Why to ‘build’, not to ‘have’?


In recent years I had an opportunity to hold many talks with people who struggled with learning difficulties. It was easy to find reasons in many areas – from the lack of knowledge about effective learning techniques, throughout badly defined learning goals till the fact of forcing oneself to acquiring things which we aren’t fascinated by. In my experience that these problems can be very different and connected directly with a lifestyle of the specific person. However there is an area which is universal and it’s a lack of motivation to learning.

This blog entry is going to be a half-guide and half-set of experience. I really hope that what you will find further will help you to look at motivation in learning from a different perspective. I decided on that particular topic because in recent years I met repeatedly with incorrect understanding of essential aspect concerning motivation. In my experience the vast majority of students perceives motivation as something what a person may or may not have. In some magical it is pulling out of your quiver. Such a stiff concept causes that as persons who learn, we don’t perceive our motivation as something what we affect. In my experience and research motivation is something what we build, not only have. Such a view let us think how our educational habits influence the level of motivation for learning or how our activities while learning foster or hamper its building.

Enjoy the reading!


Then how to build motivation to learn?


There are a lot of studies on the subject in the Internet, as well as at university libraries. I would like to share the model – the one I use at my job or while building educational tools up as part of the project ‘Więcej niż LEK’ (‘More than Medicine’), so an educational portal for med students which I co-create. A few years of experience confirmed that this model is eminently practical and perhaps it can help not only a teacher but also a student. It allows you to diagnose bad habits at ourselves or a lack of good educational habits which influence building a motivation before, as well as while learning. This model was described by Dr. Susan Ambrose, Professor of Education and History at Northeastern University in the USA, based on the findings which were used to develop instructions for teachers.

Due to holistic nature of this model it can also be used by students. In my experience it works very well. I use it every day at my job while planning my learning, as well as advising customers and students who submit requests in this regard.

This model assumes that all factors affecting our motivation while learning can be divided into three groups. For each we can find the series of measure whose presence or itse lack will be helping or impeding us to build the highest level of learning motivation. It is important because without learning motivation we can generally feel no pleasure from it.

These include:

Effects of value understood as the student’s awareness that achieving specific established educational goals has a personal value for him. Whether a goal is increasing general sense of competences, learning practical ability implemented  later in life or satisfying the intellectual curiosity to some subject, its lack presence considerably affects the level of our intrinsic motivation.

Self-efficacy understood as the student’s awareness and confidence that while learning he has a sufficient current level of the knowledge and abilities in order to fulfil assumptions of learning plan, understand a new material and achieve a goal of education. To our sense of efficiency while learning many aspects comprise, mainly our educational habits, I am going to describe them later in this blog entry.

Environment on motivation is a set of all factors which have an indirect or direct impact on us while learning. Some of them are dependent on us, but some unfortunately not. Whether we study alone or in the group, whether we have an own quiet place to learn, or if people from our close environment support us, or rather break our concentration while learning, or if our teachers help or rather make it difficult to understand and systemize the material. All these factors have a huge impact on us and they help or hinder building a motivation for strong intellectual effort.

The discussed model assumes that whether we can see the value in a learning goal, or not, whether we have appropriately high sense of efficiency while learning or whether our environment support us, we come to one of 8 groups. Now get acquainted with the following scheme, think about it well and compare it with your own experience. Underneath you will find more detailed description of each group.



We don’t believe in our effectiveness, we can’t see the learning goal, and our environment doesn’t support us. The entire world suggests us that we should simply not try to learn at that exact moment. It is worse case scenario, unlikely but still it can happen in our life when e.g. we have to pass an exam in order to take the next year at university from subject which we don’t really know and have lack of appropriate bases, and still we have some resit. We can’t see the value in what we learn because we aren’t interested in it or it isn’t practical, or is taught in a wrong way. In addition a lecturer conducts oral exam and doesn’t share details of exam so we aren’t able in any way to set ourselves a goal and appropriately plan learning. It’s a caricatured situation but not so rare. We feel inner pushing away and rejecting just thinking about spending a few weeks or months on learning in such situation. Even worse, our environment isn’t able to have an impact on us, because we just can’t see the value learning goal.


