Engaging the Motivated Learner

PIDP 3250 – Instructional Strategies
Vancouver Community College
Kathryn Truant
January 22, 2018


In Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty (2010), educator Dr. Elizabeth Barkley states,

Whether teachers think primarily of the motivational or active learning elements of student engagement, they are quick to point out that both are required. A classroom filled with enthusiastic, motivated students is great, but it is educationally meaningless if the enthusiasm does not result in learning (p. 6)

Engagement is defined as caring about what you are learning, AND finding meaning in it. Engagement is a combination of motivation and active learning (Barkley, 2010). As a Certified Dental Assistant and prospective instructor, what catches my attention about Dr. Barkley’s assertion compels me to realize that motivation is not enough to result in engagement.


Students arrive in a dental assisting program already motivated due to the lengthy and competitive application process of this popular and in-demand vocation. Every year, Okanagan College receives numerous applications for their Certified Dental Assisting (CDA) program. Further, outside of the standard admission requirements, program specific selection criteria require applicants to prove a dedication to their aspired vocation. For example, motivated applicants accumulate points that give them an edge over less inspired applicants. The selection criteria points system offers seats in the program prior to another applicant with less points. Points are accumulated by gaining experience in a dental clinic as an observer, completion of Okanagan College’s DENT 001 (Introduction to Dental Assisting) course, and demonstrating prior interest in the program (Okanagan College, 2017, para. 3). Anyone undertaking the application process of becoming a CDA, is in my opinion, motivated already. Barkley explains that, “student engagement is the product of motivation and active learning” (2010, p. 6). How do I engage the motivated into actively learning? I need to figure out a way for my eager students to trust and adopt the validity and usefulness of my instruction.


A curriculum in vocational education is outcomes focused; there are no “elective” courses to satisfy credit for graduation. Nor are there “required” courses that are not directly focused on outcomes. Students are motivated when they are goal-orientated with clear learning objectives at the onset of instruction. Active learning occurs when learners take a participative role in achieving their goals (Knowles, Holton III, Swanson, 2015). I cannot rely on my own assumption that motivation to become a dental assistant will be enough for a student to gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to succeed in the vocation. I am also realizing that motivated students will have high expectations for learning! I need to focus on ways to foster participation and mastery. It is my responsibility as an instructor to promote active learning in the classroom (online or face to face).

I am learning that reflection following instruction and practice elevates the experience as well. In Continuing to Engage the Online Learner, Conrad and Donaldson (2012) explain, “it is important to identify activities that include a sharing of personal experiences, reflection of student learning and opinions, and interaction focused on issues related to course content and understanding” (p. 25). I certainly identify with this statement because if engagement activities are goal-oriented, they can be interesting too, and I can take the opportunity to share my enthusiasm and demonstrate my own engagement.


Understanding that “motivation is the portal to engagement” (Barkley, 2010, p. 15) means that I am more than just a dispenser of information; I need to foster engagement. I want to give learners all the information that they will need to succeed, and include them in the learning process as well. Focused Listening is an activity that can be applied to any lesson. When new material is presented, learners are asked to consider discrete questions regarding the lesson in a group discussion. This activity requires learners to reflect on their own experiences, questions, or weaknesses (Conrad & Donaldson, 2012). The questions can be completed in-class, or on an engaging and fun online application like Kahoot! (2017). I enjoy creating digital instruction based on outcomes. The Focused Listening activity helps my students learn content and reflect on what they are learning, and it helps me redesign instruction to meet the needs of my students. Instructors have a responsibility to meet course objectives that will engage the adult learner, with the goal being producing effective and confident dental assistants. “Active learning has been demonstrated to improve retention of content, but it can also stimulate critical thinking” (Bowen, 2012, p. 196).

@ Please refer to my Resources page for works cited