If you ask a psychologist about the best way to learn, they’ll tell you to give your learners access to a few experts who have a good sense of the material, know how to effectively communicate, and are able to give the learner confidence in their ability to succeed. For most people, this kind of learning is completely unrealistic and not at all cost-effective. So, you have to turn to other ways to recreate that kind of personal connection through eLearning or ILT. You also want your learners to stay motivated. Generating good motivation for a group of learners can be a massive undertaking, and difficult to do when you don’t know what your learners need to be motivated.

Figure out what motivates your learners

This sounds pretty straightforward, right? In the case of onboarding, learners should be motivated by the mere idea that the content will help them be more effective at work. In a perfect world, sure. But the reality is, many learners are motivated by external factors—“my boss made me do it” is usually the most common. Understanding what your learners want can be really difficult, especially since adult learning groups are made up of individuals with completely different experiences. The key question to ask is “how do I create an experience that resonates with my learner?” From there, you can figure out what will get your learners the most invested in the material.

The psychology of motivation

There are about a thousand theories floating around on the psychology of motivation. One of the most commonly practiced is self-determination theory, which separates motivation into two different categories based on motivational factors.

Self-determination Theory

Unless you really want to get into the technical details, self-determination theory is a pretty straightforward concept. Basically, the theory states that the highest level of motivation is achieved through the balance of three pillars: autonomy (learning at your own pace), competence (feeling like you really understand the content), and relatedness (being able to relate the material back to your life). The other key part of self-determination theory is the breakdown of motivation into two different camps: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation vs. intrinsic motivation

Motivation stemming from external factors is called “extrinsic motivation.” You’re probably familiar with this kind of motivation. It’s the kind of motivation that schools use to reward students with good grades or class participation—stickers, extra recess time, maybe some money for the school store. Unlike children, most adult learners are wary of motivation from these external factors. Their life experience has taught them that extrinsically motivated tasks are tedious and unsatisfying. Most adult learners are best motivated by an internal drive to dive into the content. This is called “intrinsic motivation.” Encouraging intrinsic motivation in your learners is the best way to help them develop their own personal connection to the content. 

4 features that create a personal connection

Creating a sense of connection between the learner and the material can be difficult, as everyone requires different elements to form a true personal connection. But, there are a few components you can focus on in your eLearning or ILT that can be really helpful for facilitating a better emotional connection.

1. Tone of voice

A conversational tone of voice can go a long way. Conversational doesn’t necessarily mean funny or disrespectful—it just means you should write the way you talk. When learners start to consider learning as a two-sided conversation between themselves and the content, they’ll interact with it more personally than they would a one-sided lecture.

2. Storytelling

The best way to explain a concept is by relating it to someone’s life. No one wants to read a wordy, dry explanation of processes and procedures. It’s a lot easier for them to pretend that they’re reading about their neighbor’s best friend Becky going through this process, maybe with a few visuals. Storytelling will humanize the content, which makes the subject much easier to relate to emotionally.

3. Socialization

There’s no getting around it— humans are social creatures. In fact, people learn better in a collaborative environment. In eLearning, this could be a video or illustrated step-by-step process. In ILT, this could be a demonstration or time to collaborate with peers. Either way, socialization gives the learner the opportunity to relate directly to another human and to get immediate feedback.

4. Scenarios

Scenarios put the learner in charge of the material. This type of interaction is great to give the learner a little bit of autonomy in addition to having to consider the repercussions of their actions. Considering what you would do in a situation allows your brain to spend more time processing the information, which generally leads to better retention. 

Why motivation matters beyond learning

Having good motivation during the learning process is great. But what happens when learning is done? Chances are, learners that develop strong intrinsic motivation while learning have that same sense of motivation for their day-to-day lives. Plus, if the opportunity for another learning experience comes up in the future, learners will be able to draw on that same motivation.

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