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Student Demotivation
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
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We have elsewhere concerned ourselves with student motivation and what teachers can do to foster it. In this article, we shall introduce the notion of 'student demotivation', mainly drawing upon Dornyei (2001), among others. Besides, we shall try to establish a connection between teacher expectations and student achievement, thus casting the phenomenon of demotivation in a meaningful framework, within which both teachers and students are salient participants.

Demotivation vs motivation

There is no question that there are motivational influences that exert a detrimental effect on student motivation. Classroom practitioners can easily think of a variety of events that can have demotivating effects on students, such as public humiliation, disheartening test results, or even conflicts with peers. Reality shows that demotivation is not at all infrequent in schools and the number of demotivated learners is increasing. So, in this paper we shall see the "dark side of the moon," trying to shed some light on some 'potential motivational pitfalls and danger zones', as Dornyei (2001) calls them.
Generally speaking, a 'demotivated' learner is someone who was once motivated but has lost his or her interest for some reason. In the same vein, we can speak of 'demotives', which are the negative counterparts of 'motives'. While a motive can be said to increase an action tendency, a demotive decreases it. However, it is not necessary to tack the label 'demotivation' or 'demotive' onto every type of negative influence. Dornyei (ibid.: 142) identifies three negative factors that he would not refer to as instances of demotivation:

1. An attractive alternative action that serves as a powerful distraction (e.g. watching TV instead of doing one's homework).

2. The gradual loss of interest in a long-lasting, ongoing activity.

3. The sudden realisation that the costs of pursuing a goal are too high (e.g. when someone recognises how demanding it is to attend an evening course while working during the day).

According to Dornyei (ibid.: 143), these negative factors differ from what one would call 'demotivating events' in three significant ways:

1. Powerful distractions are not demotives in the same sense as, say, public humiliation, because they do not carry a negative value: instead of reducing motivation, their distracting effect consists in presenting more attractive options.

2. The gradual loss of interest is also different from a demotivating event because-using a racing metaphor, whereby a runner is doing very well yet does not win the race because there is someone who is doing even better-it reflects the runner's losing speed caused by, for example, ageing, rather than by a particular incident in the particular "race."

3. As regards the sudden recognition of the costs of an activity, this is the result of an internal process of deliberation, without any specific external trigger. Conversely, if something triggered the termination of action (e.g. the persuasion of an influential friend), that would be a case of demotivation.

In light of Dornyei's considerations, 'demotivation' concerns 'specific forces that reduce or diminish the motivational basis of a bahavioural intention or an ongoing action' (ibid.: 143).
Furthermore, Dornyei (ibid.) makes the distinction between 'demotivation'and'amotivation' (a term used by Deci and Ryan (1985)). For him, 'amotivation' refers to a lack of motivation brought about by the realisation that 'there is no point…' or 'it's beyond my ken…' Thus, 'amotivation' is inextricably related to general outcome expectations that are deemed to be unrealistic, whereas 'demotivation' is related to specific external causes. Of course, some demotives can lead to amotivation (e.g. a series of horrendous classroom experiences can put paid to the learner's self-efficacy), but with some other demotives, as soon as the detrimental external influence ceases to exist, other positive motives may again surface (e.g. if it turns out that someone who dissuaded the individual from doing something was not telling the truth).

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