Whose Expectations Matter Most?

Whose Expectations Matter Most?

The third chapter from the Academic Success Formula is written by Chris Lien, who has developed an international view of education and obtained insights regarding best practices through his twenty-five years in the electronics industry. He applies these insights to students in San Diego County as their tutors provide academic coaching on a daily basis. Throughout the chapter, Chris explores internal and external motivation through studies and theories, and recommends ways to build student’s motivation for learning.

Do you have it in you?

Modern society places great value on the word ‘motivation.’ In fact, people spend billions of dollars on books, personal coaches and short courses to acquire personal motivation in their never-ending quest to achieve more in life. However, motivation is a complex concept to get to grips with- hence the question- do you have it in you? This question refers to motivation as a driving force rather than a natural ability, whereas another saying “You know it when you see it”, indicates the fruits of motivation are evident through action, and that motivation isn’t visible.

Webster’s dictionary also has two definitions for the word motivation: “The mental process that arouses an organism to action; as, a large part of a teacher’s job is to give students the motivation to learn on their own” Or “The goal or mental image of a goal that creates motivation.” The first definition involves external factors whereas the second refers to internal. Yet, perhaps motivation can best be considered a force that compels a person to take action towards a goal or purpose. Even though external motivators can help develop internal motivation, it’s important to remember that internal motivation increases based on internal decisions made by that person.

Motivation can’t be purchased

Successful people across the globe will often tout motivation as the main driver for their achievements, which shows how the intangible element of personal motivation is something money can’t buy. To delve deeper into a more intuitive understanding of motivation, it’s key to look at sports and other areas of self-expression, rather than education. For example, coaches point to several key areas that come together to form motivation in superior athletes, with most of them being unrelated to skills they’re born with.

  • Goal-Orientation
  • Teachability
  • Perseverance
  • Self-Control
  • Accountability
  • Others-orientation
  • Tireless work ethic

What’s interesting is how these traits can’t be purchased or acquired by simply reading about them. Only can these qualities be maintained by continued application over the course of one’s life and the same is true for all students. These traits both stem from and lead towards motivation, and without an inner drive to sustain and increase them, motivation and progress would stop.

Self-Efficacy is key

When looking directly at motivation in the field of education, self-efficacy is an important concept to consider. Defined as an individual’s confidence in their ability to succeed in a scenario presented to them. For example, how decisively a student approaches their personal goals is highly linked to their sense of self-efficacy.

Looking at self-efficacy more closely, it consists of four major drivers: mastery experiences, social modelling, social persuasion and physiological response. Together they combine both internal and external factors that directly impact a person’s belief in their own ability to succeed which influences their personal motivation.

1. Mastery experiences- Prior successes in similar activities.

2.       Social modelling- Seeing someone else successfully execute a similar task and imitating the behaviour.

3.       Social persuasion- Involves encouragement or discouragement from another person.

4. Physiological response- How someone reacts to stress can affect self-efficacy.

Combined, these drivers develop a mixture of positive and negative feelings that help form a person’s core belief about something. A 1996 study by Bandura illustrates this further. He found that children held higher beliefs regarding their academic abilities if their parents had high expectations for them. Not only does this show how self-efficacy is a major component of personal motivation but also how relevant it is in education.

The Influence of others

If today’s students want to be successful, it’s clear they must have high levels of motivation which can only be maintained by working toward a vision they own. Yet we shouldn’t assume this means they are working on their own. Most people who have achieved great success will attribute it to the influential people in their life. Parents, teachers, family and friends are able to help a student define, refine and maintain the course towards their goals, which is why it’s so important for students to choose who they surround themselves with wisely. If they do it’ll make sure the external motivation and advice they’re receiving is constructive, genuine and that tough questions are regularly asked, forcing them to revisit their goals and how they’re going to achieve them.

Ways to build students’ internal and external motivation for learning

Building students’ internal and external motivation for learning can be difficult but certainly not impossible. To start it’s important to understand that students need to struggle a little in their studies in order to build increased motivation gained through perseverance. Even though this may seem strange at first, this type of ‘tough love’ will help a child start to work independently and gain the critical skill of self-discovery. Here’s some ways to get started.

  • Set age and skill level appropriate goals according to the SMART paradigm (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound). Over time increase task difficulty and decrease time.
  • Praise your child for the work they’ve accomplished, even if it’s not complete or on time. There’s plenty of time to improve and this should start as a positive growth experience.
  • Having reward systems in place will help encourage students to complete tasks and work hard towards achieving long-term goals. Some kids are motivated by external incentives like toys and books, whereas others are motivated by internal factors such as spoken praise or hugs. Most children will be motivated by a combination of both.
  • Positive praise is one of the most powerful motivators as it includes external acknowledgment at the same time as building a child’s self-esteem.
  • For older students stuck in a performance plateau try academic ‘cross training’. This involves changing the order of tasks or environment of study to bring newness to a student’s perspective and encourage them on to rise above a plateau.

No matter how hard anyone tries, there’s never going to be a recipe for motivation that works for everyone. Whether you’re a student, teacher or parent, motivation involves a complex mixture of internal and external influences, high levels of self-efficacy, continuous work and application towards traits that instil motivation, not to mention a great group of people that surround you. Once you find the right balance for you, motivation is never a given- after all, getting and staying motivated requires motivation.

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