As part of Otago Polytechnic’s recent staff development mini-conference, Tim Brazier presented as the keynote speaker to the selfcare panel. His presentation was based on a model which he uses to motivate his clients (top-level triathletes) towards the achievement of their training goals. While there was nothing particularly innovative about the model, I found it interesting to think about using this or a similar model to support and reinforce the motivation of our students.

There are parallels between tertiary students and athletes. Study at a tertiary level can be fairly demanding, and if a student wishes to achieve at a high level they need to have the ability to perform consistently at a high level. Motivation is a key factor in performance in any field, so identification of strategies that might help our students to be motivated towards their study goals could potentially aid achievement. While facilitating the use of intrinsic sources of motivations is probably preferable in most cases, the use of extrinsic motivations also probably have their place.

The model which Tim presented includes six stages

1. Inspired

2. Inspire

3. Plan

4. Commit

5. Monitor

6. Recover


In order to enrol in a course of study, a student must be inspired by something. What do our students aspire to? Why do they want to be a massage therapist?

Any student is likely to have in their mind a picture of what working as a massage therapist entails which will be based partially on what that term means to the influential people in their life (their family and friends), and based partially on their own experiences. Their expectations will probably include the type of work that a massage therapist does, the scope of effectiveness of a massage therapist, and the potential pay-rate of a massage therapist.

Students coming into a course of study typically have fairly unrealistic or incomplete expectations of study and the realities of the profession they intend to enter. Ongoing discussion of these realities with the students should help to mold these expectations towards a set which are more reflective of the actual reality (James, Baldwin, McInnis, 1999). While this process of shaping expectations may not help to motivate students, it should help to prevent the dissatisfaction and therefore de-motivation that occurs when expectations are not met.


How can we as staff inspire our students towards the achievement of this aspiration? Helping our students to clarify their reasons for study, and more specifically their learning goals is a good first step, but currently this is where we stop.

The question that we now need to answer is once we have identified the desire that is motivating our students to study, how can we as staff motivate our students towards the achievement of their goal(s)?

Some ideas

Regular review & possible revision of goals (the source of inspiration).

Identification of barriers & strategies to overcome these goals.

These overall goals are likely to change through over the course of study. This needs to be kept in mind.

Can we as staff model what the students are aiming for? This is probably partially provided by staff sharing stories of work-based experiences.

How can we make use of the second year students to inspire first year students? More interaction between first and second year students should help first year students to see where they are going.

  • Second year students providing massages to first year students in the massage clinic.
  • Peer tutoring.
  • Massage swaps in the classroom.


Once the goals have been set, a plan needs to be made which describes how these goals are to be achieved. This plan should include both long-term and short-term priorities as well as the time which should be committed to each element of study.

It is generally expected that students will be able to manage the planning and time management requirements of tertiary study. The experience of the author is that this is often not a realistic expectation. It is therefore advisable to embed tuition in planning and time management within the course of study.

Currently we teach time management as a element of our study skills programme, which is simpler from a teaching point of view, but not ideal from a learning point of view (Wingate, 2006). Next year we plan to embed this within the programme by regularly putting aside time where the students are guided to plan their study. This direction should be fairly direct in the early stages of the course, and should taper off as the students progress to enable the students to internalise the skills of planning and time management.


Once the plan has been made, the student needs to commit to it. This commitment is largely in the hands of the student, however all of the interventions discussed so far will contribute to building the motivation which underpins consistent commitment.

We could support this commitment further by reminding students to review the previous period to see if they have met the goals which they set.


Once a programme is in motion, the performance of the student needs to be monitored.

In education we typically monitor performance through assessments. While this is fairly effective in providing motivation through compulsion, it does not tend to provide very useful feedback on the intrinsic motivation of students. In fact, compelling learning in this way seems to gradually drain the interest in learning about the subject material which students often begin with, the natural result being a reduction in intrinsic motivation.

It could be argued that if we are really interested in the achievement of our students then monitoring motivation is of similar importance to monitoring achievement. How could this be done?

One of my colleagues has a regular practice of a one-to-one meeting with each of her students several times each year. She describes this as an invaluable way of building relationship with each of her students. She gains an in-depth understanding of the challenges that each of them faces, and is able to act as a learning mentor as a result. While this is undoubtedly a fairly expensive exercise in terms of time, she believes that the time is well spent in terms of pastoral care and student retention.

I’m interested in any other ideas that any readers of this blog may have.


After any period of exertion, the athlete (student) needs to recover. I believe that the standard term & semester breaks fulfil this role adequately. There is often a tendency amongst academic staff to see the term breaks as a chance for students to complete assessments and study, however it is my belief that the aim of the programme coordinator should be to allow the students a period of time to recover from the demands of study so that they can more effectively apply themselves in the next period of study.


James, R., Baldwin, G., McInnis, C. (1999) Which university – the factors influencing the choices of prospective undergraduates?. Melbourne: Centre for the study of higher education.

Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with ‘study skills’. Teaching in Higher Education, 11, 457-469.