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.

Continue reading


Listening to learners could be transformative for L&D

By John Helmer

Man holding sign saying 'Think Tank'‘We make huge assumptions about our audiences and we don’t do anywhere near enough validation of those assumptions. This is something that we really want to focus on now. It’s all about user experience and really getting some proper data … who are our audience? Who is it we’re trying to reach? What kind of people are they? What are their backgrounds? What are they like? What are they not like? How do they want to learn? Instead of looking at a model that might tell us what they think that is 30 years old, let’s actually speak to our learners and really try and understand them. I think that is, potentially, a huge transformation for learning.’

This impassioned plea for a change of attitude in L&D towards learners was just one of a number of insights that arose from our latest Think Tank dinner.

We could be at a pivotal moment for L&D. Though there has been chatter within the guru space for many years about informal learning and 70:20:10, a number of compelling drivers are making it imperative that practitioners now think beyond the confines of the course (if they are not doing so already). This is causing them to focus more deeply on how they connect with and engage learners – but also to change the way in which learning is structured and delivered.

We assembled an invited group of L&D leaders to discuss these issues in a three-part discussion held under Chatham House rules. Contributing to the debate were delegates from the worlds of Finance, Mining, Telecomms, IT and commodity trading.

You can read headlines of the discussion here.

But for those who want a deep dive into the first part of this fascinating discussion, read on.

Part 1: What are the drivers of change as we move towards less reliance on ‘the course’?

Continue reading


Towards Maturity points the way forward for L&D

By John Helmer

Knob labelled risk turned to minimumIn an industry that tends to lapse into inspirational memes at the drop of a hat, we too often spout motherhood statements about innovation while conveniently ignoring its more troubling flip side, risk.

There is no innovation without risk. And this, one could argue, is the nub of the problem faced currently by L&D in the UK as revealed within the pages of Embracing Change, the industry benchmark report released this week by Towards Maturity. The risky business of learning innovation seems just too rich for the blood of many in training, a branch of the enterprise that, historically, has not had that much to do with the sort of high-stakes investments that digital transformation often requires.

Partly in consequence of its back story, training has lagged in adoption of digital technology when compared to its swankier cousins, marketing and finance. By comparison, training comes across in the numbers (if not in the rhetoric) as unadventurous and risk-averse. Course-based, stand-up training is still massively dominant in UK organisations, and training continues to be seen as a cost centre, rather than as the engine of growth and competitive advantage.

However. While the headline result of this year’s benchmark research – ‘70% of L&D teams fail to improve business productivity’ – might seem dispiriting; and Clive Shepherd, for one, pulled no punches in pointing out exactly how ‘stuck’ the report shows L&D to be, there are clear indications in the report of what L&D should do to improve this situation, and a growing evidence base on which it can draw in doing so.

Continue reading