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“What Factors Motivate Students to Learn”

When you were a college student, you likely noticed that your professors had different approaches to teaching. Think about some of your favorite professors. What did they do that was so engaging? How did they interact with their students? How did they make you feel about learning the material in their course? What effect did these behaviors have on your motivation to participate and succeed in their courses?

Motivation refers to the personal investment that an individual has in reaching a desired state or outcome (Maehr & Meyer, 1997). In the context of learning, motivation influences the direction, intensity, persistence, and quality of the learning behaviors in which students engage (Ambrose et al., 2010).”

We know from experience that faculty can have a great deal of influence on student motivation. More than assigning points to encourage project or assignment completion, research supports the potential for faculty to positively influence student motivation by communicating value, providing a supportive learning environment, and helping students build a higher sense of self-efficacy around the material in their courses. 

In How Learning Works (2010), Ambrose and her colleagues, expertly describe What Factors Motivate Students to Learn and illustrate the relationship between value, self-efficacy, the learning environment (i.e. class climate), and student motivation.

Image illustrates the relationship between value, self-efficacy, the learning environment (i.e. class climate), and student motivation. Students’ motivation is highest when their self-efficacy is high, the learning environment is supportive, and they perceive value/relevance in the learning.

How can faculty communicate the value of their course (i.e. the knowledge and ideas of their discipline) and help students build confidence in their ability to meet the course goals and their own? What can faculty do in the classroom to create an environment that fosters engagement and learning? There’s no one answer to any of these questions, so we’ve provided several resources to help you explore these complex and multifaceted ideas.



Helping students find relevance: Teaching the relevance of course content can help students develop into engaged, motivated, and self-regulated learners.

“Why Are We Doing This?” Establishing Relevance to Enhance Student Learning

 Relevance for Learning and Motivation in Education


Self-Efficacy: Helping Students Believe in Themselves

A Closer Look at College Students: Self-Efficacy and Goal Orientation

Building Student Self-Efficacy and Mastery of Skills through Service-learning Partnerships

Self-Efficacy, Stress, and Academic Success in College

Supportive Learning Environment/Class Climate

What is Classroom Climate?

What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching