Motivation: Designing for engagement

We all know that student engagement is important for effective learning, but engagement doesn't just happen: you need to design and plan for it. In designing for engagement you need to understand what motivates your students.

Are your students intrinsically motivated by a deep love of learning (often referred to as 'deep learners'), or are they extrinsically motivated by factors such as needing to get the grades to achieve the degree (referred to as 'surface learners'), or learn something specific to apply to their current situation or future workplace (referred to as strategic learners)? Use the things that are important to your students to help them achieve the outcomes that are important to the course. This creates a sense of achievement and successful learning for the students, which in turn helps to create further motivation for the next task/phase of learning.

This principle of motivation is described in the expectancy-value theory. The expectancy-value theory, a prominent theory of achievement motivation, states that: motivation= value x expectancy. That is, how much a student values the goal times how likely they think they are to succeed in achieving that goal.

Design for motivation by thinking about how your students would see the value in achievement and expectancy for success when setting learning activities and assessment tasks. This might mean setting early achievable tasks to give students a sense of achievement and set expectations for future success. Importantly it also means making the value in the tasks that you set explicit and meaningful to your students.

Don't waste your students' effort and ensure that tasks and activities are 'valuable' to students: that they are embedded into the learning cycle and build towards the end goals (assessment and learning outcomes and work-ready graduates). Define these goals and work backwards to develop tasks, activities and assessments (designed for learning rather than of learning) to build incrementally towards them. The value for the student is there is no wasted effort, and the value for the educator is that you encourage extrinsically motivated 'surface' and 'strategic' learners to go deeper.

Other elements of student engagement include aspects such as interest, curiosity, social engagement and even fun! Students who are engaged in their work are energised by success, curiosity, originality and satisfying relationships (Strong, Silver & Robinson, 1995). Engaging work stimulates student curiosity and permits them to express their creativity and foster positive relationships with others. Non-engaging work is that which is repetitive, requires little or no thought, and is forced upon you by others.

Consider the clip below that looks at the hidden truths behind what really motivates us. Check out the clip below and identify the motivation evident in the two characters.

Look at the clip below on the role of curiosity and student questions in creating engaging learning environments.

Screenshot of motivation video

 Screenshot of YouTube teaching and understanding video

 Screenshot of Ted video
View this on YouTube (10:48min) View this video on YouTube (8:12min) View this video on TED (6:29min)


Another approach to motivating students, especially within the online context, is that of gamification. Gamification is the practice of applying gaming elements, rewards, levels, challenges etc, to different contexts: in this case learning. Taking a gamification approach to a course can involve a lot of design work, but can also reap significant benefits in terms of engaging students and increasing motivation. There are however a few simple tools you can use in Moodle to easily add some gamification elements to your course.

For more information on gamification, see:

Where can I get support?

Each faculty has their own embedded course design contacts who can provide advice and assistance in designing a more engaging and motivating course. Alternatively, CLIPP staff can provide help.