if the teacher/lecturer does not sufficiently distinguish between excellent and poor performance, the student will be less likely to strive for excellence. Furthermore, if the grading criteria are unclear or inconsistently applied, students’ motivation will likely suffer.

Strategies: Highlight connections between graded and ungraded tasks – students will be more motivated to pay attention in classes if they understand how it will aid them in future exams: to keep up with readings if they know it will benefit them towards writing assignments (Meece, 1988). An interesting article about the study conducted by Deci and Ryan (1969) illustrates nicely how rewards can affect student motivation.

  • Students have other priorities that compete for their time and attention: they often struggle to balance different goals, including academic (getting good grades), social (making friends/finding a romantic partner) and physical (getting adequate exercise/sleep) (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier & Ryan, 1991). Completing their work to a high standard may have little importance when compared to maintaining a romantic relationship.

Strategies: Assign a reasonable amount of work, ensuring that the workload is commensurate with the size of the module (course credits). Students should also be held accountable for their work; to gain good results they prioritise work they must do, (e.g. to get a good grade) over work they do not necessarily need to do. So linking course work to an outcome they value, such as good grades, will motivate them towards such an outcome (Gorham & Christophel, 1992).

  • Students do not believe that their efforts will improve their performance: if a module is known to be difficult, they may feel that no amount of effort they put in will yield anything substantial in terms of achievement. Similarly, early assignments that show discouraging grades may put them off working hard later on as they feel they won’t be able to do the work well. Indeed, Patrick, Skinner and Connell (1993) suggest that students who are most detached from school also have little belief in their academic ability. We can understand then, that some students attribute their academic difficulties to their perceived low competence (Legault & Green-Demers, 2006).

Strategies: To be motivated, students need a standard to aim for that is both challenging and attainable; assignments or quizzes that assess a student’s level of ability early on in the course, can provide a lecturer with knowledge as to the right level of challenge for the students. Having ‘help sessions’ available throughout the duration of the course will also help students communicate difficulties they may be experiencing (Dweck, 1986).

Enhancing student motivation is essential to keeping them engaged with the course and for attaining good grades. To get our students motivated, we not only have to have course and exam structures that can be rewarding, but the teachers themselves need to be highly motivated: teachers must remember the reasons that brought them into teaching in the first place and rekindle that fire within themselves. They then have the opportunity to start a fire and keep it going within their motivated students. Through soft challenges and rewards for the youngest pupils up to respectable challenges and the rewards that come with such achievements for the older students.

Reference: Atkinson, J.W. (1964). An introduction to motivation. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.



  1. Really interesting blog! I couldn’t agree more that to increase motivation the consequences have to be directly related to the antecedent triggering such behaviour. I also think the Social Exchange Theory can be important in improving motivation, particularly where grades are concerned. My blog this week explained such theory in depth, but in summary the benefits of receiving the grade needs to outweigh the costs of doing the work, such as time and lack of sleep. Butler (2011) found for students that did not achieve top grades, intrinsic motivation significantly reduced and in turn the amount of effort put in also weakened. However when a personalled comment from the teacher was given rather than a grade, all students (regardless of ability) were motivated to work hard and strive for improvement. Therefore perhaps another strategy could be to include personalised feedback for each student and dare I say it… without grades!? However I doubt this revolutionary change will happen over night!

    Butler, R. (2011). Enhancing and undermining intrinsic motivation: the effects of task-involving and ego-involving evaluation on interest and performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 58(1), 1-14. doi: 0.1111/j.2044-8279.1988.tb00874.x

    • You make an interesting point, Sarah. I definitely agree with you to the extent that personalised feedback provides more motivation for students to work harder, and getting rid of grades only amplifies this. As a teacher, if you want your students to learn something, the quickest way to disinterest them is to grade their work. An example: try it with children: listen to them read, then give them a mark out of 100 once they have finished. Do this for a week and see how interested they are in reading any more. Grading students not only disinterests them from the subject at hand, but reduces their preference for challenging tasks and reduces the quality of students’ thinking (Kohn, 1999). However, schools that have got rid of the grading system still need a percentage mark at the end of the year. That is something I think is great with this module – yes, we are required to write blogs to a certain standard of grading – however we are not having to learn a certain selection of key points to be tested on; we are allowed to take in what we want which for me, has increased my awareness and knowledge on this subject far more than if I had been presented with specific things to learn. I have also found more motivation to research around the topics, which is just what students need!

