Motivating Learners to Stay and Succeed

Everyone knows what motivation is. Or do we? The problem, says Raymond Wlodkowski, is “since we can neither see it nor touch it” what motivation actually is remains a mystery. He adds: “Its very definition continues to baffle the most scholarly of minds.” Wlodkowsi concludes that the social sciences basically see motivation as “a hypothetical construct, an invented definition that provides a concrete causal explanation of behavior” (1999, p 1).

Raymond WlodkowskiBut how does that help us? As teachers and tutors we need to know “What stimulates motivation?” Also, “What sustains motivation?” It isn’t enough to know it is a hypothetical construct.

When I was Director of a large Adult Basic Education program in Saskatchewan and learners dropped out, our staff would invariably be disappointed. We would wonder: “What happened? Could we have done something differently? Or better?”

Usually someone would end the discussion saying, “I guess they just weren’t motivated.”

But what did that mean? The implication, which we were all willing to accept, was it all had to do with the learner—not with the teacher or the program. But is that it? A one-sided story?

We try hard to keep our learners engaged. It is both upsetting and disappointing for tutors and teachers when learners discontinue and, more often than not, we really don’t know why.

What is our role in motivating learners to stay and succeed? How can we understand this?