Getting Students to Care About Their Learning


“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” ~Anonymous

Most of us chose careers in academia because we care deeply about our disciplines or fields. It can be discouraging, therefore, to face students whose indifference to our courses is palpable. Yet caring is an essential element of their learning. As Fink suggests, “When students care about something, they then have the energy they need for learning more about it and making it a part of their lives. Without the energy for learning, nothing significant happens.” Certainly, common sense and our own experience as teachers suggest that students who really care about what they are learning to invest the time and effort to learn it well and remember it longer.

There is no easy way to get students to care. We offer some suggestions for your consideration:

Be a Role Model For Caring

Students tend to respond to the level of energy and enthusiasm that you generate in kind. If you demonstrate that you are passionate about your subject and about teaching, as well as their learning, your students are more likely to connect with you and with the content and to strive to do their best.

Care About the Students

Most students will be motivated if they believe you care about them. Indeed, caring about the students as individuals is critical to their success as well as to their satisfaction with the course and with your teaching. Getting to know them is helpful on this front, as you can then target instruction to student background and interests.

Set High Expectations

Research is fairly clear that students appreciate it when a teacher has high expectations for them and hold them to it. In short, when they are expected to learn more and perform better, they often do. Students often perform in ways that their teachers expect.

Give Students Ownership in the Content and Process

If students have some flexibility in what they study and how they study it, they are more likely to care about both aspects. For example, if they choose paper and project topics that most interest them, and if they have some decision about the assessment (tests, papers, projects, posters, presentations), they have more control over how they develop understanding and how they demonstrate it to you. Control often leads to caring in this circumstance.

Encourage Students to Connect Content to Their Lives/the Outside World

Oftentimes to students, our courses can seem completely disconnected from their lived experiences. We can find ways to make connections more transparent. When they have the opportunity to see that content is important and relevant to them, they tend to care more.

Choose Assignments That are at the Appropriate Target Level

Students need to have assignments that are challenging enough to be interesting but not so difficult that they feel dazed, confused, and helpless. You can design assignments that are appropriately challenging in view of the experience and aptitude of the class.

Place Appropriate Emphasis on Testing and Grading

Graded items can create incentives or disincentives. You can strive for assessments that show students what they have mastered, rather than what they have not.

College teachers can help promote students caring. For information about active learning techniques that promote caring, see our videos for the following techniques:

Suggested Citation

Barkley, E. F., & Major, C. H. (n.d.). Getting students to care about their learning. CrossCurrents.


Engaged Teaching

A Handbook for College Faculty

Available now, Engaged Teaching: A Handbook for College Faculty provides college faculty with a dynamic model of what it means to be an engaged teacher and offers practical strategies and techniques for putting the model into practice.

Learn More