What motivates self-directed learners?

By Richenda Sabine

Graphic of carrot on a stick to illustrate motivating self-directed learnersWhat motivates you? Is it money, purpose, or something else? According to Maslow (Hierarchy of Needs) our basic needs of security, identity and stimulation have to be met before we progress to self-actualisation (growing and developing to reach our individual potential).

Consider this in the context of learning. Without motivation, learning is rarely effective, so how do you motivate learners in the first place?

The answer, it turns out, is that they can largely do it for themselves.

Daniel Pink, in his book ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us‘, dismisses the carrot-and-stick approach and tells us to forget everything we think about motivating people. He believes that the secret to high performance and satisfaction in today’s world is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and the world.

This view is borne out In the organisational context of today by the phenomenon of the self-directed learner, which has been well documented in research from learning benchmarking experts Towards Maturity, telling us that:

  • 88% learn more by finding things out for themselves, rather than through F2F training
  • 87% know what they need to learn in order to do their job
  • 74% know how to access what they need for learning

The research also shows a worrying disconnect with what some learning managers think about their learners, indicating that it is more than ever important to understand what motivates the self-directed learner.

There are two types of motivation:

  • Intrinsic – internally generated and comes from personal enjoyment or from a sense of obligation
  • Extrinsic – generated externally from objects, other people and the environment

The burning question in the world of workplace learning is how to keep these two types of motivation aligned, and not in contradiction with each other, so that self-directed learners stay engaged and motivated.

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Why pictures always win – and what it means for learning design

By Richenda Sabine

Photograph of a baby's face‘If one wants to reach younger people at an earlier age to shape their minds in a critical way, you really need to know how ideas and emotions are expressed visually’
(Martin Scorsese)

Be honest. What was the first thing you looked at on this page? The headline? That interesting quote from film-maker Martin Scorsese?

Or the baby?

We are visual creatures. It is hard-wired in us. A large percentage of the human brain is dedicated to visual processing: images grab our attention more readily than the written word – even when those images don’t have the emotional content of a baby photograph. It’s very probable that you looked at the infographic below this block of text before you read these words. This doesn’t mean you are a superficial person, or too easily distractible: the truth is, we are all the same. It is the way our brains are made.

Chart illustrating how our brains interpret visual information

Our brains are pre-wired to automatically interpret relationships between objects with minimal effort.

This fact of life is hugely important for how we design learning, and as a learning designer I am conscious of it every day. In a world where more and more of our learning and information is received in digital form, we need to understand this dynamic better in order to engage and motivate our learners through excellent learning design.
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