Why should we be motivated to learn? Two “I” s for teaching

Why should we be motivated to learn?

If you think about doing something you have not done before, why should you do it? The “what is in it for me” question always comes up.

Do you think these two “I” s are important to be motivated to learn?

  • Interest
  • Involvement

This personal article is written from experience, reading motivational experts’ material and some individual analytical thinking to explain why we should be motivated to learn.

The article tries to relate this general question about learning English as a foreign language at all levels for all age groups.

All classrooms, virtual or physical, regardless of size and number of attendees, have a teacher and at least one student.

The teacher passes on information to the student that he doesn’t know. There are two fundamental parts to the initial communication. Firstly, the teacher must have a competent technical knowledge of English. Secondly, the teacher has to know how to deal with students to be motivated to learn. Besides, if the teacher is technically incompetent and fails to enable learning, no learning will take place and also, the student won’t be motivated to learn.

Adult Education

This article concentrates on the second part, “enabling learning”, because without it, regardless of the teacher’s technical knowledge of English, learning may not take place.

Some motivation experts indicate that different mental and physical states such as warmth, physical comfort, being adequately fed, emotionally balanced, no stress caused by external situations, etc., must be in place before learning can be considered.


“Me” is what makes you tick. It is what drives the way you live and the way you think. According to many motivational experts such as Maslow, Herzberg, Ausubel, et al., learning at all skill levels and ages concentrates on “me” as the driving factor.

There is a saying: “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.” This applies to all of us , because you can put a student in a classroom, but you cannot make him/her learn. As teachers, we often forget this and assume that everyone in the class is there because they want to learn. We wonder why some students do much better than others. We blame it on mental capacity, bad attitude, defective parenting, economic/cultural differences, etc.

There are several Hollywood movies about true teaching stories. Most of these are based on a 180-degree change in a class of children representing society’s point of view. The protagonists are hopeless children with a lost cause. The reason this “losers'” story becomes a successful one is because the teacher understands “me”, “interest”, and “involvement”. The teacher’s main aim is to involve their students in their lessons. A good example could be “Stand and deliver”, starring Edward James Olmos.

What many of us fail to realise is “me”. Here is a simple diagram that helps many people to catch the idea of “me”.

A simple diagram of “me” and why “me” does things

The green triangular structure shows “me” and why “me” does things. For the moment, it doesn’t matter what causes these two “I” s because, without them, you will not do whatever it is that is asked of you, and you won’t be motivated to learn. Everyone does things because they have an interest and are involved.

Why be motivated to learn

If you have NO INTEREST and/or NO INVOLVEMENT with something, will you do it?

The hard part for English teachers

All teachers have students. All students are individuals. All students are “me”. Therefore, the teacher must stimulate and maintain interest and involvement in many “me” s.


Girl studying

If you are interested in something, you will be involved.

  1. Presenting a challenge. Some people like challenges; others don’t. Those who don’t probably feel that way because they have failed challenges in the past. Laziness shouldn’t be excluded. However, what appears to be lazy could manifest previously failed challenge attempts.
  2. Personal requirements or mandatory requirements may drive Needs. The latter is a weaker need. For example, school children are obliged to attend school while remaining within a specific age group. At its most extreme, “need” can be a survival need. The need to do something is not necessarily the result of something positive. However, a need caused by a negative influence will not be as compelling because it is imposed against the learner’s wishes.
  3. Curiosity is a robust and personal emotion. The wish to find out more about something is the strongest motivator. If you can engender curiosity in your students, their learning will improve. They will also challenge you more with questions and explanations.
  4. Achievability must be ever-present. If you see that you cannot do something and you think that you will never acquire the new skill, you will eventually stop trying to learn it. Besides, everything taught must be achievable. If not, it is a waste of time. That’s why achievability is also relative so when you ask for something to be done, make sure your students are capable of doing it.

Just because something worked with one class does not mean it will work in another.

InvolvementHigh School


If you are involved with something you, will be interested.

  1. Participation in a learning environment is critical. If students do not participate, they will lose interest. Passive learning is never as efficient as active learning, so make sure all your students participate as much as possible in the classroom. As long as you manage participation properly, it should work and bear fruit.
  2. Enjoyment cannot always be present, but the learning experience must be enjoyable. This is critical for young learners. Their world is based around play, activity and visual stimulation. If small children find the classroom unenjoyable, they will quickly look for other things to do. Teenagers’ and adult reactions will be different. Teenagers are large children, so watch out for their reactions! Most adults will probably avoid the situation by dropping out of class.
  3. The relevance of what is being learned is another essential factor. The STEM model has shown this by making science, technology, engineering and mathematics more accessible. Pi may well be 22/7, but who cares? Why is this useful? What is its relevance? The same has to happen in your English classroom. Who cares about the present perfect? Show me why I need to use it when I should use it, give me some restorative material to work with and engaging participative activities. Again, your students’ age group will determine how you address relevance.
  4. Results are vital. Anyone who learns wants to feel a sense of progression and achievement. If you don’t improve, why on earth should you keep going? Children like praise and gold stars. Older students want to see grades. Everyone likes to see for themselves that they can read, write, speak, listen and, most importantly, communicate and understand better than before.

Innovation, the third “I.”

Turn on

As an English teacher, you have to be innovative. You also have to learn.

If you teach at an individual or small group level, your ability to judge the “me” factors for each of your students should be easy.

If you teach large classes in K-18 schools, your ability to judge “me” factors at an individual level will be difficult. You will need to make a generalised judgment based on your students’ age group and average skill level.

Regardless of either of these cases, it would help if you never forgot the “ME” factor and how you can encourage and stimulate your students to learn.

You control, manage, design and deliver your classes. Make sure that when you do, you address the “me”, “interest”, and “involved” triangle.

IMPORTANT: There are many different cultures and perspectives on life, so when you innovate, you must do it within the norms of where you are. You cannot blindly transpose your own cultural and societal values because they may not be understood or, even worse, may be construed as offensive.

If you succeed, you may see progress and a shift in attitude. Students who previously were afraid of a challenge failed to see the need, lacked curiosity or felt doomed to failure; may well make the turn and become better learners.

STEM has shown this to be the case so it is achievable.

There is no magic formula for making any of this “me” influencing happen. However, many experts have many ideas.

This article scratches the surface, so all input, ideas, experiences, advice, etc., are more than welcome.