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How to Motivate Higher Education Students

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Imagine that you’ve spent hours putting together a lesson plan. You’ve designed activities, create worksheets, and selected reading material. Even after all of that, your students aren’t motivated to learn.

This is a reality of teaching sometimes. It happens to the best of us. Some weeks, every day just feels like a Monday. Other weeks, everyone is on top form. You can’t always predict what kind of group is going to show up. 

Fortunately, next week is a fresh start and you’re going to crush it! Our guidance almost guarantees it. 

Here are some ideas to take forward with you about motivating higher education students.

How to Motivate Higher Education Students

Rewards and Praise, not Threats

Students enter a learning environment to better themselves, but some of them lose sight of that along the way, for a number of reasons. One way to alienate a student is to threaten them, rather than using positive reinforcement. Some students need to enter that safe and supporting environment to turn on their thinking and learning brain, otherwise, they feel hostile, defensive, and reluctant to do their best work.

Teachers can not only create a safe space, but they can maintain it psychologically too. This is done by showing their belief in a student’s abilities, rather than criticising them or providing consequences if they fail to meet expectations. It’s easy for a student to save themselves the energy and not do the work if they feel that they will be reprimanded regardless.

If students who do exemplary work are publicly praised, and students who do poor work are publicly shamed, it creates an environment of competition that is not healthy for the students. Many students will only try to do the bare minimum to stay out of the limelight. What’s better is to encourage and praise their efforts, not the result of the efforts. Make it known that they can achieve anything.

Higher than praise is rewards. Who doesn’t like rewards? They’re a great way to motivate students and can be as simple as handing out stickers, watching a movie now and again, or letting students finish early. The age, ability, and personality types within your class will help you define what is a suitable reward.

Now that the classroom mentality is set...

Offer Varied Experiences

Some students learn best from a book. Some want a teacher at the front of the room explaining everything. Others want slideshows, group work, or games. What you need to know as an instructor is that a mix of activities and experiences will keep the students on their toes and active. Relying just on one teaching method is sure to fail. Variety will win their attention, and when they have your attention, they’re learning.

The best way that modern students learn, however, is by doing...

Experiential Learning

This is the process of learning by experience, by doing things in a hands-on way and creating a relationship with the activity that provides the knowledge. 

Most students, unfortunately, don’t get a lot of real, professional experience that relates to their  career until after they graduate.  Companies like Stratx Simulations bring the business world into the classroom, through industry-leading business simulations. Business simulations can foster many learning benefits, such as replicating market conditions and forces, and present students with decision-making opportunities that offer rapid personal development. Suddenly, the students see how their knowledge and skills can have a direct impact on business decisions. 

Learn more about our higher education simulations here.

Responsibility and Control

Remember being a young adult. You’re fighting so many battles on all fronts, and on top of that, you have to spend most of your waking day at school. What you wanted was more autonomy, as well as more motivation and energy to fight your battles. So, consider that, and find ways to give your students more choice, more control, and more responsibility in the classroom. Give them some freedom about their assignments, or who they are grouped with, and you might find that they respond with improved motivation. 

Another way students can be given more responsibility is through classroom jobs, even small things like cleaning the board, arranging the chairs, or handing out papers. They will feel important, and valued, and that they need to be present to make a valued contribution. 

The Search for Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the golden key to success. Every teacher knows that the best students are the ones who want to learn for themselves, not because they’re under pressure for some external (extrinsic) reason. 

Students who can provide their own sense of motivation are great, but for those who are struggling, it is the teacher they look to for support. You can give these students the gift of intrinsic motivation by getting to the roots of their wants and needs and helping to uncover them for themselves. They might purely want to acquire great knowledge, they might want to make their parents proud, or they might be dreaming of a city to move away to for their studies.

If you can see that your students are not intrinsically motivated, it’s your job to push them to get more out of their learning experience. Along the way, you can teach them about purpose, because believe it or not, it might be an alien concept to some of them. Their effort and attention can really take them places.

Tip: Ask your student why it’s good to learn about something. If they can answer it, they’ve just found purpose within it. If they can’t answer it, you need to try and build purpose into your lesson plans. 

AMP - An Epic Mind-Hack

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose (AMP). This little acronym, usually seen as AMP, but sometimes MAP, is a simple way to increase the desire for learning. It’s this simple:

  1. Autonomy - Give your students more control and responsibility so that they feel their learning is somewhat self-directed
  2. Mastery - Encourage your students to be the best version of themselves and to constantly better their skills
  3. Purpose - Show your students how learning can be life-changing and help to find fulfilment

If a student can self-direct themselves to improve and find their purpose, they will go far in life.

Feedback and Progress

Every student gets down on themselves sometimes. It’s in these moments that you can lend a hand, be a positive guiding force, show them where they can improve on past errors to become much improved. Deliver them constructive feedback, and be kind enough not to damage their ego or make them defensive. 

Try and find ways to track progress, not just in terms of scores on essays and exams, but personally too. Do you see them trying harder, working better in teams, or putting more time into improving their weaknesses? If you can see more abstract signs of progress, this feedback can be paramount to a student’s continued learning. 

Some final words

We’ve provided a solid framework here for motivating higher education students, but there’s a missing ingredient, and that’s the uniqueness of you and your students. The individual relationships you have gives you more insight than we could ever offer, and it’s that insight that you must leverage to help those you are teaching. With that, the potential is boundless.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can use experiential learning through business simulations in your course, you can get a first-hand look by scheduling a free demo with one of our advisors.

Get a business simulation demo