How To Use Emotions To Motivate Students To Complete A Course

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When we launched 3D graphics courses four years ago, the result of the first lesson looked like this:

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Students were introduced to the 3D theory, interface, and offered to make a simple figure independently. We explained elementary things and had no idea what could be done differently. Then, we faced the fact that at the earliest stage, students began to drop out. We began to analyze the problem and look for the cause. And, as a result, we intuitively felt which direction we should move to.

Now, the result of our first 3D graphics lesson looks like this:

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It’s a scene from the cartoon Monsters Inc. Students do not listen to a theory in the first lesson but do something interesting and see the results. The trick is that all the elements are ready in advance, so students only need to change the scale of figures, rotate correctly, and place them.

As a result of this approach, the dropout rate has become much lower. The duration of our course is two years, and it has an 80% completion rate. At the same time, the principles that will be discussed work not only in IT but also in any other areas and are suitable for any type of education, from preschool to corporate.

Emotional States

What keeps students’ attention during a course? Not the information they receive and not even the authority of a teacher. Emotions play a major role in engagement. And if you provide them, then students will be with you until the end. The fact is that during training, a person goes through different emotional states. With the help of special techniques, you can manage them and, as a result, influence engagement and completion rates.

Based on existing learning theories (SSDL model, TRIZ pedagogy, Robert Gagne’s “Learning Conditions,” and others) and our experience, we have identified a universal scheme of 5 emotional states that students go through:

  1. The training begins with the “I can do it” state

    In the very beginning, it’s crucial not to scare students away with a complex theory but to give them a “charge” of motivation and interest to show them they can achieve results.
  2. “I understand” state

    Having prepared the ground with motivation, only here it’s possible to give the fundamental foundations of the discipline being studied, to immerse students in the theory of how it all works and why it is so.
  3. “I experiment” state

    Students already have a minimum set of knowledge that they can apply to practice at this state. Here, many course creators make a catastrophic mistake: They do not leave students a field for experiments. Let students try and make mistakes, and use the acquired knowledge in different ways. In programing courses, give students all necessary tools and offer to write an alarm clock program. At the same time, they must come up with the functionality, architecture, and appearance themselves. In cooking courses, provide a set of ingredients and instruct students to prepare their own dishes. The manifestation of one’s own will is an important component of engaging learning.
  4. “I do for myself” state

    Students have a fairly deep understanding of subjects and can use their knowledge and skills to solve their tasks. Create a tool for personal use (the same alarm clock).
  5. The last stage of training is “I do for others”

    If in the previous stage the goal was to influence oneself (the inside). Now we are talking about influencing others (the outside). Students can apply new knowledge and skills to change the world around them and make some impact (for example, in professional activities). This is the goal of any training and the final point which the course should come to.

These states are universal and applicable to absolutely any course. Depending on the purpose and content, states may change (for example, “I benefit” instead of “I do for myself”). Still, the general principle from students’ point of view remains unchanged: “First I understand why I need this course, then I comprehend the basics, experiment with new knowledge, apply it to solve personal problems and, finally, influence the world around me.”

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3 Main Reasons For Low Student Engagement

Based on the concept of emotional states, there are 3 reasons for struggling with engagement:

  1. States are changing too fast
    In such a case, students do not have time to comprehend a state. Unfortunately, it is impossible to give universal recommendations on the duration of each of the stages of training. Therefore, we recommend experimenting and asking students for feedback. If you do this regularly and on time, problems with timing will soon become obvious.
  2. States are changing too slowly
    When students are already ready to move on (for example, to the stage of experiments) and a theory is still being explained to them, there is a feeling of boredom.
  3. Incorrect state selection
    In the vast majority of courses, at the very beginning, the emphasis is on the state of “I understand,” an explanation of the fundamental foundations. However, students cannot effectively assimilate the information because they do not understand why they need this knowledge.

We are strongly convinced that the most important state is “I can do it.” If you create a good “bait” in the first lessons, you will provide such a strong motivational base that it may be enough until the end of a course. And vice versa: If you have an excellent course in everything else but its beginning does not grab attention and does not cause a feeling of “I can do it,” then it is unlikely you will achieve long-term engagement.

So that’s why we will see this state in detail.

“Quick Results” As An Engaging Technique

Course creators need to abandon the idea that once a student has come to the first lesson, they are already interested in a course and if a person drops out soon after the start, it means that the course just does not suit them. This is not how it works. When a student attends the first lesson, you still have to fight for their attention and interest. Your task is to “sell” the entire course to them. And the most effective way to achieve this is to show a practical result at the beginning, which motivates students to dive deeper into a subject.

To achieve this, you can use 2 methods:

1. Top-To-Bottom

It is the most effective way. Try to apply it first. The essence of this method is that in the first lesson, we give an almost completed task. Students need to do a minimal amount of work and they will achieve finished professionally-looking results. We don’t force a student to dive deeply into the basics. Instead, in the beginning, a student focuses on small steps. And then, you reduce the amount of task completeness.

Here is a good example from cooking: At the first lesson, give students ready-made cakes, cream, and decorations and tell them to create a whole cake from these. At the next lesson, the same thing, only students are already preparing the cream independently. Then, they bake cakes. And finally, you will get to the stage where students make everything themselves from raw ingredients.

However, this approach is not possible in all courses. In this case, you will have to use the second method.

2. Bottom-To-Top

Sometimes, when learning, you can only move from the particular to the general, from less to more. For example, in a programing course for beginners, you can’t give a person a ready-made code and expect that they will immediately understand it. In this case, for the first lesson, develop a series of small, interesting, and close tasks for students to complete immediately and feel satisfied.

For example, a standard exercise in the first HTML classes is to make a rainbow on the page and sign each color. It’s very boring. We give students the task to insert a frame from their favorite movie on the page and add a caption, a hint so that the rest of the group members can guess the picture. The theoretical foundations are the same as in the rainbow exercise but this form of task is much more interesting for students.

Checklist: 5 Student Engagement Techniques That Are Worth Taking Notes Of

  1. Quick result

    Give short, simple, relevant tasks to students with a clear result.
  2. Complete

    Partially finished material is provided to complete a task. Students simply complete it.
  3. Close to students
    Use a context that is familiar to students. It can be pop culture and if we are talking about corporate education, it can be the company’s environment. The main thing is that it should be close and understandable to students.
  4. Analogy
    A trainer shows how a task is performed and students, acting according to an algorithm, complete this task or perform another similar one.
  5. Demonstration of results
    Before each lesson, students should understand what they will spend their time on, what benefits they will receive from lessons, and what they will l

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