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Motivation and Learning: Ties that Bind
Submitted by Karen Carleton on September 17th, 2012
“Organic” adult learning grows out of love. When someone has a burning desire to learn something they typically find the teacher (or source). There is a strong link between motivation and the desire to acquire new knowledge and skills. The desire or need to learn grows out of relevance, prior learning and social or professional needs (e.g., work, parenting). In the Information Age where data is everywhere, we now have the freedom to learn nearly anything at any time. No longer are certain skills or knowledge reserved to those in the ivory tower or corner office.
For employers investing in work-related learning and development or training, there isn’t always the natural love of learning to inspire the effort. Still, being learner-centered, and therefore tapping into what each person finds motivating, is key. The exception of course is “compliance-based training.” Getting trainees fired up for a long round of mandatory safety training videos or slides depicting information they already know may require an endless supply of free cookies, paid training time and a good humoured facilitator (bribery and cajoling perhaps?).
Research has repeatedly shown that money is a short-term incentive at best and does not lead to long-term or meaningful engagement in task completion. While workers may jump ship for higher pay or end up poached like eggs, employers waving the almighty dollar hoping to capture the heartfelt desire to add value and 110% of an employee’s effort will find this quick-fix woefully inadequate over the long-term. Daniel Pink’s recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, reinforces that point. Pink focuses on the three intrinsic motivations that workplaces should concern themselves with: Mastery – getting better at what matters, Autonomy – being able to direct their own lives/work, and Purpose – being part of something larger than one self.
Too often employers, parents, teachers and others reduce motivation to “carrots and sticks.” Pink would argue that high performance and satisfaction require going beyond those basics. In fact, elementary Behaviorism may work better with small children and animals! Humans have the deep-seated need to direct their own lives, be creative and learn to make our lives and community a better place. Clearly what social scientists know and what workplaces (or schools) do is not always aligned to support motivation, particularly in learning.
Learning and Change
There are many authors, instructors and professional speakers whose intent is to inform or persuade, while others hope to inspire action. Ideally, speakers and educators should strive to do both. When learning is captivating and compelling (i.e., motivating), we are more likely to learn and retain better. Motivation to learn is linked to motivation to change – a competitive advantage for an individual, group, organizational or society. Indeed to quote French author, Francois Rochefoucauld, “The only thing constant in life is change”. As a result, the best we can do is learn how to learn effectively and efficiently to keep pace with (if not exceed) the rate of change, with the aid of our main competitive advantage – learning.
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