Appeal to learners by intrinsically motivating them to complete your educational content!
LinkedIn Learning’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report documented that the second-highest priority of learning and development professionals is to increase learner engagement. Similar to how engaged employees are more productive, more retainable, and lead their organizations to be more successful, engaged learners create a culture of learning that helps individuals as well as the organization as a whole to thrive and manage change. All too often workplace learning is completed because it’s mandatory, without the learners’ desires, individual goals, and even reactions being taken into account. Boring and ineffective training is dangerous to the entire organization, as it wastes learners’ precious time on the job, and does not achieve the intended learning or business objectives.
Appealing to employees’ intrinsic motivation to learn, demonstrated when they complete tasks simply because they want to, may seem like an impossible challenge. However, knowledge and application of adult learning theories can make intrinsic motivation a reality, no matter the subject of the content. One influential theory is the ARCS Model, developed by John Keller. The secret recipe to achieving intrinsic motivation is the expectancy-value theory, which is the concept that people are motivated to learn if they perceive that their needs are satisfied and that they will be successful.
Keller further explains that "The ARCS model of motivation was developed in response to a desire to find more effective ways of understanding the major influences on the motivation to learn, and for systematic ways of identifying and solving problems with learning motivation."
The ARCS Motivational Design Model is similar to the widely used ADDIE model, and consists of the following four steps:
- Define: Classify the problem your training content is intended to solve, analyze the audience’s motivation to complete the training, and write motivational learning objectives.
- Design: Generate and select strategies to appeal to learners’ motivation.
- Develop: Integrate motivational elements in the delivery of content.
- Evaluate: Conduct a preliminary test or trial of your instruction, and assess the motivational outcomes.
The name of the ARCS model comes from these four core practices:
Obtain and Maintain Learners’ Attention
Paying attention is a necessary component of learning, and while catching learners’ attention may be a simple task, maintaining it for the duration of the training and awakening their curiosity can be more difficult. Keller suggests the following strategies to sustain learners’ attention:
- Use humor and creativity in your content.
- Present facts that contradict or challenge learners’ assumptions or beliefs.
- Include meaningful images and media that enrich the learning experience and are not merely decoration.
Establish the Relevance of the Content
Keller explains that relevance can come from three sources: the immediate application of the content, the promised future application of the content, or the process in which the content is taught. This third tactic is often overlooked but can transform dull content into meaningful learning experiences. To demonstrate relevancy, Keller proposes the following:
- Ask learners to relate the content to their individual goals.
- Use analogies and references to the learners’ experiences.
- Present content with the same enthusiasm that is expected of the learners.
Instill Confidence in the Learners
Expectations of success, and conversely, of failure, can often prove to be self-fulfilling prophesies both in the classroom and elsewhere throughout life. Learners tend to feel a higher motivation to complete content when they are presented with moderate but achievable challenges, and have faith that success is attainable. Keller proposes the following methods to build learners’ confidence:
- Present clear and appealing learning objectives.
- Encourage learners to set their own goals, as well as to self-evaluate.
- Explain the criteria for success.
Encourage Learners to Feel Satisfaction
Everyone wants to feel pride in a job well done, and this simple truth extends to the classroom and the workplace. ARCS-based instruction balances extrinsic and intrinsic rewards so that learners experience satisfaction for their own work, and not for receiving a prize or token for mere completion. To encourage intrinsic satisfaction, Keller recommends the following approaches:
- Allow learners to use their new skills as soon as possible.
- Empower successful learners to coach others.
- Offer meaningful and informative feedback during learners’ moments of need.
Applying ARCS in the Workplace
Consider a learning experience at your organization, such as an online course or an instructor-led class. How are learners’ attention, sense of relevance, confidence, and satisfaction taken into account? Audit your learning experience by reflecting on each component of the ARCS model, and look for opportunities for improvement as well as the current strengths. This activity may prove to be especially insightful for topics such as compliance courses, where learner participation is mandatory, so their satisfaction or motivation is rarely considered throughout the design or evaluation process. Engaged learners are not only more productive but also tend to enjoy a higher retention of content, which for some compliance topics can lead to significant impacts on safety and well being, as well as legal and financial matters. When you consider this, can you afford not to consider your learners’ motivation?