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Learning Motivation for Adults

Motivation – it is crucial for getting anyone to do just about anything. Motivation is the reward, the benefit of completing whatever activity might be in question, but you also need it for your learner to get started. The problem for course designers and developers is that motivation can be in short supply when it comes to eLearning, particularly among adult learners.

If they have little or no interest in the material covered by the course, their only motivation might be the desire to get through and finish your elearning so they can get back to doing something they actually enjoy. That is definitely not a good situation, and not one that lends itself to information retention. Thankfully, there are ways to improve motivation for adult learners. Here are just a few of them.

Be Immediately Relevant

Adult learners have little patience for content that wastes their time. They want to know the value of the content, and they want to know it right now. Designers must focus on creating course content that offers immediate relevance to the learner, and his or her real-world life. If the course content can be applied immediately to the workplace or another area in a learner’s real life, it will motivate them to continue.

Group Interactions

Most adults perform better when motivated through group interactions. This does not need to be the entirety of the course content, but it should be included. Group discussions and interaction can take place in a number of different ways, from forums to emails to social networks and more.

Let Them Test Out

Even the most motivated of adult learners just want to be done with the course so they can handle other obligations and responsibilities. Accommodate this desire by allowing them to test out. Learners should be able to take an assessment test, and if they pass, skip the course and either move to the next one or be done. There's no need to have them review the full course if they already know the content.


Adult learners like to feel that they have some measure of control over their environment. Designers can foster this sense of control by allowing at least some measure of self-guided study through the course or curriculum. By providing options and letting learners choose their path forward, it becomes easier to motivate them to complete everything. Using the Thiagi 4-Door model in your elearning is a great way to organize your content that allows your learner to choose what order they want to experience it.

Use Gamification

Games are popular with people of all ages. Adding a gamified or competitive element to a course can help ensure that adults stay motivated, and that learning happens while their minds are otherwise engaged. However, if the course is geared toward experts, use problem solving activities rather than games to foster better motivation and engagement.

Design for User Experience

Yes, this is an elearning course, but it is important to design it for user experience, not just information retention. Blend the online and offline world in the course to create something that manages to transcend both. Combine real-world events with learning opportunities and build buzz around the user experience. Sometimes, it's the wow factor that helps learners remember your elearning.

Tell Them Why

Often, adult learners simply need to know why a course is needed for motivation to happen. If they are presented with the benefits and advantages, many adult learners will happily move ahead and complete their studies. Tell them why upfront and make sure that those reasons apply to learners’ real-world needs.

Motivating adult learners does not have to be a struggle. It can be simpler than many designers fear when the right tips are used. Above all, ensure that the course is well-rounded, engaging, visually appealing, and offers clear benefits for adults of all ages.


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