How To Facilitate Both Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation In eLearning
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Motivation In eLearning: Finding The Right Key

When it comes to learning, motivation is one of the biggest hurdles for educators and administrators to overcome. Because intrinsic motivation is a little difficult to get a handle on, compared to externally motivating factors like grades and points which are quantifiable and concrete, methods of motivating intrinsically are often tossed to the wayside. However, intrinsic motivation can be much more valuable than we realize.

Business author Dan Pink, in a 2009 TED Talk on motivation, touches on the obvious assumptions we make about external motivation.

If you want people to perform better, you reward them. Right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them … These contingent motivators—if you do this, then you get that—work in some circumstances. But for a lot of tasks, they actually either don't work or, often, they do harm. This is one of the most robust findings in social science, and also one of the most ignored.

Pink spent years researching and looking at the science of human motivation, specializing in the dynamics of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. His work is used and cited often in the business field, though it applies to many of the general assumptions we have concerning motivation in multiple fields.

What's alarming here is that our business operating system -- think of the set of assumptions and protocols beneath our businesses, how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources -- it's built entirely around these extrinsic motivators, around carrots and sticks,” he continues.

While Pink doesn’t believe that extrinsic motivation is inherently bad, he does highlight an obvious imbalance in how we approach its counterpart, intrinsic motivation. So how do we facilitate intrinsic motivation, particularly in relation to eLearning, in a fashion that doesn’t take away from extrinsic motivation?

Use Multimedia And Technology To Spark Discussion

The first place to look for an advantage is in the technology itself. Multimedia such as photos and videos can help to spice up learning in a way that feels more immersive than traditional learning and can also help to keep the attention of learners.

The strengths of a technology-based curriculum don’t stop there. In an article via Arizona University’s online blog, “The Advantages of Online Learning,” the author mentions that eLearning may provide for more effective communication between learners.

Discussion forums give students the unique chance to discover the viewpoints of each of their classmates as well as the opportunity to share their own thoughts and ideas. Some students are more comfortable communicating with their peers in an online format than they are raising their hand in an in-person classroom. Students may also find it easier to connect with their professors and peers via email, Skype, or online forums and chat rooms.

Sparking interest and discussion is a good way to get learners intrinsically motivated to learn about their subjects. Utilize the strengths of eLearning technology to its fullest.

Offer Honest Feedback And Recognition

Whether it’s teaching students or employees, an instructor’s job is to help get everybody through the class regardless of their individual hangups. Direct and honest feedback is a great approach to addressing these problems, but it’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily just about what you say, but it’s also about how you say it.

In a piece on how to motivate and retain employees, the professionals at QLP write:

If your employees aren't quite meeting your expectations, be sure to tell them in a way that expresses your desire for them to grow with your organization. And if your employees are kicking some tail at their jobs, let them know! A healthy 69% of employees in one survey said that being recognized for their efforts would make them work harder.

If we apply this to learning, we’ll find that balancing honest feedback with positive recognition will help to provide points of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. This doesn’t mean that you should skimp on or leave out issues that you think could be considered “de-motivating,” but rather that you find ways to present them in a light that isn’t. Focus on the potential you see in the learner rather than their mistakes and help them to reach that potential. Your attention and care will stick with them long after you’ve left.

Embrace Gamification

One thing that’s hard to get people intrinsically motivated or even excited about is stats, numbers, or even unique product knowledge or specs. This is where approaches like gamification can really shine.

Offering rewards, trivia, and interesting multimedia can help pique the interest and touch motivational points of many different types of people. Steve Damerow with Incentive Solutions writes on what he calls the “Learn and Earn” concept, which employs a variety of such motivational tools, and consists of:

  • Online training quizzes to help sales reps and partners increase their product knowledge on an ongoing basis
  • Rewards and incentives that make people want to jump on the platform and complete training materials
  • Surveys and customer feedback options that offer them rewards and offer you the information you need to make products and sales approaches better
  • Daily trivia questions that keep participants interested because, let’s be honest, trivia is just fun!
  • Multimedia options including links, images and more
  • Customizable rewards for any and all Learn and Earn Module activities

This is par for the course, in terms of most gamified eLearning. It’s important to note that while gamification is more extrinsically motivating in nature, it can help to motivate in learning things like stats and dry figures, which are hard to make somebody care about intrinsically. Balancing external and internal motivators can help achieve the ultimate goal of acquisition and retention.

Final Words

Facilitating intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is of the utmost importance if we want our learners to acquire and retain knowledge. While hard to quantify, intrinsic motivation is the reason that self-starters do what they do. It’s the reason that anybody works, beyond a paycheck.

By stimulating intrinsic motivation, you’re going to ensure that your learners want to learn the material. Find ways to facilitate intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in harmony, and you’ll see students and trainees alike get more out of your curriculum and modules.

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