Marks and motivation

Distance learning is a great way to study, but there is no doubt some people find it hard to stay motivated.

Most people’s experience of learning is in a classroom environment where there are others in the same situation. You can bounce ideas off your peers. Friendships made at school or college often last a lifetime. But by comparison, distance learning is a lonely experience. It’s just you, your course work and a tutor.

Motivation is something we take very seriously at the Copywriting Apprentice. Most of our team members have been mature students and taken distance learning courses themselves. As a result, we understand there is a big difference between an adult studying with distance learning and younger people in a classroom environment.

Copywriting course marking

When we mark students’ assignments, we don’t just award some arbitrary, meaningless grade. Specific elements in every assignment are awarded a mark, and feedback is given on each. And there’s a good reason for this. Let me tell you a story…

Back in the dark ages, I was a mature student studying for a management qualification on a day-release basis at a local college. It was a small class of twelve mature students, with an average age of about 35.

In the first six months of the course, ‘proper’ marks were awarded for every assignment or test. The marks then fell into four bands: distinction, credit, pass and fail. So with each piece of work you knew exactly what mark you’d been awarded. What a motivator that was! If you got a mark of 84%, you knew you were just one mark away from achieving a distinction. You kicked yourself for not doing that little bit more. And horror of horrors, if your marks showed you had just scraped a pass, you were mortified. So you made very sure you pulled your socks up and worked harder next time.

Then, in their infinite wisdom, the college authorities decided awarding actual marks demotivated students. From that point on, the only grades given were distinction, credit, pass or fail. There was no way of knowing where exactly in those bands you were. We protested. We argued that as mature students we had different needs and motivations. But nobody listened. Lecturers sympathised, but it was out of their hands.

The motivation levels and the dynamics of the group changed overnight. Previously, everyone’s marks had been the subject of lengthy discussions over coffee and lunch. We were all competitive. We wanted to achieve higher marks than everyone else. But being awarded a fluffy meaningless grade instead of a proper mark took that from us. There seemed little point in trying harder when we had no yardstick to measure our progress by.

This type of grading system might motivate young people in further education, although somehow I doubt it. It certainly didn’t work for us. So that’s why we award proper marks for every assignment in the Copywriting Apprentice course. That way, students can measure their performance and progress every step of the way.

Mark my words, that’s a big motivator.

Blog post by Joy McCarthy


Picture credit: 123RF

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