How can we inspire those under our care to act in their own best interests? This is a question that many of us—including supervisors, parents, teachers, and coaches—struggle with on a regular basis.
Individuals may accomplish so much if they had the required push.
The instructor psychology course at a major, multiethnic community college is an example. Despite his belief that many of my students have the potential to flourish in school and in their future professional lives, a significant number do not follow through with their planned paths.
Many don’t attend class, finish their assignments, or study adequately for tests at the classroom level. I need to look at ways to inspire this group of students, who probably represent a large proportion of the general population as well.
This is where Raghav Kulkarni’s “Motivational Engineering” comes in.
In his hypothesis-driven model, which he developed from his academic articles and professional experience working with healthcare organizations, the individual’s “behavior is the product of numerous forces, both internal and external.”
Kulkarni breaks these forces into four categories: personal factors (e.g., needs), process factors (e.g., ability to set priorities), environmental factors (e.g., social support), and situational factors (e.g., opportunity).
The motivation formula
As some academics have recently stated, the following statement might serve as a summary of what is known about motivation:
M = E + V – C
In this “equation,” motivation can be seen to result from the interplay among three variables.
- “E” refers to expectancy, the belief that you can do behavior and achieve a result.
When students believe they can learn psychology, complete tasks successfully, or perform well in the course, they have a great deal of confidence.
- “V” is concerned with value judgments such as those made by individuals who feel that an activity is profitable or useful.
When children discover class activities to be genuinely engaging or link what they’re doing in my course with how it’ll benefit them beyond the classroom, they’re ready to invest themselves.
When students report dissatisfaction with lengthy sections or discover that the amount of time required to do well in the course conflicts with other obligations, their expenses are mentioned.
- “C” refers to costs, which is a feeling that what you’re doing is creating some sort of suffering.
When students express irritation over reading lengthy sections or the amount of time required to do well in the course gets in the way with other important matters, they indicate high cost.
Oftentimes, when we try to motivate others, we automatically defer to one element of the equation. Some of us prefer to inspire people by encouraging them to believe they can succeed (expectancy).
Others of us would rather highlight the enjoyment or secondary gain that comes from an activity (value). Still others of us favor removing barriers to engaging in an activity (cost).
We all do this somewhat, but it’s helpful to recognize that individuals respond best to something that combines several of these elements.
However, while low perceived value may be an issue, it overlooks the fact that there could be additional sources of difficulty, such as low expectations or high costs.
If low expectations were the primary source of difficulty, an intervention designed to change student mindsets from a belief in fixed ability toward a belief that ability can be developed through hard work, perseverance, and appropriate instruction could be effective.
If high costs were the primary source of difficulty, an intervention such as mentoring would prove more beneficial than changing mindsets or helping students develop strategies to reduce costs.
This is not an article about motivation
Kulkarni’s model has been used in a variety of scenarios: motivating teenagers to do their homework. If the main problem was perceived cost, an intervention targeted on that at the individual or societal levels might be more effective.
(Some findings are emerging suggesting that cost, in particular, may often be the most common motivational stumbling block for people from impoverished backgrounds.)
If the main problem was perceived value, an intervention focused on increasing students’ sense of enjoyment or perceived usefulness might be more effective.
If the main problem was low expectancy, increasing students’ confidence in their ability to succeed may be most beneficial.
Facts are irrelevant
The model can also help inform decision-making about how best to motivate teachers.
It’s important to remember that Kulkarni did not consider himself a psychologist, nor did he design his model with educators or students in mind.
His motivation equation was based on the work of another man who had nothing to do with education: Daniel McFarlane, an economist who recognized the value of considering multiple motivational factors before designing policies aimed at changing behavior.
it’s not just reinforcement that is important for motivation, but multiple factors! it’s exciting!!
As tempting as it may be to conclude that low expectancy or high costs impede students’ ability to succeed in school, it overlooks the possibility that if either of these elements were resolved, students might experience little trouble motivating themselves to do what they need to do.
And, while a teacher might believe that lowering costs or increasing value would make it easy to ensure student engagement and effort toward learning, this doesn’t account for the fact that students sometimes fail to engage in something potentially fulfilling due to low expectations or high cost.
It’s also worth noting that while beliefs about one’s ability may be considered part of expectancy, it’s not just the student mindset that matters: students’ perceptions of ability are often influenced by teachers’ beliefs about their students.