Motivation: The Undervalued Requirement for Learning

by Julie Winkle Giulioni | Posted | Learning

Motivation: The Undervalued Requirement for Learning

Billions of dollars are spent each year to construct relevant, robust, innovative and game-changing training solutions. Technology is leveraged. Subject matter experts are convened. Materials are developed. All in service of changing behaviors and driving performance.

But, there's one prerequisite that's often forgotten: motivation. And simply considering and incorporating it into the instructional plan can be like adding yeast that will help all learning efforts to rise. So, let 's begin with a review of a few key motivational frameworks. 

Here's how to use pieces of four key motivational frameworks to #motivate employees @julie_wg
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Four key motivational frameworks to inspire learning

These frameworks might shed light on specific tactics that could be used to elevate the motivation that people bring to learning.

External motivation

By now, just about everyone is aware of the the distinction between external (or extrinsic) and internal or (intrinsic) motivation. External motivators are imposed by others; whereas internal motivators are self-imposed and come from within the individual.

External motivators come in any number of forms and their effects have been studied since the Industrial Revolution. Commonly known as "carrots" and "sticks," these sources of motivation align with "pain" and "pleasure" - and it's well-documented that the human organism moves toward positive forces and rewards and away from what might be negative or painful. 

What's also well-documented is that these external forces produce only short-term results and actually often lead to long-term resentment and disengagement.

Internal motivation

In the 1970's, researchers Deci and Ryan contributed to a deeper understanding of internal motivation. They explored the limitations of extrinsic factors, leaning toward intrinsic forces as a more sustainable source of motivation. 

Additionally, they identified three psychological needs that contribute to intrinsic motivation: competence (the experience of challenge, effectiveness and mastery), relationship (the experience of close, meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging) and autonomy (experiencing choice and volition). When these needs are met, internal motivation can be tapped and leveraged.

Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset

Harvard's Carol Dweck's research offers another perspective. She distinguishes between people who have a "fixed mindset"  - the belief that basic qualities like intelligence and abilities are fixed and that talent alone leads to success (causing them to fear challenges and failure as it reflects upon their abilities) - and those people with a "growth mindset" - the belief that most abilities can be developed with effort (which causes them to embrace challenge and failure as learning opportunities).

Altruism as motivator

Then there's Adam Grant' s work as described in Give and Take. The experience of hospital workers who failed to follow hand-washing protocols when reminded of the threat of harm to themselves but abided by them faithfully when reminded of the possible harm to patients highlights the power of altruism as a motivator. Many studies over the past decade have underscored the powerful connection between purpose or meaning and motivation.

Strategies for motivation

So, there's clearly no shortage of ways to think about motivation. Nor is there a shortage of ways to tap into motivation to support and enhance learning. We've gathered 10 doable strategies to consider:

  1. Facilitate reflection that anchors people in the importance of the role they play, their value and their contribution to remind them of the purpose and meaning associated with their work.
  2. Connect the dots to help participants understand how their learning efforts will support their pursuit of competence.
  3. Spotlight problems and pain points that the learning will help people avoid.
  4. Encourage others to consider how new skills affect or add value to others to harness the power of altruism.
  5. Transfer to learners whatever meaningful control you can. Letting others choose when to participate in training, who to partner with, content sequencing or application will support the need for autonomy and control.
  6. While celebrating achievement, also recognize effort to help cultivate a growth mindset.
  7. Consciously engineer a safe environment that supports mistakes and learning from failure to combat tendencies toward a fixed mindset.
  8. Ensure that learners set realistic goals that feed their need for autonomy and the sense of drive that comes from within.
  9. Encourage exchange between and among individuals to enhance motivation and learning through the fundamental psychological need for connection.
  10. Demonstrate how what is being learned builds upon current capacity to support the individual's need for competence.

Motivation can be a key driver to learning success

Too frequently, we think we need additional content, innovative activities or a shiny, new platform to take our learning interventions to the next level. But in reality, it might be as simple as consciously tapping into the multiple sources of motivation that allow people to unlock more insights and ring more value from existing efforts.

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