  2. I find the whole idea of rewards interesting. Before this module, I didn’t really think about how giving rewards can actually be maladaptive to education and learning. It makes sense now of course, and actually answers some questions I had about my own education. I have always been very goal orientated and I have always been headed towards a reward. My rewards have changed over the years, e.g. from gold stars in primary school, to merits in high school, and now I view grades more as a reward. But what effects do rewards have?
    Deci (1971) suggested that external rewards can reduce a child’s intrinsic motivation. Like me, children can become very focused on receiving the reward, instead of properly engaging with the material they are supposed to be learning. The material becomes a means to an end, which leads to many problems, e.g. with memory retention. Rewards are given from a very early age in primary school, and so this could suggest that throughout their entire lives children are almost drawn away from the learning experience. It is noted that giving the right type of rewards to the right type of behaviour can be very beneficial. Rewarding a behaviour that showed engagement and intrinsic control can greatly aid in development. Cameron and Pierce (1994) however, conducted a meta-analysis and found that motivation did not appear to be affected by rewards. Deci et al (1999) then produced another paper which heavily criticised the meta-analysis, suggesting that it was not conducted properly and that was the reason they came to the conclusions they did. Deci et al (2001) and Cameron et al (2001) both then produced papers further entrenching their views.
    So overall, the area of rewards seems currently to be very controversial. Whilst giving rewards can be beneficial, studies suggest that great care is needed, so that motivation is not harmed. The mixed nature of studies both in support and against the effects of rewards emphasises the need for care.

    Deci (1971)
    Cameron and Pierce (1994)
    Deci et al (1999)
    Deci et al (2001)
    Cameron et al (2001)

    • You raise a great point. Lepper (1988) maintains that extrinsically motivated students perform in order to receive a reward (good grades/teacher approval) or avoid a punishment (telling off from their parents) that is external to the activity of learning itself. Stipek (1988) maintains that defining short term goals within the larger scope of the work can assist students in associating effort with success; working towards completing a few small goals each week can be a lot more rewarding than working towards a large goal over the course of the year. Extrinsic rewards on the other hand, can as you say decrease existing intrinsic motivation. So what can be done to help unmotivated students? Brophy (1986) suggests the process of Attribution Retaining, which involves modelling, socialisation and practice exercises. It aids students in concentrating on tasks; helping them to figure out alternative ways to approach problems instead of giving up; and attributing their failures to insufficient effort/ineffective strategies rather than lack of ability.

  3. Really interesting blog Sophie, after reading your blog I was motivated (no pun intended) to research into why students feel less motivated. Could society have something to do with this? Part of the reason why I thought motivation may have decreased could be because of the influence and important that video games now have in teenagers life, many prioritize these games, and the completion of them over their academic achievements and the completion of homework and assignments. I found this blog ( which has been written by a teacher in Arizona, she states that throughout her ten years of teaching she has noticed a decline in motivation and puts it down to the amount of technology students use these days. However, this can be counterbalanced by a study conducted by Mouza (2008) who found that students who were allowed to use laptops displayed intrinsic motivation and persistence in completing their schoolwork, the quality of the work they produced also increased. The fact that these students were allowed to take their laptops home also meant that they came up with their own projects or worked further on projects that have been started previously in the classroom. So in conclusion, I believe that the amount of video time and gaming that a student partakes in can be damaging to their motivation and degree of quality they produce. However, I also believe that technology can provide positives within education and allow for students to work on, and improve classwork, meaning grades will improve. I think that there is a balance between these two factors that needs to be controlled and maintained to allow technology to have a positive influence on the education we receive, without destroying our motivation and damaging our learning capabilities.
    Mouza (2008). A framework for addressing challenges to classroom technology use. AACE Journal, 16(1), 21-46.

    • I see where you’re coming from, Becky. I myself used to rush my homework so I could play games, however if video games could be implemented in such a way as to be beneficial to the students then both the teachers, parents and pupils would be happy. Rosas et al (2003) evaluated the effects of the introduction of educational video games into the classroom on learning, motivation and classroom dynamics. Testing 1274 students, their results found an improvement in motivation to learn and positive effects on classroom dynamics. This indicates that educational video games can be a useful tool in promoting learning within the classroom – and if they could be taken home, the games could supplement classwork in an enjoyable setting outside the classroom.

  4. Pingback: Comments I’ve made for Blog 6 | Sarah's Blog

  5. I have just been writing about how the home environment plays a significant role in a child’s performance; specifically how children from disadvantaged backgrounds can benefit more than their counterparts from preschool education. It would seem the same is true for mastering motivation. Wang, Hwang, Liao, Chen and Hsieh (2011) explored mastery motivation (intrinsic drives to master one’s environment), which they considered a vital developmental change. They found that the quality of the home environment in infancy was important in developing mastery motivation. There are many factors that affect a child’s motivation, but I think that parental involvement in education and quality of life is on of the most important.

    Pei-Jung Wang, Ai-Wen Hwang, Hua-Fang Liao, Pau-Chung Chen, Wu-Shiun Hsieh. (2011). The stability of mastery motivation and its relationship with home environment in infants and toddlers, Infant Behavior and Development, Volume 34, Issue 3, Pages 434-442,

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