Motivation in learning

July 24, 2020

Positive emotions are a fundamental part of proper learning. In order to create a suitable environment in which positive emotions flourish, it is essential that there is correct motivation in the students and also in the teacher. At NeuroK we have implemented solutions to motivate students to continue learning, but we also give space for the greatest motivator, which is the teacher, to create the right environment for their good work.

Motivation in the classroom

There is a great deal of research that shows that emotion and thought are deeply interconnected. In 2003 a group of researchers from the Charitè University Hospital in Berlin, led by Sussane Erk, published “Emotional context modulates subsequent memory effect in which they demonstrated that in the face of positive emotional contexts the hippocampus, an important brain region for memory, is activated. In the face of negative stimuli the amygdala is activated, a brain region linked to emotional reactions, especially fear. In other words, in order to improve learning, the student must be happy.

Years later, in 2010, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) placed a sensor on a 19-year-old college student that measured his brain’s electrical activity 24 hours a day for seven days. The experiment yielded an unexpected result at the time, one which seems predictable to us today: the student’s brain activity when attending a master class was the same as when watching television; practically none.

This was the definitive proof that the educational model based on a passive student attending master classes does not work because it does not stimulate, without this stimulation we cannot improve the memory of knowledge. The key to generating positive emotions is to motivate the student, but how can we motivate the student?


To answer this question we must first know that there are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. The first of which pushes us to perform a task by ourselves without the need of an external stimulus to launch ourselves into that task. This is because we are excited about the task and recognize the benefit of carrying it out. In addition, the brain reinforces that behavior by releasing a shot of dopamine that makes us feel happier, thus closing the circle.

Extrinsic motivation is when an external agent is needed to tell us what the benefit of completing the task is. A clear example is when the company tries to motivate its workers to do their job better by offering them a bonus as a reward.

Extrinsic motivation is less powerful but can trigger intrinsic motivation. In the previous case, the company bonus can be the initial incentive to do things better, but when you start doing them well you receive your dopamine shot from your own personal satisfaction, which motivates you to keep doing it well regardless of whether or not you finally receive that bonus.

The Eclipse effect

However, we have to be careful about how we motivate others, because if we do it in the wrong way, there will be a great deal of rejection.

If we are doing a task and we are already intrinsically motivated, i.e. we are personally involved, and suddenly the same task is rewarded by a series of external reinforcers, an undesirable effect can occur. The eclipse effect is an undesired effect when, in these new conditions the intrinsic motivation is replaced by an extrinsic motivation, or in extreme cases, all motivation disappears.

How we motivate at NeuroK

A great trigger of intrinsic motivation is social respect. When people around us congratulate us on a job, or when they recognize us as an authority on an issue, we get our dopamine shot and this motivates us to keep improving.

As NeuroK is a social network it is easy to implement tools to make that respect and social status visible within the network. For example, every time a classmate values a contribution of mine positively or every time they mark a comment as a favorite, it improves my social recognition and in turn will increase my motivation to continue contributing to the course.

But there are also other more classic ways to motivate the student such as scoring on learning activities, or looking at statistics of participation in the course that compare you and your peers.

Another very powerful tool is when the teacher marks a student’s content as “Recommended”. When this happens it’s because the content uploaded by the student is very good and the rest of the students should pay close attention to it. In addition, the content is transferred to the course library as basic material.

The role of the teacher

These tools are only part of the solution. In order to maintain correct motivation in NeuroK, or in any other learning environment, the teacher is a fundamental aspect.
In NeuroK, motivation should be part of the course before it starts, that is, before designing on a course the teacher should question the students’ motivation. In our opinion the most important question is not:

What do I want my students to learn? Instead Why do my students want to learn what I am going to teach them? Where does their motivation come from?

In NeuroK, as previously stated, the teacher is a trainer of criteria and not of content, therefore it is their task to guide the debate and not to provide content. When you participate in the debate it’s important to do so in a constructive manner, thus creating a good atmosphere. Rebukes are highly discouraging.

Even a negative evaluation of a content proposed by a student must be argued from a perspective of potential improvements, not from error.

The fundamental task of the teacher is not to give the solutions, it’s to ask the right questions in order that the students can discover the solution for themselves.

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