What motivates the students

If you want to build a ship
then don't round up men
to procure wood, to assign tasks
and divide up the work
but teach men to longing
to the wide, endless sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Citadelle)

Institutionalized learning, as in any form of teaching, is always aimed at the learner's learning success. The learning success is influenced by the two factors learning effort and learning motivation. The learning effort describes the resources brought in, such as the learning time, cognitive abilities and skills or already existing experience. The situation-specific motivation to learn is composed of mostly long-term motives of the learner and the incentives of the learning situation. If learning success is now seen in simplified terms as the product of these two factors, then no factor must approach zero for learning success to occur at all. Of these two factors, lessons in school can set, control and keep stable the framework conditions that make up the learning effort (e.g. attendance time, scope of tasks, ...). For learning success in class, special attention must therefore be paid to the second, less easily determinable influencing factor, the learner's motivation to learn. Motivation always plays a role in school when students are able to set suitable goals and have the confidence to achieve these goals so that factors such as intelligence or existing knowledge can be reflected in optimal learning outcomes. Teachers have a variety of options for designing lessons in such a way that students really want to understand the material, like to delve into something and want to improve themselves. This includes, for example, the way in which tasks are set, sufficient time to complete them successfully, relationship work in a class, age-appropriate group work, cooperation with extracurricular areas and, above all, freedom. Even some teachers find it difficult to motivate themselves again and again to teach, which is related to the stresses teachers have to withstand in the current school system. Because how teachers experience stress and are motivated themselves are closely related to one another. The main thing here is to see yourself as a learner, not as an infallible instance of the knowledge imparted.

Motivation to learn is therefore no permanent student status. Its development is linked to a specific learning situation and depends on the changing relationship between the learner's motives and the incentives that teachers are able to create in a learning situation. The student motives include, for example, existing skills, expectations or emotions accompanying action such as the joy of learning, which help the learner to learn something new. Cognitive and emotional-motivational components are therefore inextricably linked for a learning performance that results from a learning motivation.

Teaching-learning processes are extremely complex processes. Teaching can only ever deliver one learning offer and therefore fail. Successful learning only occurs when learners convert the information presented into a corresponding internal representation. As a rule, this only takes place if there is motivation to learn. It is the current cause to carry out learning activities and determines the direction and duration of learning processes. Without the motivation of the learners to learn, teaching efforts are mostly pointless. That is why the motivation to learn is an important goal of didactic action.

The school is in the life of young people just one segment among many, and for some not even the most important thing, because students want to learn for school, but they are also interested in other things. According to education experts, the change in values ​​is leading to a Competition between future and present orientation, i.e. a conflict between performance and well-being values, which of course has an impact on school performance. If leisure activities are important for young people, this always leads to motivational conflicts and is usually at the expense of school performance. This is especially true for young people who consider preparing for adulthood on the one hand and living out their youth on the other hand to be equally important goals. The acquisition of knowledge is very important to them, but they devote less and less time and energy to school learning, so that it becomes more and more difficult for teachers to organize the lessons in such a way that it finds the interest of young people.

Emotional exhaustion of teachers also affects the school performance because empirical studies show that the emotional experience, motivation and knowledge of a teacher are important for the motivation and performance of their students, whereby severe stress or burnout of a teacher can also have an impact. Klusmann et al. (2016) analyzed the data of a country comparison study for elementary schools from 2011, in which pupils completed standardized tests to assess their mathematical skills, their general cognitive abilities and their motivation. At the same time, the math teachers were asked test values ​​on the degree of their emotional exhaustion, their professional experience and their professional qualifications. It was found. the more emotionally exhausted the teachers, the lower the mathematics performance of the students tended to be, although this numerically rather small effect occurred independently of other characteristics of the teachers and the cognitive and psychosocial characteristics of the students. In classes with a high proportion of children with a migration background, the negative correlation between the emotional exhaustion of teachers and performance was particularly evident. One reason for this is believed to be that emotionally exhausted teachers do not have enough resources to adequately address the special needs of children in classes with a high degree of diversity.

There are a number of Techniques and starting points for teachers to increase student motivationIt should be noted that both teachers and learners must play an active part in effective motivation management. As a teacher, one should use strategies to increase motivation in the concrete teaching situation as well as impart strategies of self-motivation to the learners.

One form of motivational technique involves increasing the intrinsic motivation, that is, to tie in with the individual needs, interests and goals of the learners, which promotes fun and interest or prevents displeasure and disinterest in the learners and, in the long term, also in the teachers. There are four starting points in teaching situations:

  • Learning content: Offer the learners the opportunity to choose the main areas of focus in the material according to their personal interests.
  • Materials and media: An aesthetic, original, humorous or even provocative design arouses curiosity and increases the joy of the discussion.
  • Learning activities: Learners are "totally involved" when they are actively involved, can try out something playfully or create something themselves, work on a specific problem solution or discuss with one another.
  • Learning environment: should take basic human needs into account and be experienced positively (e.g. enough space, pleasant room temperature, comfortable chairs, fresh air).

Also an increase in extrinsic motivation by the teacher makes sense, whereby the extrinsic motivation should not only be understood as a substitute for intrinsic motivation, because the focus is on the reward of positively assessed actions in the school, whereby the type of reward (e.g. additional points, praise, discount) is on to coordinate the learning context and the target group. The following aspects should be taken into account:

  • structuring: The learning process is structured by explicitly rewarding individual work steps and intermediate results. The learners do not stand "in front of a mountain of material", but recognize concrete, manageable subtasks.
  • prioritization: The dosage of the reward (e.g. number of points) should show how relevant or fundamental certain partial results or content are. A "getting bogged down" in secondary aspects can thus be prevented.
  • Feedback: By linking the award of rewards to verifiable work results, the learners receive feedback on their level of knowledge or their level of performance. In this way, the danger can be countered that the learners are only indulging in the illusion that they have understood or learned something.


Klusmann, U., Richter, D. & Lüdtke, O. (2016). Teachers ’emotional exhaustion is negatively related to students’ achievement: Evidence from a large-scale assessment study. Journal of Educational Psychology.

https://arbeitsblaetter.stangl-taller.at/MOTIVATION/ (10-02-03)

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