Over the past decade, several US school and instructional reforms have sought ways to counter trends of mediocrity in education. These reforms are grounded in structural motivation theories which postulate that students' learning experiences are optimised when instruction is authentic, challenging, demands skills, and allows for student autonomy. This study set out to investigate empirically the effects of these four structural characteristics of instruction on students' learning experiences. Using a unique methodological design, the current investigation measures students' learning experiences with a confirmatory factor analysis. The four factors which emerged are next predicted with a series of structural variables. The results show that high quality learning experiences are indeed authentic, allow choice, and demand student skills. Boring and alienated experiences are produced when these instructional characteristics are absent. The findings suggest that the structures of instruction that disaffect students are overwhelmingly represented in students' daily school life; those that spark their hearts are not frequent enough to motivate students. They also imply that students do not have a general tendency to be emotionally depressed in school; rather, they perceive their experiences to be highly influenced by specific structural characteristics of instruction.