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Personal motivation and engagement

Practicioners & Evidence

The many theories of motivation and engagement

Engaging children and young people is a crucial part of the government strategy for inclusion and attainment within education. In many respects engagement and motivation is the central concept for ensuring learners achieve full potential. Research into this area has been ongoing for many years but there is still much debate as to what is truly effective for motivating and engaging learners. It is a complex and contentious area of research, as there are many theories and approaches which try to explain human motivation including attribution theory (reasons around actions and behaviours), goals, self-determination (intrinsic motivation and learner control) and expectancy theory. Over the years many counselling and therapy approaches have also been linked to engagement of learners including cognitive behavioural therapy, solution focussed/brief therapy, transactional analysis, emotional intelligence and literacy amongst others.


Defining motivation and engagement
Research shows that learners are most likely to be engaged in learning when they are active and given some choice and control over the learning process - and when the curriculum is individualised, authentic, and related to students' interests. An engaged learner is one who is intrinsically motivated to learn, that is, motivated from a desire for competence and understanding. Motivation itself is not a trait or a fixed dimension of an individual's personality. It is a 'state' of readiness or eagerness to carry out an action or a behaviour, which will fluctuate from one time or situation to another. You cannot infer that an individual has motivation as a characteristic of their personality.

Practitioners must be attentive not only to teaching methods and the formal curriculum but also aware of their practice in relation to school culture, disciplinary procedures; relationships between students, teachers, parents; the physical structure of the school; and assessment approaches. Current research and policy are focussed on learner centred approaches, for example: 'What's in it for me'; relationships between individual emotions; behaviour; capabilities; beliefs; identity; actions; environment and process of learning (thinking, learning styles); self determination; self efficacy and goal setting. All may need to be taken into account in order to effectively engage and motivate learners.

The resources on these pages contain information and documents that can be used as starting points to explore some of the key principles of effective motivation and engagement or provide more focussed resources in order to change current practice. It draws on scientifically focused research, educational research, active practice, information websites and many other relevant domains

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