3 Major Theories Of Motivation That Massively Boost Engagement In eLearning Courses
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Boosting Engagement In Your eLearning Course And The Theories Of Motivation

This basic tenet of behavioral psychology has become the interest of individuals and professionals across all spheres of human endeavors. Understanding this has become even more crucial for educators because learners must be adequately motivated to learn.

This is true for mainstream learning activities as it is for electronic learning programs.

Motivation Is Important For eLearning Design

Motivation, which is actually the why behind an action, could ultimately determine if employees or other learners sign up and complete online courses. Without a strong ‘why’ we find that learners easily get discouraged and quit.

There is even more emphasis on motivation in this field because corporate eLearning courses are designed for adults who have loads of other responsibilities, relatively short attention span and very little time to spare. They need a lot of subtle prodding. It is a good thing that there are a few things L&D teams can do to add a burst of motivation for these eLearning participants.

However, it is important for eLearning designers and L&D teams in general to understand vital theories of motivation which they can incorporate them in eLearning courses. When applied effectively, learners are not only attracted to these online programs but also absorbed in them.

What Are The Main Theories Of Motivation?

Several motivational theories propounded by notable psychologists and behavioral experts are already being utilized in different areas of society today. One of the most common is Maslow’s theory of needs which categorizes human needs into a 5-layered pyramid of priorities. Through this, Maslow explains that a person is motivated by either of these 5 categories of needs.

Theories Of Motivation For eLearning Design

Just like Maslow’s theory, there are several other theories; some better suited to specific fields of human life. For eLearning activities, for instance, we highlight 3 theories of motivation that best suit the unique conditions of eLearning processes. These theories include:

  1. The self-determination theory
  2. The expectancy theory, and
  3. The flow theory

1. The Self-Determination Theory

The Self-Determination Theory (or SDT) is a macro theory of human motivation that relates tendencies for growth with innate psychological needs. Developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, SDT says that humans are motivated to action by an internal desire for growth. These needs are competence, autonomy, and relatedness and they make up the sub-theories eLearning designers can apply to engage learners.

To rouse competence, build your courses to gradually transition from aspects your target participants are familiar with to more challenging ones adding appropriate tests and room for feedback along the way.

Try to give learners as much autonomy as possible. This can be achieved through flexible self-paced courses where participants can choose lessons, revisit lessons, and opt for additional learning.

Finally, ensure learners can relate (socially) during the course. Build in peer interactions through forums, reviews, group tasks, and peer-reviewed assignments.

2. The Expectancy Theory

The Expectancy Theory developed by Victor Vroom states that an individual will act in a certain way based on the expectation (belief) that the act will be followed by a given outcome and on the attractiveness of that outcome to the individual. This theory which helps leaders groom followers is effective to spur employees through online trainings.

Robert House modified the theory into a path-goal sub-theory which outlines 4 principles eLearning designers can take advantage of. eLearning courses should be directive, supportive, participative, and challenging.

First be clear about every instruction, requirements, and directions in your eLearning course. Then provide constant online support as well as avenues for peer collaborations. Build in a sense of achievement that will spur learners to put in their best.

3. The Flow Theory Of Motivation

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is the state of concentration and engagement that can be achieved when completing a task that challenges one's skills. Though relatively rare, this engrossment is the dream of any eLearning designer.

Since the flow is achieved when high skill level intersects with worthy challenges, an eLearning course should be designed to challenging enough for the skill level of the target learner. Other things a designer can do to maintain flow in the program are:

  • Be clear about the learning objectives, roadmap, and requirements.
  • Avoid distractions that come from ambiguity, poorly designed graphics, disjointed navigation, and inconsistent course format.
  • Provide prompt feedback and online support.

Suggested Further Reading:

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