Why Interactive Learning is a Recipe for Student Motivation

Photo of authors: Makayla Reese, with Keena Walters
Authors Makayla Reese with Keena Walters

October 4, 2023 | By Makayla Reese, with Keena Walters

Makayla Reese is a sophomore biology major at Virginia State University and a fellow with the Collaborative. Learn more about the fellowship program here.

Being a college student can be hard, especially for first-time students. We tend to think we will have everything together, but we are often wrong. We are starving for the learning we will experience in college, but we don’t quite have all of the study habits or knowledge about how to interact with our instructors that are necessary for us to grow.

Many of us come from schools that separated the really smart students from the average students. And most of us have similar academic experiences: We were told to just memorize information and use it. But is that really learning?

It’s like saying you’re hungry but don’t know what to eat.

We are interactive learners who need to be engaged

A common experience in college, whether it’s online or in person, is having professors who don’t engage enough with their students; they just talk, talk, talk for hours like SpongeBob when he talks about jellyfish. This is a problem for students who want to learn the subject matter, but who have teachers who don’t take the time to find out how each student learns.

Most students feel as though they’re alone in their journey to academic success. Students look up to their teachers as superheroes who are paving the way for them to achieve greatness. We depend on our teachers, along with our tutors and assistant teachers, to not only teach but guide us to where we should go in life.

For instance, many students such as myself struggle to study for tests and make time for learn the material. Why is this you ask? Because of lack of engagement in the lecture. If we were more engaged, we’d be more motivated to study for tests and focus more on class.

Professors can make their lectures more engaging by making them active. For instance, science teachers could create a big trivia game based around the key words or phrases students need to remember. In English classes, students could share their opinions more about the readings so the ideas could flow. By creating interactive lessons, professors would help students gain the courage to ask more questions instead of just accepting they don’t know the answers. They would remember the content more easily after actively engaging in the lessons and feel more confident on exams to eliminate the wrong answers and choose the correct ones.

Most students today have grown up with technology in their faces since they came out of the womb. They’ve always watched videos or cartoons that spark their interest and keep them engaged. After many years of relying on technology, many students are not used to face-to-face interaction. It’s important for professors to understand that the majority of the students they teach, whether in person or online, are interactive learners who learn better when they are involved in an activity and not asked to just sit there and listen.

We are hungry to learn, but need motivation

As a college student who has engaged in learning both online and in person, it sometimes gets frustrating when courses fail to motivate me. Courses compete for attention with student activities. I participate in the Speech and Debate Society and Troyals Medical Scholars, and I’ve been invited to study abroad in Ghana. With all of these great opportunities, my time seems to be quickly filled. I go to the office hours of each of my teachers, but even during that hour, I don’t feel that teachers are engaging with me very much.

Professors need to find strategies that help us feel like we are more involved in our courses so we all feel the spark of motivation that leads to learning. We’re all hungry to learn, and professors can help us connect more with what’s on the table.