8 Ways to Motivate Learners

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I’ve recently been exposed to a paper written by Steven Reiss, called the Multifaceted Nature of Intrinsic Motivation. The more I read, the more I see how interwoven all human-centric ideas are.

I’m a firm believer that everyone has to be a sales person, on some level.  If you can’t sell, you’ll never get what you want.  While there might be some underhanded sales tactics out there, as a sales person I was able to add value to customers lives and I didn’t have to feel bad about it.  Sales skills are a tool, and all tools can be abused.  But this isn’t what I’m talking about.  

Trainers need to be able to tell learners why they should pay attention, why they should spend an hour and a half listening, and why they should participate in the session. Boom. Sales.

The only sales tactic that ever made sense to me was to find out as much as you could about the customer and then where your product or service fits in.  I’ve never been fond of the, ‘sell me this pen’ activity.  It immediately makes the transaction about the pen, the product.  To hell with that.  Sales is about the customer.  That’s where it starts and that’s where it ends.

Sales is asking a lot of questions, get into their situation, then find ways you can add value to their life. Larger training initiatives do this with an assessment.  Questions get asked, and gaps get uncovered.  But what about when you don’t have the opportunity to get to know all about the learner/customer?  Then it becomes a numbers game.

Reiss identified 16 unique desires or intrinsic motivators (IM’s).  Since there is very little correlation between any of IM’s, there is no way to guarantee that by picking one or two IM’s you’ll get much return.  What might work better is to include as many IM’s as possible into a training session. The way I see it, 8 of those 16 can fit into a training session without much difficulty.

#1. Curiosity – desire for knowledge.

There a ton of great resources out there on how to appeal to the curious nature of humans.  By starting a session with a mystery, impossible problem or lofty claim is a great way to get attention, as long as you can get to the pay-off, or proof by the end of the session.

#2. Independence – desire to be autonomous.

Allowing for a bit of work to be done individually should be included in the mix.  Or to even provide options for activities.  I recently saw a table in T&D Magazine that broke down preferred learning methods by generation.  Having different resources available lets the learner decide what would be best for their situation. We all like to be treated like grown-ups.  Options are part of that.

#3. Status – desire for social standing, including desire for attention.

Is it unreasonable to think that training can make you a more valuable team player?  That new skills and knowledge would allow someone to better their entire team and highlight themselves as an asset?  Makes sense to me.

#4. Social contact – desire for peer companionship, desire to play.

Including valuable and fun activities is a must.  Get people engaged, get them talking, get them thinking. Training is often a welcome break from the day to day grind, a breath of fresh air so play that up. But also highlight that it will be valuable.  How many times has someone been ‘too busy’ to spend 45 minutes learning something that will help them.  Fun + value = win.

#5. Idealism – desire to improve society, including altruism, justice.

If you’re doing a motivation session,this is a slam dunk and will be built into it already.  But if it’s not, take what you learn here and share with your group to make them as strong as possible.  The focus shifts from doling out information to informing the masses, but it’s a slight shift. The greater good!

#6. Desire to organize, including desire for ritual.

The intrinsic feeling the Reiss associates with this is ‘stability.’ Job stability should always be in the back of peoples mind.  How can I stay gainfully employed? Pay attention and ask a lot of questions.

#7. Tranquility – Desire to avoid anxiety, fear.

The second a trainer tells the room that there will be a role-play activity later, you can guarantee that heart rates will go up. This is alleviated by using icebreakers and other activities that get people to open up in a comfortable environment.  Use music, informal seating, write-then-share activities, demonstrations.   Shake hands as people enter the room, make small talk. For me, the best training sessions are the ones where you didn’t even realize that they started.

#8. Saving – Desire to collect, value of frugality.

We should always have ‘take-aways’ in our sessions.  Hopefully we’re able to provide a tangible tool or two that they can pin to their wall and use in their shop.  If not physical, then maybe a new process or experience would be sufficient.

Reiss’s other eight motivations, don’t fit neatly into a training session but I’m sure you already see where you’ve addressed some of these motivations in the past, in practice if not by name.

By taking the time to label intrinsic motivations, hopefully we can be more aware of how to get learners to more readily embrace training sessions.  This is not a cure-all, but by incorporating these IM’s and positioning your sales pitch for these training sessions, life will get a bit easier and that’s something we can all appreciate.

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  1. Pingback: TBF037 – Motivations and Engagement | TRAINING BY FIRE

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