Motivation the educational process: it's not that simple? Yet it's not that complicated

The idea of the key importance of motivation in any activity that a person is engaged in is becoming more and more frequent and louder: in training, in work, in personal development.

The scientific elaboration of this concept is quite deep. For example, the ideas of A. Maslow, K. Alderfer, F. Herzberg, D. Atkinson and D. Mc-Clelland are already quite well known. However, the practical application of this concept regularly faces difficulties. Sometimes it lacks consistency, sometimes it lacks resource for the elaboration and implementation of suitable practices for the development of internal motivation. The concept of internal motivation, coming from a person, their values and goals, is often replaced by external motivation (the usual fines and bonuses, for example).

Motivation is no less important in education than in other areas. And maybe even more. For example, T. Gordeeva, based on deep scientific research, highlights that motivation is a key internal factor determining the success of educational activities (T. Gordeeva, Motivation of schoolchildren of the XXI century. — 2022).

And what should this mean for educational organizations?

Ultimately, it should mean the need to restructure educational processes with a focus on what the student themself wants to learn. By the way, something similar is happening in the field of digitalization — a change in the core around which activities are built.

We are talking about shifting the focus to a person, about human-centricity. And in a system where the work is built around educational programs, such a change in the direction is a serious, important and resource-consuming activity. And it is more complicated than it seems, because it also affects the organizational culture.

It is not enough to conduct training and tell how to form and maintain motivation. Although it is also necessary.

The whole system, the entire educational process around a person, focused on their motivation, begins to be built on other principles.

Each organization evolves in its own way, in its own speed. But there must be common principles. What to pay attention to first of all, where to search for breakthrough solutions?

General principles are usually distinguished on the basis of research analysis. And for this, an institution needs to develop preliminary hypotheses about what the mandatory characteristics (must-haves) may be.

The first and main one is giving the students a real choice. Allow them to choose a teacher in the same discipline, formats of training and records, visits, joint or individual work, provide the possibility to change the field of study. Formally, this is implemented in many educational institutions. And the opportunity to choose should be easy to implement and actively used. When you do not have to submit a huge package of documents, collect authorized persons' signatures, come to the dean's office and explain everything; you just have to make a choice, being present at the lesson, checking the box in the LMS, passing the work in one of a number of suggested formats. But for this, an institution also needs to conduct special training on how to manage one's educational trajectory: what to pay attention to, how to determine one's own goals and features.

This is a serious and costly job, and some educational institutions simply cannot afford it.

We can say that each course should exist kind of in several implementations: in different formats, approaches, from different authors. And these are expenditures for additional professionals, offline and online modes, interactive scenarios, duplication in a problem-oriented approach, in frontal lecturing format (this format is still used, and for some purposes it is optimal). Here are just some examples. Real diversity and choice can and should be dictated by real learning goals, not just available resources.

All this increases the budget, can lengthen the implementation period. But here, as everywhere, there are life hacks, for example, the use of UGC (content created by students).

Another important characteristic of the educational process that is necessary for the growth of motivation to learn and the formation of the skill of determining and developing internal motivation is development support. When the student's progress is valued more than his results relative to the group. This is connected to the culture of accepting mistakes as well.

Of course, we are not talking about mistakes made due to systematic ignoring of educational materials. The mistakes made by a person who does not learn are different from the mistakes of a person who learns and tries. So, the second type of errors — in hypothesis testing — is valuable and useful. It is even more difficult to promote the culture of encouraging "good mistakes" with all this domination of criticism and the "red pen rule" (as the antipode of the "green pen method"1) than to reorganize the process. But it is this approach that will help you teach to look for solutions to problems, to dismiss unsuccessful ones, without being afraid of experiments and breakthrough moves. Such practices help to make a student an active participant out of a passive one.

When it comes to implementation in a specific organization, for a specific course, any general principles still need to be finalized, "grounded". For example, if you introduce the "good mistake rule", you need to determine what exactly it means in the organization or in an educational program. And this is also a process that requires some efforts: describe the properties, tell all of the process participants about them, instill the mistake acceptance culture. The latter may be the most difficult and time consuming task, but it will be repaid. When we try to solve a problem, gain more knowledge and experience in the process, motivate ourselves and others to continue, we confidently move towards more sustainable educational, professional and personal results.

In small steps, it is also possible and necessary to move in the direction of focusing on a person, on their inner motivation. Every teacher, even with current resources, can provide an additional format for knowledge control, ask each student at the beginning of the course about their goals and think about how to take this into account, offer to unite in mini-groups to people with close personal learning goals. There are a lot of such techniques, some almost do not require additional costs. So, at any position in the educational process, you can work on motivation. This path also leads to increased efficiency and satisfaction from training in the short and long term.

By changing our thinking towards the person-oriented organization of training, remembering the key role of motivation of the subject of any activity, we are already taking a step in the right direction. At least, in the direction of high-order cognitive processes, which in training give more stable results. There's even more to that. And it's easier together.
Ekaterina Yadova

Ph.D., MBA
Head of the educational companies and projects.
20+ years at Foxford, Moscow Business School, Moscow Technological Institute, Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Competencies Development Centre at Institute of Regional Development.
Expert focused on new education, technology and people: "Personnel for the Digital Economy", Smarteka, EduNet, "Priority 2030".