Northern College Good Practice Guide in Teaching and Learning
Lifelong learning and the Northern College
The nature and range of the students
Outreach and student recruitment
Student motivation and needs
The curriculum offer
Course design and planning
Session planning
Teaching methods
Adult learning
Key skills
Learning aids and resources
Student guidance and support

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Student Motivation and Needs

6.1 Adults who are traditionally underrepresented in educational institutions - unskilled or semi-skilled manual workers, unemployed people, women with or without children, older adults and ethnic minorities - constitute the College's principal target groups. Deterring or inhibiting factors to participation for these groups include:

  • personal insecurity

  • lack of self confidence

  • low aspirations

  • poor, inadequate or incomplete schooling

  • feelings of shame at low levels of achievement

  • negative attitudes towards education

  • a lack of day-time opportunities

It is not the case that the groups in question do not want to join formal education provision; it is the case that educational institutions do not always prioritise them in their recruitment strategies. The College's mission implies that it reaches (to use an expression from a popular advertisement) those parts other educational institutions do not reach.

Case study

How can new students be helped to recognise and address any actual or potential barriers to learning? Here is what one College tutor has to say….

Students often arrive at the College with negative feelings about their potential for learning due to past experiences. It is therefore important to empower them to reassess their feelings so that they can be more positively oriented towards their learning.

1. Students are asked to chat in pairs about some aspects of their lives. Once they are at ease with one another they are asked to identify at least three positive personal attributes. After this they are asked to report to the whole class what they have identified. The tutor records on a flipchart the range of attributes existing in the group. This can be an eye-opener for each individual as well as for the group as a whole.

2 Students are asked to reflect on their past learning experiences within the context of the group so that group members and the tutor can support them in reassessing in particular their negative experiences and in realizing that these need not reoccur in adult learning settings. This helps them to 'come to terms' with their experiences and not feel that they are alone in the world.

3. Students are asked to consider the disadvantages that they might have suffered in their lives and how this might have impacted on their learning. Just knowing that there was, perhaps, potential in the past for them to have learnt differently can help to promote a change of attitude to learning. Thus, they may be able to set aside feelings of inadequacy, perhaps even the guilt of not engaging in learning at school and to cultivate an eagerness to develop further.

4. Students are asked to talk about their learning styles and to feel entitled to be 'different' in their individual learning approaches. It is of great benefit to them to identify what works for them and to consider other learning styles with which they have had little or no past experiences.


6.2 Those adults who do decide to participate in educational activity at the College or elsewhere do so for a variety of motives rather than a single motive. The motives to participate vary with the different subjects studied and with the age, gender, ethnicity, physical or mental health and socio-economic position of each adult. Below is a typology of adults identifying some of their motives:

  • those who want to know

  • those who desire to be better informed

  • those who want to take part in social activity

  • those who desire to meet new people

  • those who seek to obtain professional or career advancement

  • those who hope to escape from daily routine

  • those who plan to have a change in employment

  • those who want to prepare for a new job

  • those who desire to develop new skills and move ahead in life

  • those who are committed to achieving change in their communities

  • those who are interested to promote collective activity and social change

For any individual adult, most of the reasons for joining formal educational provision lie in a cluster of motivations that are similar.

Case study

Here a tutor gives a brief account of the changing nature of a student's motivation to study….

The student attended a range of Information Technology courses in the years 1999 and 2000, initially in the College's community-based centre in Doncaster and later in the College itself. When she first attended a residential course at the College, it was actually the first time in 10 years that she had been away from home due to an ongoing illness. Returning to study opened up a whole new world for her. As her repertoire of IT skills grew, she became more and more confident and enthusiastic not just to learn but to make contact with other people. She built up a strong friendship with a student from another area of Doncaster; prior to attending the College they did not know each other. Between courses she worked at home to develop her IT skills further. She is currently studying part-time on the College's Diploma Programme. In spite of having several family commitments, she is determined to carry on with her studies.


6.3 Generally, motives for returning to education are usually mixed in the adult population. It is nevertheless possible to identify four broad categories of adults and their motives:

  • those who want simply to have a break and enjoy the social life

  • those who want to achieve something through a qualification, whether this (something) is a better paid job or an interesting career

  • those who want personal and intellectual development, whether this is for realising their own potential, improving their skills or gaining knowledge for its own sake

  • those who have a collectivist orientation to life and want to study to enhance their potential of working with others to bring about social change

The majority of the College's students fall into the second, third and fourth categories.

6.4 The second category implies 'a means to an end' or instrumental approach. Students motivated by this approach are concerned with the grades achieved and the approval gained from others. They can be seen as being extrinsically motivated; they study for external reasons.

6.5 The third category implies a 'learning for learning's sake' approach. Students motivated by this approach are concerned with the real or potential challenges offered by mastering a subject or acquiring new skills. They can be seen as intrinsically motivated; they study for personal satisfaction.

