Reimagine Learning

4 Things Necessary for Motivation in Education

Just because you’re motivated to do something doesn’t mean you have to like it.

This was one of many gems that Dr. Bror Saxberg offered his audience in yesterday’s CIRCL webinar, and it has important implications for any of us who care about education. Drawing upon decades of empirical research in cognitive science and psychology, Dr. Saxberg, currently the Chief Learning Officer at Kaplan, Inc., reminded us that in order to feel motivated, we need to have four things in place.


Put simply, we need:

1. A sense of value

We have to care about something in order to pursue it.

2. Self-efficacy

We aren’t motivated to do something unless we believe we can do it.

3. Attribution

Related to self-efficacy, this is the idea that we attribute our success or failure to a specific cause, and this influences future motivation.

4. Mood

The way we feel affects our motivation to do something.

Nowhere on this list is the idea that we have to like what we are doing to feel motivated about it. Saxberg used the example of the ballet dancer who engages in endless difficult, tiring drills at the barre. After the 60th leg lift, that dancer may wish she was doing anything but leg lifts, but she keeps going. Why? It’s because she believes she can, and that it will help her to become a great dancer.

The implications of this basic psychological science are huge. We want all our students to become great (or at the very least, pretty good) at all they learn in school. We want all our employees to become productive, engaged members of our workforce.

We don’t have to make learners like every step of the way. We just need to set the stage.