Why should I do this? 

There are three important take-aways from the literature on student motivation that can help faculty in designing effective learning environments: 

  • First, research in this area has identified several student perceptions that contribute to students’ decision to cheat. These perceptions have to do with students’ goalsself-efficacy, and value of the content.  
  • Second, this research has also found that students’ perceptions can be shaped—adaptively or maladaptively—by decisions that instructors make about course design, instruction, and assessment. 
  • Third and perhaps most importantly, this work also suggests that instructor decisions that support adaptive student perceptions decrease cheating and increase learning.

Taken together, the motivation research can empower faculty with a greater sense of control: you can positively impact student perceptions with your pedagogical choices and in doing so will increase student motivation and deepen student learning. 

How can I do this?


A robust body of work suggests that students tend to adopt one of two broad goals in learning environments (e.g., Bardach et al., 2019). When students hold mastery goals, they are motivated to learn the material and act in ways to accomplish that goal, such as using deeper learning strategies and persisting in the face of challenge. When students hold performance goals, they are motivated by extrinsic factors such as grades. Students who hold performance goals also use different learning strategies, such as cramming or cheating, that may not help them learn but may help them earn the grade.

Students’ learning environments shape the goals that they hold. Here is a list of strategies and examples from an NSF-funded project focused on motivation in science that you can use to help students adopt mastery goals instead of performance goals.  


Students’ self-efficacy, their beliefs about their ability to successfully complete a learning task, also impact their motivation (Bandura, 1997). Students with high self-efficacy are more likely to challenge themselves, to persist, and to recover from academic setbacks. Students with low self-efficacy are more likely to feel that cheating is their only way of being successful if they believe: 1) that they do not have the knowledge and skills to be successful and/or 2) that the learning task is not set up for them to successfully demonstrate their knowledge and skills (e.g., because it does not accurately reflect what students learned in class or because students were not given enough time; Murdock & Anderman, 2006). These students are also likely to avoid challenge and to be less willing to put forth effort, because they are unsure if they will be able to succeed.  

 Instructors can set up the classroom environment to help students develop high self-efficacy using strategies such as the following: 

  • Students develop self-efficacy through their own experience of successfully completing academic tasks. To build student self-efficacy, provide students with early, frequent, and low-stakes practice [link to low stakes practice strategy page] paired with specific feedback to give students early successes and a clear path for correcting mistakes.  
  • Communicate confidence in your students’ abilities: let them know that you have high expectations for them and that you firmly believe they will all be able to meet those expectations.  
  • To help students meet your high expectations, provide concrete, strategic advice about how to learn and be successful in your course. Students are not always able to identify why their current study strategies failed to work and what more effective alternatives would be. Giving students a path forward for being successful can increase their self-efficacy, use of effective strategies, and learning. 


 A third factor that shapes students’ motivation and the choices they make in learning environments is the value of the content. Students who perceive learning the course content as valuable—because it is interesting, will be useful in the future, or is important to their sense of self—are more likely to be motivated to engage deeply with the course (Wigfield & Eccles, 2020). Students are more likely to rely on shortcuts like cheating if they do not see how learning the content is valuable or worthwhile. There are many things that instructors can do to help students see the value of course content: 

  • Model interest in the content, by talking with your students about why you find the content exciting and worthwhile.  
  • Explicitly describe to students how what they are learning in the course may be valuable for them to learn because it is relevant to future classes or careers. 
  • Use learning objectives to clearly articulate what students should be able to do as a result of engaging in a learning task. 
  • Explain your pedagogical rationale for class activities and assignments. 
  • Share examples that demonstrate how the content and skills apply in the real world. 
  • Design assignments that ask students to apply what they have learned in authentic, real world scenarios. 
  • Ask students to identify ways in which the content may apply to their lives outside of school. 


  • Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman. 
  • Bardach, L., Oczlon, S., Pietschnig, J., & Lüftenegger, M. (2019). Has achievement goal theory been right? A meta-analysis of the relation between goal structures and personal achievement goals. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000419 
  • Murdock, T. B., & Anderman, E. M. (2006). Motivational perspectives on student cheating: Toward an integrated model of academic dishonesty. Educational Psychologist41(3), 129–145. 
  • Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2020). 35 years of research on students’ subjective task values and motivation: A look back and a look forward. In Advances in Motivation Science (Vol. 7, pp. 161–198). Elsevier.