In my experience, one of the biggest challenges to achieving success with eLearning programmes is gaining learner commitment to undertake and complete the learning. ‘You can take the horse to water, but you cannot make it drink’ is an old saying that rings so true for many unsuccessful eLearning initiatives.

Why is it that learners fail to invest the time to undertake learning that you and they know will benefit them in the long run? Lack of motivation is likely to be at the heart of the issue in many cases, or perhaps its alter ego, procrastination. I am sure that all of us can cite many, many, personal situations where we fail to do things that we know would benefit us. Why do we choose to commit and follow-through on the things we do, and yet not do other things?

Perhaps there are some insights that we can glean from theories of human motivation that might enlighten our approach to designing eLearning initiatives to better engage our learners?

Self-Determination Theory, as developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, proposes that motivation arises from three innate psychological needs for growth. The three needs are focused on a desire to grow competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

Relating this to eLearning, then the theory would suggest that we must ensure our eLearning initiatives are structured so that we build and validate competence throughout the programme and work up from more familiar learning topics to more challenging areas. We should construct the eLearning to allow the learner a high degree of choice and to decide when to undertake each lesson and to offer options for additional study and reference. Opportunity to offer social interaction with other learners and/or coaches, mentors, or facilitators should be encouraged.

Expectancy Theory, as developed by Victor Vroom, suggests that motivation is derived from the knowledge that an act will deliver a certain beneficial or attractive outcome to the individual. A development of this theory by Robert House, suggests that there four ways to ‘light up the path’ to the outcome that will enhance the attractiveness of the act to the individual – the path to the goal should offer direction, support, participation, and challenge. So our eLearning needs to be clear in terms of instruction and sign-posting as well as offering opportunity to gain help and to be actively involved and all of this needs to be set at a level that offers a fair degree of challenge to the learner – not too easy and yet not impossible to master.

The Flow Theory developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that a state of high concentration and engagement can be achieved when completing a task that challenges one’s skills. At its best, this is where we become so engrossed in the act itself that we forget all other dimensions of time and space, and we become lost in the act itself. Achieving this in today’s world of eLearning is perhaps a step too far, but with the newer technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality becoming more commonplace, this is not an impossibility.

Much of the above is common sense and, in many ways, aligning it to theory just adds weight to what we inherently know is good practice. I think the real takeaway here is very simple, as learning professionals what we need to do all of the time is put ourselves in the shoes of our learners and think long and hard about what will work best for them.

Here at Course-Source we offer learning professionals the opportunity to freely evaluate all of the eLearning content they are researching, at the click of a button, and with no ‘interference’ from sales people. However, what surprises me, is that too few of our purchasers take up this opportunity and often purchase eLearning courses based on written specifications and our recommendations alone. Making the right purchase decision requires an investment of our time, but if you are looking for successful outcomes and not just ‘a tick in the box’ then we owe it to our learners to invest that time to find exactly the right content that will motivate them to consume and ultimately achieve a successful outcome for both individuals and our organisations.

To learn more about motivation and how to motivate others in the work environment why not evaluate the Motivation Masterclass eLearning course offered by MTD Training – click here for more details.


Tony Small