Similar situation to rejecting with one difference. We are 100% sure that we know, we understand and we can learn the whole topic which e.g. is supposed to be tested on the upcoming exam. In such situation there is a risk of ignoring the amount of exam content for at we postpone our learning by one day. Every day.


Specific situation, in my experience it’s unfortunately most frequent. We can see the value in learning goal, we want to gain new knowledge, get new ability but we feel that a content is too difficult, that we don’t have proper level of competence and, even worse, the entire environment doesn’t encourage us to make an effort, doesn’t help to plan the learning and get the adequate knowledge. Unfortunately college in Poland insert young people to feeling hopeless. Long-term consequences of this massive phenomenon deserve a separate entry which I will write soon.


It is an interesting state which can lead us to many various places. It is possible to feel some frustration with people like this. They finally know, why learning specific subject is so important, they have a knowledge and very high sense of competence, however the environment actively discourages them or hampers the learning. I know it perfectly from my own experience. There’s a reason why you can find a quotation ‘Frustration is a first step in the way of progress’ on front pages of educational materials created by us.


Each of us has friends who always get great notes although they generally don’t believe in themselves, right? Regardless of hard working, classes, the students’ group, as well as the rest of environment would encourage, then they were never sure they can make it? The lack of faith in own effectiveness while planning and enforcing action can be a strong demotivating factor while learning. These are the reasons why we don’t reach the limits, why we postpone learning, and when we are already at our first job, then we aren’t conscious that we deserve the promotion or the pay rise.


Real, balanced motivation is possible to build when all three aspects are well balanced. We believe that we are able to learn something, everyone around supports us or we have even a real mentor by our side as well as we can see the value of learning goal.

Such state is not always possible to create and not always dependent on us. However we are able to do a lot in order to improve our current situation regardless of where, how, with whom and why we study.

The next part of entry takes the form of a guide, from time to time you will also find some random thought or description of my own experiences from learning and my job.

Effects of value – how?


  1. Determine the learning goal by realizing the value which involves its completion, both in short- and long-term perspective. Focus on attainable, practical and life aspects which you are able to name and imagine.
  2. Connect realization of learning goal with your future plans and dreams. Realization of each goal which causes that your dreams can come true, independently or indirectly, whether directly, is worth being held in mind. I write such goals very often straight, on paper, hang it over my desk so that they can remind me why I do what I do. Over time they start to rent our mind, so that we stop consciously perceiving them. But they are right there working.
  3. Check and make sure that this what you learn translates to the real increase of your competences. Always think if next morning you will have a feeling of a development that took place. Time to recall perfect advice of Jordan Peterson to compare oneself to whom they were yesterday, not to somebody else who today is what he is.
  4. Choose learning goals connected with your passion or favourite form. You can study in many ways, for many of us whether we will learn by ourselves or with somebody, whether we will go and attend the lectures, or dig through library basements, is very important. The process itself can escalate the value of learning, because a method can be for you personally developing or entertaining.




We can influence our self-efficacy in learning in many ways. In this guide I concentrate on effective learning prinicples which being carried out build our learning motivation. I divided them in groups for transparency.


Educational material selection


  1. Preliminary evaluation of knowledge. At the beginning of learning try to describe your preparation level. Thanks to that you will know what you can expect from yourself, and if material turns out to be difficult, it won’t surprise you and won’t reach the unnecessary drop in motivation. Additionally a chance that you will create realistic and feasible learning plan will be definitely bigger.
  2. Check and determine exactly the adequacy of materials you use while learning for visible learning goal. Before you start studying regularly, prepare all needed materials, consult things with your mentor, teacher or elder colleagues whether assimilating of this material will certainly help you to realize these goals. There is nothing more destructive for our learning motivation than situation when it turns out that in 2 or 3 weeks we didn’t learn things which are supposed to. Always start with the most important issues. If you will study a lot and regularly, you notice quickly that this is frequent and regular coming back to the bases.
  3. Choose proper educational materials in order to not waste your time on reading words which aren’t needed, or not digging into large books in order to find one key information. He will depend on choice of the source Your learning flow while studying depends on how you choose sources. If learning prolongs unnecessarily, our motivation is going down.


