What Motivates College Students to Learn?

By Weinstein, Lawrence | College Student Journal, June 2010 | Go to article overview

What Motivates College Students to Learn?


Weinstein, Lawrence, College Student Journal


The importance of several factors to college students self stated motivation indicated that the professor's knowledge of the subject matter and the motivational level of the professor were most important to motivate college students to learn in college. There were age and year in college differences on several of the dependent variable subscales (i.e., professor's sense of humor).

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The ideal state for college students-to-be is wanting to learn and succeed in college. If college professors could influence such an internal state of wanting to do well in college, one of the major variables in the college student success equation would be maximized. In 1952 Hull conceptualized how an organism learns a response. He referred to infrahumans mainly. Somewhat similarly, one can conceive of the likelihood of college students learning new material (L = past learning + motivation to learn + available time for learning to occur). Alternately, L = motivation + time to learn. The intervening variable of motivation in college students has not been extensively investigated.

The available research on what motivates students to want to do well in school is largely limited to high school students (e.g., Margolin, 2000). High school students who are motivated to do well in school frequently make statements like, school is a high priority in my life because I want to get a job, to feel proud of myself, to graduate with my friends, and to avoid feeling like a failure.

The current study is one of the few which asks undergraduate college students what motivates them to do well in college.

Method

There were 156 undergraduate students (92 women, 64 men, M age= 23.6 years, age range: 18-30 years). There were 85 people [greater than or equal to] 23 and 71 people > 23 years old. There were 98 freshmen, 48 sophomores, and 10 juniors. Participants were asked to volunteer in General Psychology courses.

They received 1 point for volunteering. The surveys were administered to the students in a large group setting, en masse. The survey consisted of 18 Likert type items to rate (1 = min. agree and 5 was max. agree). Each item referred to the question, "What motivates you to do well in college?"

Results

The demographic items that showed significance with anova were, the professor's knowledge of the subject matter, the professor's sense of humor, the motivational level of the professor and high quality of teaching. Table 1 summarizes the significant findings.

Discussion

What was ranked as most important was the professor's knowledge (M=4.5). The current college student data disagree with what nonsenior high school students in general rank as most important (Margolin, 2000), beats staying at home, spend time with friends; school is fun. Interestingly, college bound older high school students do say that they are enthusiastic about knowledgeable teachers. Thus, students interested in eventually going to and currently attending college consider knowledgeable teachers as very important to motivate them.

The fact that our younger students did not think that professor's knowledge was as important as older students is not inconsistent with prior data (e.g., Rohrkemper & Bershon, 1984) who have shown that as age level decreases to the elementary school level, interest in the subject matter itself (cognitive elements), decreases. That is, one would predict that sophomores, juniors, and older students (>23) would find professor's knowledge of the subject matter more important than younger students and freshmen and professor's sense of humor, motivational level, and quality of teaching would be seen as less important to an older student's motivational level than to younger students ([less than or equal to] 23) and to freshmen. These age effects are consistent with Miller, Dzindolet, and Weinstein, 1993 who showed similar results as to age and year in college differences in the perception of a good professor. …

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