6.6 The fourth category implies a political commitment to larger purposes in life. Students motivated by this approach are often already involved in local or national organisations (voluntary groups, political parties, trade unions, etc.).

Case study

Here a College tutor describes how an adoptive mother was motivated to come to the College and to thereafter work as a volunteer in a community centre….

The woman came to the College first as part of a group from South Yorkshire involved in a course exploring issues of being effective parents. After this introduction to the College she returned on an openly recruited course entitled 'Black Children, White Mothers'. This was designed for white mothers bringing up black children. The course explored black history, black children's experiences, 'mixed race' relationships and ways in which parents can support their children to feel positive about their identity. Having been involved in a range of volunteering opportunities in her hometown, she was appointed to a substantial part-time post in a community centre, with particular responsibility for supporting volunteers. This included responsibility for undertaking training for volunteers. She enrolled on the College's City and Guilds 7307 course, which leads to the Adult and Further Education Teacher's Certificate. She used her work at the Community Centre as her teaching practice experience and ran a very effective series of sessions on the role of volunteers.


6.7 It may be worthwhile for a tutor to find out from individual students whether they are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated and to ascertain, over time, whether there is any relationship between motivation and academic achievement.

6.8 The College's students are often intrinsically and also to some extent extrinsically motivated. They come to the College to realise their individual potential and to acquire skills, knowledge and understanding that will help them to gain employment, go into further or higher education, or apply what they learn in some other area such as voluntary work or trade union activism. There are also students who come to the College as part of a group (e.g. a tenant's group, a disabled people's group, a women's group, etc.), and with the aim of using what they learn to further the objectives of that group. (It is not to deny that personal and intellectual development also takes place, but this is not - at least, not at first - the primary aim of the individual student.)

Case study

Here a tutor highlights how a student's involvement with the College motivated not just her but also those who belonged to her local community group - the Well Christian Fellowship….

The student first started Information Technology classes in the community in late 1999, and later got members of her group to attend a range of courses at the College, including a beginners IT course as well as Deaf Awareness and Drug Awareness courses. These courses helped the group to develop skills in handling difficult situations in the community and to build their individual confidence levels. Two members successfully managed to gain part-time employment, one in a pharmacy and the other in a junior school. This was partly due to the skills and confidence that they had gained whilst studying at the College. The student and the rest of her group remained strongly motivated to study, and maintained contact with the College to find out how it might continue to assist them again.


6.9 Student needs are defined mainly (but not exclusively) in terms of learning needs. Participating in an educational activity is one of a number of ways through which students satisfy their learning needs. Students may, for example sample a range of short courses before establishing what it is that they want to learn. Their motivation to participate in formal educational provision thus reflects an interest in identifying and satisfying their learning needs. Their learning needs express their 'interests', 'desires', 'wants' or even 'demands' regarding education, and the College helps them make sense of all this through the guidance and support services that it provides.

Learner Comments

"This is the first course that we've been on that has offered us what we ourselves want rather than what others think what we want."

"It's the feeling that the tutors care about you that makes learning different here. You feel that you're an individual - not just an anonymous face in a class of other anonymous faces."

"Tutors don't put us down or make us feel inadequate. Even when we get things wrong, they don't blame us; instead, they help us to see what our mistakes are and how to correct them. This really helps us to understand the subject better and to move ahead."

"Tutors make a real effort to find out what difficulties students are experiencing."

"Tutors value everything that you produce, even when you know it is not good enough. You get the feeling that you are valued for what you are. This encourages you to study."

"You're never made to feel small. Whatever you do is always valued and appreciated."

"Tutors value our experiences. This makes us more inclined to talk in class."

"Tutors make time to give us extra help."


6.10 The College creates programmes of learning that are responsive to the learning needs of individuals and groups. This is reflected in how its tutorial and other staff members view and work with students. Thus:

  • Tutors accept students as they are and not as they should (ideally) be. They view students as having different starting or entry points into learning. They take the students' current needs, personal or intellectual, as being paramount.

  • Tutors are pro-active in eliciting student needs. They ask students what and how they want to learn. They discuss, elicit and negotiate the content and process of learning to the extent to which this can be done or is appropriate. They do this by 'going out' to meet individuals and groups in their communities, and they do this again in the classroom.

  • Tutors foster a sense of ownership amongst students for their intended programmes of learning.

  • Tutors value students for what they really are, irrespective of what they have achieved or not achieved academically. They value students as persons with experiences that are both unique to themselves and shared with others.

  • Tutors create a non-threatening learning environment so that students can feel safe to explore and confront their anxieties, difficulties and real or imagined barriers to learning.


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Page Created: 18 March, 2004  
Author(s): S.Essop -- Contact: J.Drury
Editor: Tom Osman