Planning the learning


  1. Divide educational material into smaller pieces. It will let you appropriately plan learning and predict an effort which will be necessary to go through particular issues. Do the specific amount of such pieces as part of individual learning session. Take a break between and have some rest. Also try not to stop halfway through such piece of material. Closing such little tasks is extremely important. It let us keep our concentration on a decent high level, and it gives us the feeling that learning has a chance to bring results. There is nothing more motivating for further learning than feeling that we are focused and fully we understood what we’d read.
  2. Create your work plan relying on an expected completion date of learning. Consider resting days and emergency days which will help you with catching up just in case. There is nothing more demotivating than constant plan changing in order to have the impression that we are up to date. The plan is holy. It will help you to monitor your learning progress provided that you won’t mess around it. That’s why it is just better to have these back-up days for the rest, catching up or revisions.
  3. Considering a time for revisions in your work plan. After a few years of experience at my job, where I designed and created courses, I am willing to agree with many other guides which recommend 1:1 proportion of time spent on learning new material. For many of you it can be a great surprise, however learning can be effective when we read everything not only once or twice. We also have to systematize and competently use it. Best solution to that is to revise. It is tiring but at the same time has the biggest impact on our learning motivation. Each revision confirms that we can or we manage to catch everything what we forgot, and we are able to read this in that exact moment. These two aspects affect our self-efficacy positively and give us energy to further effort.
  4. Don’t change a plan! Never! Stick with it and do exceptions only in urgent life situations. In order to know how much work is ahead of you, you must know whether you are up to date and whether it is necessary to catch something up.


Systematisation and organisation of knowledge


  1. Create a graphical display of the whole issue that you are going to learn. Consider sections and crucial issues which are included. It will let you create right labels which you will fill with details later. For this task the best are: diagrams, tables or mind mapping. It will give you the feeling that you embrace the whole material, thanks to that you won’t be under the impression that something is missed. You will avoid a drop in motivation which is connected with that.
  2. In order to systematize the knowledge and to know what you know, you have to test yourself appropriately. Revising is the best option, i.e. every activity forcing you to take the knowledge out of a long-term memory. It will let you capture missing information or these which you don’t know how to connect. Each of such revising session strenghtens our motivation because just after that we feel that we know and we remember what we learnt earlier. It also let us to avoid the illusion of knowledge phenomenon.


Physical proof of our work as a result


  1. Notes are a tangible evidence of the held learning session. They let you revise more quickly and more efficiently, and when studying lasts long weeks, their presence help you to appreciate the entire difficulty put into creating them. It gives additional motivation kick because we don’t want to lose already gained effects. Always create notes as if other person was supposed to use them for studying, write clearly.
  2. You can always take your flashcards wherever notes would take too much place. Especially mobile apps prove themselves, however in my opinion physical and tangible things are more perceptible. The physical pile of flashcards is conspicuous whenever we open our school backsack or we sit down to the desk. Then a chance of using them regularly is growing!


Monitoring of plan implementation, learning progress and its results 


  1. Sense of control on learning process is a very important factor that has a stron impact on our learning motivation. In order to make it possible, we must have something to monitor and that means a work schedule. Write down proper pieces of splitted material in concrete calendar days. Assign stiff dates to them, thanks to that it will be possible to adequately evaluate your progress. Remember to not compare yourself to other persons. Everyone learns at one’s pace, everyone with other effectiveness and the fact that your friend learns faster and gets ahead with material doesn’t mean that it’s good for him at all. Sometimes it is better to slow down in order to catch up bases, even often!


Closing issues while learning


Every small task which you put a tick for, every pile of flashcards from some subject, every pile of notes which you manage to fully learn is a finished stage. It is a success in itself. Remember to set smaller goals because its realization builds your self-efficacy and has an impact on your motivation. If you don’t divide material into subtasks, you will end up with a few weeks or a few months task which won’t reward you during that time. Literally, there will be a lack of dopamine in your brain, but we will discuss it more in another blog post. You will fight with a huge monster and its realization will be delayed. It can destroy your everyday motivation for opening books.


