Helping Children See the Deeper Purpose in Learning

“Help children realize that the use of what they are learning might one day help them make a difference in the world.”

Even Parenting Struggles for the Experts


Dr. John Froiland is an expert in helping parents and teachers elevate how their children engage with learning.

“I have a 13-year-old, an 11-year-old, and a 5-year-old,” John says. “We try to apply this research at home, but not in a perfectionistic way.”

Sometimes there’s a bump in the effort, even with the best of intentions.

“My wife and I really worked on encouraging our eldest son to love reading,” John says. “It wasn’t long until we found him sneaking his bedroom light on to read well past bedtime.”

A Powerful Approach to Learning

John has conducted intense research on two of the most popular theories about leading learners.

He’s made a name for himself by examining how parents can promote children’s love for learning and expectations for long-term educational success.

“The first theory is the Expectancy-Value Theory,” John says. “This approach suggests that students will have the most motivation to learn when they expect to succeed and also believe that learning is important.”

“The second is the Self-Determination Theory,” he says. “This approach shows learners how there’s intrinsic value in the learning process, that their work in the classroom can be enjoyable and deeply meaningful.”

John says putting the two theories together can be “powerful.”

“Learners have a way better chance in school and beyond,” he says, “if teachers and parents are able to activate their expectations for quantifiable success and elevate their love of learning.”


John says: “this is how students can see the deeper purpose in learning.”

Tips for Parents

John often gets invited to train teachers and school mental health professionals. He also gives seminars for parents and their kids.

“I’d like to reach more parents,” he says.

We asked him to distill his complex research into three tips for parents and teachers hoping to elevate learner engagement:

TIP #1:

“When you’re asking children to do their homework, take the time to show them what could be interesting about the assignment,” John says.

“Often, parents are busy or in a rush,” he says, “and they just want their kid to comply.”

“It’s so useful when learners can see the beauty in a particular topic, when we help them see the value of the homework assignment beyond getting it done or earning a good grade,” John says.

TIP #2:

“Acknowledge your child’s feelings,” John says.

“This approach meets a fundamental need for relatedness between learners and parents and teachers,” he says. “They want to be understood—and, when they are, the learning process is elevated.”

TIP #3:

“Help learners see intrinsic life goals in learning,” John says. “Help children realize that the use of everything they are learning might one day help them make a difference in the world.”

John Mark Froiland, PhD is a Research Director of Clinical Assessment at Pearson where he helps develop the world’s premier intelligence tests for children and adults (the Wechsler Scales). In a prior role, Dr. Froiland published over 50 articles and book chapters on youth intrinsic motivation to learn, academic engagement, expectations, life goals, behavioral health, parent involvement, parental autonomy support, student learning, and positive psychology. He serves on the editorial boards of four psychology journals and serves on the board of a comprehensive Day Treatment facility that serves youth with various socio-emotional and behavioral disorders.