Crossing the Rubicon - learner motivation and persistence
Marcin Lewandowski reflects on what he has learned from the Persistence Progression and Achievement project
The learners at our training centre are either referred from Jobcentre Plus or are self-referred through our marketing or referral agencies. There is a noticeable difference between the two groups' motivation and attitudes to learning. The selfreferred group are often more motivated and eager to learn than the referrals, many of whom perceive training as something that they 'have to do'.
Phases of motivation
In thinking about what motivates our learners, I found Dörnyei's model of three motivational phases particularly useful. Dörnyei (2001) describes a 'preactional' phase of 'goal setting', 'intention formation' and 'initiation of intention enactment'; an 'actional' phase where the intention is implemented; and an evaluative 'postactional' phase. Between the preactional and actional phases, people cross the 'Rubicon of Action' which commits them to a given course of action.
Most of the referred learners at our centre are in the preactional phase and have not yet set their goals. They attend classes because they have been advised to do so by an official who in the future may have the power to reduce their benefits. They tend to lack motivation, and the practitioner's role is to demonstrate why it might be important for them to engage in learning and help them to formulate and set realistic goals. With self-referred learners, who have already completed the 'preactional' phase by enrolling on a course, the practitioner can facilitate their intention and ensure that they cross the 'Rubicon of Action.' These are complex issues but involvement in the Motivating Skills for Life learners to persist, progress and achieve (PPA) project gave me the opportunity to reflect and made me realise the amount of good practice we already have in place to facilitate learner persistence.
For example, our centre provides rolling programmes where new learners join existing groups every week, yet it has been shown that learners generally prefer lessons and courses which are wellorganised and structured. With the help of a consultant from the Skills for Life Improvement Programme, we developed new modular schemes of work. Every week we have a new theme, eg health, jobs. At the beginning of each week, learners are told what is going to happen in that week (where possible these targets are negotiated with the learners) and, at each lesson, the lesson aims are written on the board. As a result, new learners start at the same point as everyone else and can integrate with the group more effectively.
Formative assessment plays an integral part in all our programmes. Although learners
sometimes find regular scheduled assessments stressful, they also find them stimulating.
Formal tests give the less motivated learners the necessary stimulus to revise.
Learners often compare their scores with each other, which encourages healthy
competition. Although results are not made official, tutors discuss them with
learners individually and the feedback is used in reviews and in setting new targets
for Individual Learning Plans. Tutors and learners use scores to monitor progress.
The PPA project has highlighted the issue of individuality, ie each learner has their own reasons for being in the class. Tapping into these reasons gives the teacher the opportunity to motivate individual learners and help them to persist. We achieve this through tutorials, individual reviews and informal conversations with learners. We have found that personal contact with learners not only helps us to review a learner's progress but also, and perhaps more importantly, it allows us to establish a special rapport with them. Our learners have often commented that their teachers are more than just teachers - they are friends.
Marcin Lewandowski manages the Learning Resource Centre for Action Acton
Dörnyei, Z. (2001) Teaching and researching motivation. Longman