Enhancing Motivation to Learn

There is no doubt that student motivation to learn is derived from personal goals. Whether these goals are directly related to the purpose of learning provided is a different story. As Dr. Margery B. Ginsberg says: “Across cultural groups, all students are motivated, even when they are not motivated to learn what a teacher has to offer (Ovando & Colier, 1985).”

So here comes the question of the role of the teacher and the instructional plan on which a course is built on and how these two critical elements affect student motivation.

Dr. Reymond Wlodkowski has written a book on the subject, called “Enhancing Motivation to Learn.” He has developed a Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching, which is based on the constructivist learning theory that states that people learn from other people and from their own environment. Yes, there is internal cognitive learning process, but knowledge is socially and culturally constructed.

In his book, Dr. Wlodkowski shares that until 10-15 years ago in the field of psychology, there was dominating understanding of the motivation to learn as an internal individualistic process. The following is an excerpt that reflects his opinion on the changed notion of what motivation to learn is:

“We are more aware that to help a person learn may require understanding of person’s thinking and emotions as inseparable from the social context in which the [learning] activity takes place.”


“Motivation is inseparable from culture… Colleges are becoming learning environments with increasing numbers of culturally diverse students. … Teaching that ignores student norms of behavior and communication provokes student resistance, while teaching that is responsive prompts student involvement (Olneck, 1995).

Engagement in learning is the visible outcome of motivation. Our emotions are a part of and significantly influence our motivation. In turn, our emotions are socialized through culture. …Without sensitivity to culture, we, as teachers, may unknowingly contribute to the decline of motivation among our students.”

The Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching is “respectful of different cultures and is capable of creating a common culture within a learning situation that all students accept.” It makes both teacher and learners more aware, informed and responsible about themselves, others, and their learning. This affects positively learners’ motivation.

The motivational framework offers a combination of four motivational conditions to build an instructional/lesson plan. These four conditions are used as guidelines for selecting learning activities. In his book Dr. Wlodkowski describes 60 instructional strategies, which he calls “motivational strategies.”

The four motivational conditions are:

  • Establishing Inclusion (start of the lesson) – creating a learning environment in which adults feel capable, respected, accepted, and connected to one another. Probably here is the place to mention the five pillars of a motivating teacher according to Dr. Wlodkowski: expertise, enthusiasm, empathy, clarity, and cultural responsiveness.
  • Developing attitude (throughout the lesson) – creating a favorable disposition toward the learning experience through personal relevance and choice. That means a positive attitude toward the subject, the instructor (learner’s relationship to the teacher bears strongly on learner’s feeling of inclusion,) learning goal (attainable – provide big picture of what the studying will achieve,) self-efficacy (students need to believe they can learn what they want to learn and learn from their mistakes). It’s important for teachers to seek first to understand – to understand their students’ prior knowledge of topic, educational abilities, general learning preferences, and cultural background.
  • Enhancing meaning (throughout the lesson) – creating challenging learning experiences that include learners’ values and perspectives, past experiences, emotions, and goals.
  • Engendering competence (end of the lesson) – creating understanding that students are effective in learning in something they value – this relates to the adult learners being self-directed, responsible for their own lives, pragmatic – they want to learn something that is relevant and useful, meaningful to their current lives or immediate futures. Being competent at something they value is closely related to the transfer of knowledge from learning environment to performance environment, and the relationship between competence and self-confidence is mutually enhancing.
4 Motivational Conditions

(click the image to zoom in)

Dr. Wlodkowski doesn’t forget to mention the notion of fun. He says that a student is most motivated when she is willing to learn something she values, she has the desire to succeed at her learning, and she enjoys the process.

The motivational framework for culturally responsive teaching can be integrated with instructional planning by converting the four motivational conditions into questions:

  • How do we create or affirm a learning atmosphere in which we feel respected and connected to one another?
  • How do we make use of personal relevance and learner volition to create or affirm a favorable disposition toward learning?
  • How do we create engaging and challenging learning experiences that include learner perspectives and values?
  • How do we create or affirm an understanding that learners have effectively learned something they value and perceive as authentic to their real world?

By answering these four questions and selecting motivational strategies provided with the framework, a teacher can develop an instructional plan that enhances students’ motivation to learn. The more harmonious the elements of the instructional design are aligned, the more likely is for learners to sustain intrinsic motivation.

Contact ATIG for examples of instructional plans built on the motivational framework for culturally responsive teaching.

The motivational framework was developed by Dr. Ray J. Wlodkowski and Dr. Margery B. Ginsberg in 1995. They both are experts in adult and professional learning. Each has written several books and has won awards in the field of Adult Education. To learn more about their work, visit:

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