As jacaranda flowers bloom, heralding the academic assessment period, including dates when assignments are due and exam schedules, these impending assessments may become an impetus to study in preparation for forthcoming exams and to complete academic tasks. Impetus is regarded as an impelling force for action – one aspect of motivation. Daniel Pink, the author of “Drive”, subtitled “The surprising truth about what motivates us”, outlines a number of factors that increase (or decrease) motivation.

Reward just aheadMotivation is required to undertake academic work; yet there are graduated forms of motivation, such as: wishing, hoping, desiring, wanting specific outcomes is a goal; a motive can act as a stimulus, catalyst or impetus for action to be taken; a push, spur, perhaps with an occasional, irregular, unexpected inducement can maintain momentum; while encouragement, drive, commitment and volition will ensure persistence and eventual attainment of the goal or accomplishment of the task.  Psychologist, Edward Deci, and author (with Richard Flaste) of the book “Why we do what we do: Understanding motivation”, explains that people have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore and to learn.”  This refers to an individual’s internal drive to accomplish a task; whereas some approaches are actually demotivating. External rewards (e.g. payment) can be counter-productive, especially as a long-term motivational strategy and when undertaking creative tasks.

There can be a complex relationship between rewards and accomplishment. Some students appreciate external rewards associated with achievements (a positive report card, an academic award) but these acknowledgements of individual success are usually at some distance to the initial effort expended; are somewhat outside the student’s control; these rewards are not guaranteed. Where monetary or direct response rewards (“I’ll give you Y if you do X”) are proposed in order to motivate a student, these ‘carrots’ might be initially motivating; they may even be seductive; however students can quickly become Impossibleaddicted to these external enticements.  The perceived value and impact of the initial enticement diminishes rapidly, resulting in expectations of more significant enticements to undertake academic work along the lines of “What will you give me to do XYZ?”

Reduced self-efficacy will diminish motivation when a student believes s/he does not have the capacity or skills to achieve a specific goal. Diminished self-belief can lead towards performance anxiety and an acute fear of failure. A positive alternative is to identify specific ‘stumbling blocks’, determine the skills that need to be developed in order to attain success, break the task into smaller, achievable steps and expend effort to persist and eventually accomplish this goal. Students require a personalised approach to motivation in order to work, persist and accomplish goals.

© Michele Juratowitch