Happiness cannot be willed. It is a byproduct of experiences, just like laughter. When something is funny you laugh as a result. When something is enjoyable you feel a sense of happiness. I now believe that motivation is the same. It is not something to be willed or inherent to anyone. Instead it is a temporary state that results from other actions or experiences happening in a person's life.
If we take the above as true, it has major implications for the classroom and the educator. Under this belief the student is not responsible for their motivation as though they "have" it or don't. Instead, the teacher must recognize that it is their responsibility to induce motivational environments or states in each of their students. Viewing motivation as a force rather than a characteristic changes the teacher's perception of their students. It would sound ridiculous to hear a teacher ask a student, "Why aren't you eating?" when the student is not hungry. Yet, teacher's ask themselves constantly, "Why aren't my students motivated?" when they have done nothing as a teacher to create a "hunger" for the material being taught.
Therefore, designing a classroom that takes into account the students' perception of the course is an absolute must. Why should the students be motivated in the first place? Do they see a meaning, purpose, or sense of ownership in what is being done? It is not enough simply to tell them the material will be tested so they better learn it. This does not create motivation for the material anymore than telling children they need to eat their broccoli because it's good for them. "Good for them" is entirely relative and not concrete to a child. As a teacher you may know that the material is "good for them", but this does not mean you should expect a child to shift their basic attitude about having to do it.
In the final assessment, most of what children do in the classroom is seen as some sort of cost. In fact, they intuitively understand the idea of "opportunity cost" from economics. This states that the cost of something is not just the dollar amount of an item, but also everything else that you could have purchased with that money. Students recognize the opportunity cost of things like homework, classroom attention, and solitary study for an upcoming test. By "spending" their time and attention on these classroom tasks demanded of them, they also lose the ability to "spend" that same time and attention on other things such as friends, family, or sports. Teachers must recognize that students grasp this idea of opportunity cost and constantly weigh the alternatives of how to spend their time. After realizing this, teachers need to think long and hard about what they are actually offering to the students and what the students perceive they are getting out of the deal. If the value of doing homework and studying for a test is not outweighed by the alternatives available to students, they will never be "motivated".
In fact, it gets even deeper when teachers reflect on the ideas of fragility as written about by Nassim Taleb and prospect theory as written about by Daniel Kahneman. Fragility is the idea that some systems are destroyed by volatility or shock. Students are very fragile by this definition. The upside of doing well in school and getting good grades is not immediately felt or strongly rewarded. It is simply expected of individuals to do well and the gratification of doing so is not personally felt until years later when students benefit from being a good student by obtaining a good career or position in a field they desire. However, the downside of doing poorly in school is huge. It can not only destroy future career dreams, but also the student's sense of self worth or efficacy.
Prospect theory, along the same lines, discusses the fact that humans do not view gains and losses equally. An equivalent gain in value is not experienced the same as an equivalent loss. Kahneman as found through research that losses are experienced roughly twice as intensely as gains. This is bad news for a student who, as described above, weighs alternatives using opportunity cost and also recognizes that he is quite fragile as a student. If a student is offered the choice of studying, which has very little immediate rewards for them, or a second choice of spending time with friends, which has an immediate reward, they will choose the latter every time, especially taking into account that genuinely studying hard still leaves a possibility of failure. This is a large risk with huge downside that would be experienced in a very intense manner by the student.
Until students are made to feel that their education is not a fragile state, but in fact the opposite, an anti-fragile state which gains from shocks and volatility, they will not be able to make decisions using their intuitive understanding of opportunity cost that favors study and homework. The choice for them is very simple. Enjoy time with friends that is immediate and rewarding with no large downside, or spend time studying which is not immediately rewarding in any way and has a huge risk of downside with respect to their future career and egos.
Tell me which you would choose? Changing students perception of this choice of alternatives is the real problem educators need to address.