Mental safety


  1. To take a break during learning session is crucial for effectiveness as well as for  knowledge embedding. If you don’t do this, it will occure while revising that you barely remember the material. If it happens, your motivation will drop. Remember that after the effective learning session it is a huge success to remember 50% of material! Our brain works this way and we revise for make it up to 99% later! Don’t let the fact that you forget something to reduce your motivation, forgetting is a part of learning process so the appropriate attitude towards will let you keep the highest level of motivation.
  2. Sleep – there is no chance to lead an active, regular intellectual effort without it. Hitting your head on the table won’t give you work results. Also remember, that knowledge consolidation i.e. the stage of combining new information with what you already know, occurres on the molecular level on ‘your brain neurons’, exactly during sleeping. Actually only during sleeping! You will waste your time for learning without it. Don’t be surprised when you will notice that before exams you need more sleep, it is a natural consequence of how our brain functions. You must give it a lot of time for sorting everything what you read and revised up.


Environment on motivation

No matter what were your learning conditions, no matter what are your current learning conditions, you can always do something in order to affect your environment so that helps you and motivates you while learning.

Reduction of environmental distraction

Always try to reduce all possible distractions. Phone in flight mode, closed Facebook tabs, earplugs, quiet music without lyrics, all these factors considerably burden your main memory, in other words they hamper concentration as well as fluent acquiring and understanding the material. If our concentration is being gradually disturbed, we work drop by drop for being behind and it will destroy our motivation.

Asking for support through our environment


  1. Learning together is a double-eged sword, watch it but remember its possible positive impact. Depending on your entrance level of the knowledge, sometimes it is good to study with somebody while preparing but from time to time quite the opposite. However it is always worthwhile studying in the place where everyone around is focused on working or learning. If you look up and see tens of concentrated faces, you immediately gets a burst of energy towards effort, you don’t want to give up and take breaks when others work hard. It can change the game for many people who have problems with concentration. I really recommend it, I changed a learning place from home to the office, I come there earlier in order to not loose my valuable time through  presence of others.
  2. Ask close people for support, especially those who understand the taken up challenge. A small gesture is able to work wonders, making a tea, a handshake or turning the music down in the next room. Feeling support of the closest, we know that actually we aren’t lonely in our struggle.


Learning atmosphere

Learning may enjoy, always. We only have to try to make it. Tidy your room up, sort notes out, air the flat out, put on some quiet music, study in your favourite friendly place. In order to learn always choose persons who make you feel comfortable and safe while learning. All these factors very often affect our motivation and learning results which is proved in research.

Learning space

To select a proper place for learning can be a determining factor due to success or fail in our educational struggle. Always assess what is best for you because your favourite desk will not always be the best place for learning, e.g. your sister is coming with her kids or it is going to be a renovation in a flat above you. Try to create this place so it can cover your all frills, not distract unnecessarily and passively help you to motivate for working. Keep your desk clean, keep your educational materials which you use on top in order to always see what’s behind and anhed of you. All these factors working in a microscale in many weeks are able to work wonders.

Gathering feedback

If you have such possibilities, try to get feedback from a lecturer, teacher, mentor or acquaintances. Check, whether you do the right thing or learn good things in a good way. It can be a nice shot of incentive before further motivation and a reward for a job well done. 




It’s pretty much, that’s why I decided to create a big list so that everyone who feels that learning causes problems, could come back to it and use it if necessary.

Motivation is a power fuel of our action, is a wind which can put us on top or move into the least desired place. Therefore while learning we must possibly consciously analyse all factors which affect motivation.

Set a clear and real goal for yourself, think whether you have appropriate skills and time to achieve it and use environment in your favour. If you act this way, you will be successful. They constitute last from important factors which build our learning, development and action motivation independently. Every success, even a small one, makes us fly.

I hope that this entry helped you and will also help the others, if you have any last thoughts or questions, write ahead here or in comment on Facebook.

Talk to you later!



PS I always repeat this mantra, but well, it simply works. That’s why I write it and I suggest it once again. Remember, whether you think that you will manage or not. You are right.