Intrinsic Motivation In Online Training

Looking for ways to boost knowledge retention and employee participation? In this article, I’ll delve into the basics of intrinsic motivation, one of the most powerful human drives; a fascinating stimulus that is able to convert any online training course into a rewarding and amazingly fulfilling online experience. I will also share 6 tips on how to develop online training activities that will intrinsically motivate your employees.
Intrinsic Motivation In Online Training

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation centers on internal rewards. Rather than participating in an online training course to earn tangible rewards or to avoid a negative consequence, employees who are intrinsically motivated become active participants because they are excited about the online training experience or view it as an opportunity to learn something new and expand their knowledge base.

Coon and Mitterer (2010) summed up intrinsic motivation quite nicely by stating that "Intrinsic motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials." Employees may even be motivated by the need for self-fulfillment or to enhance their self-esteem.

To help you understand how intrinsic motivation works, I’ll share something that Lionel Messi said. Now, you may wonder what football has to do with online training. The thing is that, as eLearning professionals, we can learn a lot from athletics about the mechanisms of motivation, as all athletic efforts and accomplishments are founded on motivation. No matter how confident or focused athletes are, if they lack the desire and the determination to maximize their abilities, they can never be motivated enough to achieve their goals. And the Argentinian football superstar is, above all, an athlete; he must always be motivated to reach his goals, as motivation is a continuous process. To clearly establish what it takes for him to become a master on his field, he said: “Money is not a motivating factor. Money doesn't thrill me or make me play better because there are benefits to being wealthy. I'm just happy with a ball at my feet. My motivation comes from playing the game I love. If I wasn't paid to be a professional footballer, I would willingly play for nothing.” And this is where the power of intrinsic motivation comes from: within.

Intrinsically motivated people perform tasks simply because they enjoy doing them and engage in behaviors because they find them rewarding. It is the exact opposite of extrinsic motivation, which is driven by external rewards. Needless to say, intrinsic motivation is key to online training success, as literally every eLearning professional on the planet dreams of having an audience that is motivated to learn simply by finding the online training experience to be rewarding enough. However, as it happens with most dreams, you need to work to make it come true!

In this article, I'll show you how and when to focus on intrinsic motivation in online training course design, in order to offer your employees an online training experience that will inspire them to learn, explore and actualize their potentials.

Intrinsic Motivation In Online Training

Enjoyment; this is employees’ drive when they are intrinsically motivated to take your online training course. In other words, when an online training experience inspires intrinsic motivation in your audience, they will engage in it as they normally would on their own, whether you provide them with external motivators or not. Intrinsically motivated employees are eager to learn, and enthusiastically tackle online training assignments. On the contrary, extrinsically motivated employees participate in the online training process almost superficially, as they only look forward to being rewarded at the end, and thus, they may not have real interest in order to commit themselves 100% in the online training experience.

It is pretty clear that as eLearning professionals we should provide our audience with opportunities that will intrinsically motivate them, as intrinsically motivated and engaged employees master the learning objectives of the online training course faster. By finding ways to intrinsically motivate employees, therefore, we also increase the effectiveness of the online training course.

From an instructional design point of view, incorporating online training activities that enhance the intrinsic motivation of employees, by addressing their curiosity is fundamental. However, are there any downsides with respect to instructional design? To create online training activities that intrinsically motivate your audience may be a time-consuming process. Usually, it is difficult to accomplish that as it requires extensive preparation and a deep knowledge of your audience. Different people have different learning needs, so it requires a variety of approaches to address and successfully meet the learning needs and preferences of all your learners in order to be able to intrinsically motivate each one of them. On the other hand, you create a learner-centered online training experience, satisfying and exciting for your employees, that is very likely to yield lasting results. An online training experience that derives from employees' personal interests and natural curiosity in the subject matter, encourages knowledge implementation and develops employees' sense of achievement, inspiring them to emphasize on their personal growth.

