Home » Blogs » Always Learning » Motivation for Schoolwork (and Beyond!)

Motivation for Schoolwork (and Beyond!)

One of my favorite students, Joe, is working on a summer assignment towards the AP Psychology class he’ll be taking as a high school senior beginning in September.

Last year Joe took an extraordinary class offered at his school called Psychology and Literature, and I posted one of Joe’s essays.

Now Joe is writing a paper with the following guidelines: Pretend that you are an expert in learning, and that our school system has hired you to recommend effective study habits for its AP students.

After doing a good bit of research, Joe concluded that motivation was one of the critical factors in effective learning.

  • Notice that the words “motivation” and “emotion” both share the same root. Emotions are Nature’s way of getting us moving, acting, doing!
  • Certain kinds of learning, called primary learning, come with motivation built in. Children naturally want to learn to walk, talk, pick up objects, etc.
  • Secondary learning isn’t natural. Human beings weren’t built to read or drive or do calculus. Learning those skills is difficult for the human brain, and the motivation to learn them has to come from external sources.
  • People vary in what sorts of secondary learning they enjoy. Reading, writing, playing sports, learning how a car’s engine works…some folks love these activities while others find them difficult or boring. This variation is normal; human beings are a social species and we are supposed to vary from one another so we can occupy different niches in society.

How can motivation for learning be increased?

  1. Accept that learning may be difficult. Learning isn’t always natural, and therefore it isn’t always easy. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re not always having fun or not always understanding or remembering everything easily.
  2. Keep working at it. Learning requires the construction of new neural pathways in your brain. Just like physical exercise, it takes repetition over time to build up strong, quick pathways. Don’t give up!
  3. Make it social. Peer pressure can be a good thing. Study with serious-minded pals; help each other and keep each other going.
  4. Get geeky. Often a subject is boring because it’s detached from anything else in your experience. Do some background research (Wikipedia is an excellent place to begin) and look for interesting facts and connections. Dig deep enough and you’ll find something cool about even the most tedious topic.
  5. Revisit and review. Flip back to Chapter One in your algebra book, or that first list of Spanish vocab words, and look at how much you’ve learned! Remember how confusing that stuff was at first? Go over it again and practice a few problems to entrench your foundational knowledge at a deeper level, and to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment.

photos of Nika playing, an example of primary learning (learning to chase moving objects is internally motivated in kittens)

Motivation for Schoolwork (and Beyond!)

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2010). Motivation for Schoolwork (and Beyond!). Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Aug 2010
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.