Relating Learning, Teaching, and Testing to Motivation
The function of this paper is to relate learning, teaching and testing to motivation so as to develop independent, lifelong learners who are success-oriented in terms of being knowledgeable, strategic, self-managed, and empathetic with tools on tap in that they possess, understand, apply, and are disposed to use the tools that further help them to succeed at lifeís tasks.
Motivation is the major factor in addressing a personís willingness to do something. Motivation is a cognitive persistence, the drive, tendency, or desire to undertake or complete a task, expend effort, and do a quality job. Motivation increases as an individual realizes that a gap exists between current level of knowledge and the desired level. Learning is fun because closing the gap is pleasurable.
There are a great variety of stimuli that make adults want to learn and perform. For some adults, it is self-satisfaction and "a job well done" attitude which is the intrinsic desire for success and competence. For others, it is verbal rewards like praise and tangible rewards like money, defined as the extrinsic motivation of an outside stimulus. Humans actively seek uncertain situations where they can solve problems and the limit of curiosity is limited to oneís ability to resolve uncertainty. Curiosity, goal-setting, choice, and instructor enthusiasm influence adults to learn and perform.
Instruction is motivating when it provides for choice, optimum challenge, and positive feedback. If the instructor is enthusiastic, adds humor, and has good verbal expression, student learning and motivation improve. We are beings who possess a natural curiosity about our environment and seek challenges, competency, and mastery. Taking advantage of these natural motivators in our instruction lets us make our instruction more motivating. Wlodkowski  says "it is critical that adults experience choice or willingness in a learning activity for motivation to be sustained. This is the most critical and basic level of positive adult motivation for learning ... unless an adult feels a sense of choice, motivation will probably become problematic" [Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn, p. 7]. When feedback is informational and not based on the value or approval of a personís work, it is seen as intrinsically motivating because it is not controlling. Instructional methods that are motivational include underexplaining, where students get a quick idea of the essence of a new concept and then are involved in discussion and questioning to expand that concept as well as collaborative work to help get ideas challenged and extended so as to build communal understanding. During the extending of the concept, teacher methods emphasizing coaching and facilitating promote motivation by providing steady progress. Giving feedback also helps build competence through knowledge of results and what to do to improve performance. All of these actions further the learnerís self-efficacy, or judgment, that s/he can succeed. This is maximized by always working in the learnerís Zone of Proximal development, where the learner knows s/he can succeed with assistance and thus feels that effort will be rewarded with growth. Test results should be interpreted in terms of what they say about effective teaching practices. They should help diagnose both students learning problems and problems in delivering instruction. Ideally, they should lead to more effective instruction, learner success, and enhanced academic motivation.
Testing is motivational when pretesting points out a personís needs and interests and our instruction is aimed at such gaps. This requires that testing be ongoing and related to continuous progress. Testing thus informs teaching and students are tested on what is taught and practiced so that there is a steady building of competence through mastery which is related to positive self-esteem. People naturally seek to understand why they succeed or fail. Only when learners attribute their success to effort are they likely to exert genuine effort to study for a test. Thus, how a student thinks about or interprets success or failure determines the energy and direction of his/her efforts. We need to get students to see that effort can and does make a difference. Metacognition training may help here. Interpreting scores in terms of how much learning has occurred and how much learning remains puts the focus on learning, progress, and skill development. Mastery is typified by deep understanding and the automatic use of procedures and strategies [Snow, 1989]. Interpreting test scores to learners in terms of their progress through stages promotes effort attributions, self-efficacy, and task focus.
Learning is motivational when it helps us meet our needs and interests and is thus aimed at our Zone of Proximal Development where we can handle the learning task with some support so that we see growth which is reinforcing. As we become more competent, we feel a greater sense of mastery, thus increasing our sense of self-efficacy which holds that academic motivation hinges on the learnerís beliefs that s/he can succeed at academic tasks. Self-efficacy, as defined by Bandura, 1986, p. 391, refers to "peopleís judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of actions required to attain designated types of performance." Thus, students are more likely to begin, persist at, and master tasks that they think they are good at. This judgment is what is meant by self-efficacy. Goal theory focuses on learnersí academic goal orientation as a source of motivation. Task-focused students focus on developing academic competence and improving their skills for purely intrinsic reasons. Ability-focused students engage in learning tasks with the goal of "showing off their ability, outperforming others, and gaining external rewards like praise and good grades." Student who adopt task-focused or mastery goals are more likely to achieve in school, make more use of cognitive strategies when problem solving, and expend substantial mental effort searching their memories and relating new learning to prior learning.
Learnersí thought processes, more than rewards, influence classroom motivation. These thought processes are strongly influenced by classroom experiences, the most important of which are testing practices. Thus, authentic learning assessment is a key to the effort students need for learning. Thoughts, beliefs, and self-perceptions motivate learners. Thus, the effort that students put into studying and mastering academic subjects results from self-perceptions and from expectations for success that are primarily determined by experiences in the classroom. How we manage instruction and learning and how we measure and report learning have a lot to do with how students interpret the results and thus whether our students become more or less motivated. We thus need to manage instruction, learning, and testing so as to make them motivational by having learners attribute their successes and failures to effort, maker the judgment that they can be successful by exerting more or different effort, and focus on a task-orientation that defines success as improvement, progress, mastery, innovation, and creativity with value placed on effort and attempting difficult tasks where progress and mastery are the basis for satisfaction and errors are viewed as part of the growth process or informational with competence seen as developing through effort.