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A page within CATL Teaching Improvement Guide

Brief Description

The importance or value students attach to learning influences their motivation. Researchers distinguish three sources of value or satisfaction associated with learning goals:

  • Attainment value is satisfaction associated with attaining competence or mastery. The source of value is related to the sense of being good at something.

  • Intrinsic value is satisfaction associated with learning in and of itself, independent of outcome. Intrinsic motivation refers to effort and persistence students put forth simply because learning is gratifying in and of itself.

  • Instrumental value refers to the importance of a learning goal as a means to accomplish another goal or receive external rewards such praise, recognition, status, money, career options, etc.

Students may attach all three types of value to a single goal. They engage in learning because they enjoy the experience and want to become competent in the subject. But they may also view the instructor’s praise and recognition as important.

Does the type of value really matter in terms of student motivation? It can and it does; motivational research shows that when people are concerned primarily with external rewards, their effort, persistence and quality of work tend to be lower than those who are concerned more with mastery and intrinsic value. Moreover, teachers can influence students’ value for learning through the types of rewards, praise and recognition they use.

I can improve student engagement and motivation by


  1. Encourage students to value your subject. Point out how 1) topics connect to their interests, 2) your course relates to their academic goals, and 3) knowledge and skills from your course are relevant to their future professional lives.

  2. Use authentic, real-world tasks. Many academic tasks are viewed strictly as schoolwork—the kind of work you do in school to get a grade, not the kind of work you do in life to solve problems. Students may invest more effort in authentic work that has a purpose, e.g., helps solve a real problem or provides a valuable service.   

  3. Show your passion and enthusiasm for the discipline. Students are influenced by instructors’ enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm for their subjects. Students who know nothing about a topic and have little initial interest in it, can be swayed by an enthusiastic teacher. [“If this teacher is excited about this subject, maybe I should give it a chance.”] Conversely, teachers who are unenthusiastic about their subject convey the idea that there is little to value. [“If the teacher does this for a living and doesn’t care about the subject, why should I.”]

Examples adapted from Ambrose, et. al (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publisher.

Tips to Implement Value Enhancing Strategies Effectively

  • Recognize that the motivational climate of the classroom can arouse interest, curiosity and engender value for the knowledge and skills in your discipline.

  • No single motivational strategy will transform disinterested students into passionate ones, but multiple strategies may enhance motivation of students in the class.

  • Value in and of itself is not enough to support strong motivation. Researchers propose that students must also have positive expectations about being able to succeed at the task, the course, the discipline. Motivation is stronger if students value the subject and believe they can succeed in it.


  • Ambrose, et. al (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publisher.

Cerbin, W. (2015). Value. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from