6 Tips To Increase Your Employees’ Intrinsic Motivation In Online Training

Developing online content that intrinsically motivates our audience is great. But, how easy is it to inspire them a genuine desire for the online training? Here are 6 useful tips:

  1. Challenge your audience.
    The more interesting your online training deliverable is, the more intrinsically motivated your employees will be. Simply put, when the goals we pursue take us out of our comfort zone, they become meaningful to us, and thus motivate us to pursue them more intensely. There is a fine line between activities that make employees feel defeated and those that challenge them just enough to trigger their intrinsic motivation. Integrating activities that are a step above the employees' current skill level enables them to feel as though they have accomplished something that they can take pride of. On the other hand, if they do fail to complete the task successfully, they can learn from their mistakes. This also provides another source of motivation, which is to prove to themselves that they can overcome the challenge. It is, however, important to do audience research beforehand to determine their current knowledge base and skill sets, so that you can create activities that are difficult, but not so difficult that they disengage.
  2. Integrate multimedia elements that pique their curiosity.
    Humans are naturally curious. Curiosity is a primary source of internal motivation. There are two forms of curiosity at play here: sensory and cognitive. When employees are exposed to visual elements or interactive presentations that direct their attention, this serves as a source of sensory curiosity. They want to explore the visual or audio stimuli and this prompts them to actively participate in the online training process. Cognitive curiosity stems from an online training activity that makes them want to learn more, such as an idea that may be in conflict with what they’ve already learned. To incorporate this form of motivation you can provide them with interesting, little known facts about the subject matter or reveal surprising information that may go against common belief. Challenge your audience to reflect on what they are learning by thinking critically and using their creativity in branching eLearning scenarios that pose questions that contradict their long-held beliefs. This way, you will stimulate their curiosity and make them want to learn more.
  3. Encourage employees to collaborate with each other.
    The satisfaction of helping others to overcome the challenges of an assignment can be a great factor for increasing intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, when employees are able to compare their performances with the performances of their colleagues, they feel more interested in achieving their goals. Encourage your audience to collaborate with each other in the virtual classroom by participating in online discussions, asking questions and sharing experiences and concerns. This will make employees enjoy difficult assignments more and persist longer on finding ways to complete them.
  4. Give employees control over their training.
    Having control over one’s own online training experience is one of the most powerful intrinsic motivation factors. Employees want to feel like they have a direct say in the outcome and that they have choices when it comes to which sessions they will complete and when. A sense of responsibility automatically increases employees’ intrinsic motivation, as it adds meaning to their online training experience. Encourage your audience to take control over their own learning by offering them opportunities to go in depth and collect extra information from additional bibliography or further reading for self-study you provide at the end of each topic of your online training course. Furthermore, consider integrating interactive elements into your online training strategy, as interactivity undoubtedly makes employees feel that they have power over their online training experience. Give employees self-guided assignments or group projects that turn the tables, such as asking them to design a presentation for their colleagues or create a webinar based upon the core concepts of the session. This will empower them to want to do more and achieve more, because they are the ones in charge of the training process.
  5. Develop scenarios and simulations that tie into real world applications.
    Fantasy on its own is not necessarily an intrinsic motivator. However, if you are able to tie fantasy or make-believe into real world applications and benefits, then you have a powerful source of motivation. Use simulations or branching scenarios to show employees how the information they are learning can be applied outside of the virtual classroom. Allow them to explore the consequences of their choices, so that they can see the direct link between the subject matter and how they will use the information on-the-job. Just make sure that all of the knowledge and skills you include in the simulations is relevant and relatable, so that employees’ minds won’t be weighed down by extraneous clutter.
  6. Offer employees constructive feedback.
    Finally, recognition can significantly increase your audience’s intrinsic motivation, as it adds the elements of satisfaction and personal achievement. Offer employees positive feedback throughout the online training experience, but be careful not to overreact: Intrinsic motivation can actually be decreased when lavish praise is offered for completing a simple task. Thus, make sure that your feedback is not only positive, but also genuine and constructive. Encourage employees to learn from their mistakes and show them how to improve by isolating your feedback from negative connotations and presenting it as “points for improvement”. This way, you will encourage them to try again to maximize their performance, without feeling that they have failed.

The key to creating online training experiences that leave a lasting impression and achieve learning objectives is to uncover the motivating factors behind employee engagement. If you know what drives them, what fuels their pursuit of success and what will make them become active participants in the online training process, then you have the ability to design online training courses that are always on target.

Now that you know how to increase employees’ intrinsic motivation, you may be interested in challenging yourself and dealing with a tough audience: passive learners. Read the article 6 Tips To Engage Passive Learners In eLearning and find out how you can turn even the most passive learners into engaged, excited, and motivated ones who achieve profound change, thanks to your online training course.


  • Coon, D. & Mitterer, J. O. (2010). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior with concept maps. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
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