Best Ways to Keep Adult Students Intrinsically Motivated

Posted by on December 8th, 2015

Returning to school as an adult learner is a life-changing endeavor tied to many rewards. However, the process is often accompanied by challenges. Some of the most commonly faced obstacles of adult students involve time, cost and accessibility. Balancing other life responsibilities such as work and family impact the amount of time that adult learners have to commit to their educational pursuit. They are tasked with finding time to attend their classes and devote adequate study time while balancing all of their other commitments.

As learners face various challenges, it is important that they stay motivated, positive and focused on their goals. While external factors undoubtedly drive motivation, the most effective motivation is primarily developed from within. Intrinsic motivation is likely to provide long term impact, whereas extrinsic factors are subject to change based on any number of variables. A study conducted by Ryan and Deci (2000) linked intrinsic motivation to students who are more content in their learning process, showing long term retention of learned skills and concepts. Additionally, the study associates intrinsic motivation with students’ likelihood to apply their knowledge more often than others.


You can keep students intrinsically motivated by:

  1. Allowing students to share their own learning goals and expectations.
  2. Providing weekly reflection time to solicit feedback regarding learning performance and areas for improvement. This activity can even be completed anonymously.
  3. Teaching students where to find materials and how to use resources on their own. This will empower them to take ownership of their personal areas of improvement.
  4. Facilitating regular dialog and active participation in the classroom. Permit students to draw from and share their past experiences within the conversations.
  5. Inviting guests to share their expertise on a particular subject. During and after their visit, encourage conversation about the relevance of concepts for current and future use. This is also an ideal time to talk with students about their personal career goals and make connections.

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