Student Engagement – The Product of Motivation and Active Learning

Venn Diagram figure 1.1

from Barkely’s “Student Engagement – A Handbook for College Faculty” (2010 Jossey-Bass) pg. 6

As illustrated by the diagram above, student engagement is the product (not the sum) of active learning and motivation.

As there is no single technique to engage students, the educator must try several techniques to see what works for them.  Chapter 6 of Elizabeth Barkely’s “Student Engagement – A Handbook for College Faculty” (2010 Jossey-Bass) focuses on examples set forth by experienced adult educators. Some common denominators include reflections on technology in the classroom, expectancy, value, choice, participation, and community building. The educators cite examples of student engagement that they experienced, discuss what worked (and what did not), and reflect on some of their conclusions.



The educator must ask him/her self “What can I do to motivate the students to learning?”

The graph below illustrates 8 aspects of motivating adult learners in higher education.  An inspiring video on this subject has a link here. (recommended by classmate Suzanne Carlisle).


The 8 aspects of motivating adult learners are:

  1. Quality instruction
  2. Quality curriculum
  3. Relevance and pragmatism
  4. Interactive classroom and effective management
  5. Progressive assessment and timely feedback
  6. Self directedness
  7. Conducive learning environment
  8. Academic advising

Quality Instruction:

The educator must constantly self assess, adapt and improve where necessary.  Taking workshops, seeking feedback from peers and students, and staying in touch with the latest technologies are some things to consider.

Quality Curriculum:

The course materials should be revised periodically for relevance and accuracy.  One of the main complaints from my student’s feedback is that the course material is old, and at times, outdated.  This is on my short list of things to strive to improve in my department

Relevance and Pragmatism:

The course material should not go off on unnecessary tangents and stick to the facts

Interactive Classroom and Effective Management

The classroom should be a balance between learning theory and learning practice. The classroom should be managed for time, demonstrations, and audio visual equipment.

Progressive Assessment and Timely Feedback

The student needs to know how he or she is doing through testing and assignments grades

Self Directedness

The student needs to be able to read ahead, interact, or be in charge of his or her own assignment.

Conducive Learning Environment

A traditional classroom should be a clean, bright, quiet place to learn.  Avoid overcrowding and interuptive behaviors.

Academic Advising

Students need a resource to help make decisions on programs, credits, and careers


Active Learning

Active learning is when students take the theory and put it into practice.

As Yogi Berra once said “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.  In practice there is.”

Instructional designers focus on teaching theory in the lecture classroom.  The theory is then put to practice as an integral part of the learning.  In order to engage the students, the educator should make the learning as interesting and relevant as possible.


principal based practices

from Bryson’s “Engaging Adult Learners: Philosophy, Principles and Practices” (2003)


So the key for the educator is to find his or her style of teaching that will promote active learning. Understanding the students is paramount.  The educator should consider; diversity, motivation, barrier removal (real and imaginary), technology (and technology dependency), learning styles, and student anxiety. Barrier removal is key, and is an opportunity for the teacher’s skill development.

Personal Observations

The active learning often takes place outside of the lecture classroom, in the labratory.  As a trades instructor, I have seen it many times where a student who was struggling with the concepts in the lecture have a greater understanding of the theory after completing his or her lab assignment.  During the labs, the student has an “Eureka” moment where suddenly the theory makes sense.


To truly promote student engagement, the educator must find the way to combine proper active learning with the student’s motivation.  Engagement cannot occur without both active learning and motivation.

Double helix model of student engagement 2

from Barkely’s “Student Engagement – A Handbook for College Faculty” (2010 Jossey-Bass) pg. 8




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