Helping Your Learners Get Motivated to Learn

It’s true – people aren’t always motivated to learn.

Our challenge each day is to make learning and our instructional materials and content as meaningful as possible for many people in the workplace. Yes, a tall order, but one which has very rewarding benefits when we are successful.

Earlier research by John Keller1 highlights his ARCS Model of Motivational Design as a system for improving the motivational appeal of instructor behavior and their material along with the design of lessons and courses. ARCS represents four attributes of Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction as a framework for increasing learner motivation.

Let’s take a look at these four principles and their implications in our design and delivery of training and learning concepts.

Attention, Please!

Keller’s focus on Attention has two broad ways to get the attention of learners, namely, Perceptual Arousal or Inquiry Arousal.

With Perceptual Arousal the goal is to use novel and surprising experiences to grab the learners’ attention through active participation, role playing and as many ways to get the learner engaged with the material as possible. We have all tried different delivery methods to keep learners actively involved through short-lectures, video, and mini-presentations.

Delivery needs to include methods such as humor and methods in line with various individual learning styles to help connect. Sometimes you have to bring in some conflict just to challenge past ways of thinking.

Inquiry Arousal connects the learner to the instructor and material through the art of asking good introspective questions or posing problems for the learners to solve, e.g. brainstorming activities.

Relevance Connection

Your content and examples have to be relevant to the life and world of your learners. Don’t just come from your own world experience and perspective. You need to customize the learning content and make it meaningful to those in the program.

Keller suggests 6 strategies in making learning more meaningful:

Experience: Using a strengths-focused approach, help learners use current skills in learning new skills or information. This way it is not just pouring in new knowledge and skills but building upon what they already have.

Present Worth: Think the classic “WIIFM” – what’s in it for me? We all want to know the answer to the “so what?” question of how this content is going to make a difference in my life. Make sure you spell it out and enlist their insights on application too.

Future Usefulness: All learners want to know why they should invest their time, minds and hearts into any learning experience. Connecting the dots with how they can put into practice tomorrow what they are learning today will make a big difference to how they attend, participate and learn.

Needs Matching: Take advantage of the many needs theories out there for motivation such as achievement, risk taking, power, and affiliation. Daniel Pink, in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, suggests the drives of autonomy, mastery and purpose. Consider these factors with each learner as best as you can.

Modeling: The best teacher is always example. This means as facilitators of learning we need to know, do and be what we want the leaners to become. When stuck, draw upon subject matter experts as guest speakers, use video captures of leaders or experts, and even utilize learners in our classes who master the topic easily to help those who are struggling.

Choice: This is where as trainers and facilitators we need to let go. Give learners some choices in how they need to learn, organize and apply the skills and knowledge conveyed. Don’t structure the learning experience so much that learners are just doing as they are told to do versus seeing how they can use what they have learned.

Confidence Building

All learning should build up a person’s confidence to understand and perform the acquired knowledge and skills learned. They must feel they can accomplish the learning objectives or motivation will wane. That’s why spelling out the learning objectives and requirements for success is essential ahead of time.

Learners grow at their own pace and must be able to see their progress in the learning process. That’s why feedback from the instructor and self-evaluation checks are critical as a motivational strategy. In this way you give control over to the learner to gauge how they are doing and make any needed course corrections along the way.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Satisfaction in learning, as Keller outlines, comes from motivation in the value of the learning content, perhaps the act of achieving completion of a course or new skill, as well as being praised and acknowledged for participating. In some cases, finishing a specific learning program is extrinsically rewarded by increased pay through higher career earning opportunities.

A learner needs to know the benefits and applicability of the newly learned knowledge or skill back in the real world to be truly satisfied with a learning program.

We all know that effective learning requires subject matter knowledge, good instructional design and effective delivery of content. But it also needs a keen understanding of the motivational factors needed to help our employees become continuous lifelong learners.

Real learning comes from the inside out.

Question: How do you encourage your employees to be active learners?

  1. Keller, J. M. (1987). Development and use of the ARCS model of motivational design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2-10.

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