Can you train an adult who is not motivated to be trained? Can you motivate an adult to learn? Anybody who has trained adults will tell you that when motivation is present learning occurs, one way or another, because the individual will be able to overcome frustration, disappointment or any other obstacle that gets in the way. The opposite is also true: when motivation is not present it is practically impossible to train someone.
So if motivation is essential, why do we forget as instructional designers to incorporate methods to motivate individuals to make the best of the training and development programs we create? In my opinion the culprit is assuming our learners are motivated to learn. As Felix Unger in an episode of The Odd Couple says: “When you ass-u-me you make an ‘ass of u and me’!”
The fact that motivation is important for adults is not new. E.C. Lindeman’s in The Meaning of Adult Education in 1926 noted that adults are motivated to learn as they experience needs. The late renowned psychologist, Carl R. Rogers, stated that adults will learn only those things they perceive will help them enhance themselves, clearly underlining the value of relevancy for the adult learner. Recent research has summed it up to two basic questions adults will ask themselves before they engage in learning:
- Is it worth it?
- Can I do it?
The first question hits on the concept of motivation, since the adult learner is asking if what they are about to learn is worth their time and effort.
How to Avoid It
As good instructional designers we have to start by understanding our audience and their motivation and can’t simply assume individuals are motivated to learn because the training program is mandatory, necessary for advancement, or a high-potential leadership development program, for example. We need to incorporate strategies that address the needs for adult learners to align their own needs, aspirations and desires with the objectives of the elearning, virtual classroom, instructor-led, game, simulation or blended training program we are designing. It starts with basic questions such as:
— Have we done a good job in sharing how individuals will benefit? (This question addresses the external or extrinsic motivators that may be leveraged).
— Have we shared how others have benefited and what they have been able to accomplish? (This question is intended to ensure the creation of a vicarious experience that leads the learner to determine that it can be done).
— Have we leveraged communication, recognition, or other strategies to stimulate positive behavior before, during and after the training? (This question addresses the internal or intrinsic motivators).
In summary, have we respected the need for the adult learners to question the importance of the training program and provided satisfactory answers along the way that align with their own agenda? Remember what Oscar said: never assume that these strategies are in place. Assume they are not and embed them to ensure your learners always find their motivation.