Motivating Today's Learners


When I was a teenager, I made a discovery. “The New Joy of Knowledge” was an encyclopaedia that I pored over with a great sense of excitement because every page revealed something new and fascinating about our world. The way facts and information were presented kept me yearning for more.

The publishers were clever in capitalising on my longing for more by releasing the encyclopaedia one volume at a time. I had to patiently wait for each volume to be released every fortnight and there were over 50 books in the collection! I remember waiting patiently for each volume to appear at the newsstands and how I could not wait to set out on another journey of discovery.

Do learners experience the same excitement and adrenaline rush when they sit through a class today or is learning just a means to an end? How do we motivate students to learn?

As I reflect on my experience teaching economics some years ago, I am reminded that it was not uncommon for students to initially find the subject dry and daunting. But when they were able to make sense of a subject they presumed as complicated, they became interested. They became inspired to learn when they could see the practical application of economics in the real world and make the connection between economics and their daily life.

Put simply, to get students excited about learning, we first need to demonstrate how the subject relates to them. It is pointless to discuss a topic like inflation without giving them a real sense of how this issue can affect their purchasing power and economic well-being.

In motivating today’s learners, do we understand how they learn? Today’s learners are digital natives and it is important that we acknowledge this phenomenon. They thrive in an environment that challenges their tech-savvy brains. Under these circumstances, teachers must be confident in the use of educational technology to get students excited about learning. Any attempt to adopt a chalk-and-talk approach in the classroom will most certainly have disastrous effects.

Another key point to consider is participation. To get students excited about learning, we need to get them actively involved in the process of learning. This is similar to sports. Few will disagree that being a spectator is often not quite as fun and exciting as taking part in an actual game. When students are encouraged to participate in a lesson, the entire experience of learning takes on an active approach. Rather than being mere observers or passive learners, students actively engage in the learning process by thinking, questioning and applying their knowledge to resolve issues through innovative solutions. The two-way communication between learners and those facilitating learning also drives the former to engage in critical thinking which, in turn, makes learning meaningful.

To enable students to be motivated learners, are we exploring innovative methods that stimulate interest in learning? One possible approach is the introduction of the flipped classroom. Widely recognised as a method that enhances student engagement, the flipped classroom reverses the traditional learning approach and shifts the focus from the instructor to the learner. Learners are now expected to come to class prepared. Prior to each class, they complete pre-class activities designed to give them an understanding of the content that will be delivered in class so that actual class time can be spent on exploring the topic in greater depth. As active learners, these students get the opportunity to develop higher-order thinking skills and ultimately take responsibility for their own learning.

Teachers devote a great deal of time and effort to lesson preparation, yet their students may be far from being motivated to learn. Demonstrating the relevance of what they are learning, understanding how they learn and supporting them as active learners could well be the first step towards restoring the joy of learning.

The Monash University Foundation Year (MUFY) at Sunway College is designed to equip students with a vital set of skills and knowledge to cope with the rigours of undergraduate studies. Students learn to think critically, communicate confidently and solve problems through innovative solutions. They also learn to work independently while collaborating with others to achieve common goals.

In building these skills, MUFY adopts a full blended learning approach. The curriculum combines face-to-face classroom instruction with out-of-class, self-directed learning delivered on an e-learning platform. Each lesson comes with pre-class, in-class and post- class activities that students can access electronically anywhere. While pre-class activities give students an idea of what will be discussed during the lesson, in- class and post-class activities reinforce understanding of the lesson.

Apart from the blended learning experience, students choose to study MUFY because it is “semesterised”. Completing the one-year programme over two independent semesters, students need not face the pressure of preparing for one major final examination at the end of the year, which covers everything that was learnt the whole year.

This structure also allows students to improve their overall score to meet university entry requirements by spending an additional semester retaking some units. There is no need to repeat the entire MUFY programme, which a non-semesterised programme would require.

Students also like the fact that MUFY is non-discipline specific. A discipline-specific foundation programme such as a foundation in engineering prepares students specifically for undergraduate studies in engineering. On the other hand, a non-discipline specific programme such as MUFY does not limit students’ options but offers them a broad pathway to any university course of their choice.


Lee Thye Cheong
Assistant Director, Pre-University Studies
Director of Programme, Monash University Foundation Year
Sunway College


Originally published in The Edge, May 2019