On motivation – Mixed modality and “filtering”

Part 11 of a series on motivation

Like a radio, our minds are scanning for information from many souces all at once. But just because the sound is there for us it does not mean we receive it – we have to be “tuned in”. We can accept many but attend to only one signal at a time. Imagine yourself at a conference where many conversations are going on at once. You can tune out all other voices except the one that interests you. But if someone across the room mentions your name, uses the word “sex”, names a book you’ve just read or a resort where you have been on holiday then your attention will be immediately diverted to that conversation. You might have had the experience where someone insists on talking to you while you are reading a book – it always happens at the most crucial part of the plot! As you read you direct all of your attention to the words on the page. At the same time something may divert your attention away from the book, and so cause resentment and irritation. The distraction can be very delibitiating; although the words and print are the same as before, you might now need to read and reread a section before you can become fully immersed after an interruption.

Making it fun, exciting and meaningful

A golden rule to maintain interest is not to stick to the same model of instruction or assessment ad nauseam. To achieve arousal and motivation, a single strategy for all learners at all times is no longer defensible. We must exploit the flexibility of elearning so lessons match the needs and styles of learners. It is not enough merely to enrich the visual aspects and pretend the limitations of our ingenuity are actually the limitations of bandwidth. Just as classrooms need good listening, so many types of eLearning work best for learners with a strong visual learning style. I am no great apologist for Learning Styles, but I do advocate as much choice and control as is feasible and affordable. The learner who prefers touch and motion may feel quite uncomfortable about learning through a screen or page. It might relieve the problem if they can write things down to consolidate their learning. Touch screens help, especially with sorting, counting, sequencing, matching, simulation and drag and drop type activities. In any event the elearner cannot wander over to a colleague to share and discuss something. The notion of “blended learning” might allow for these primarily kinaesthetic learners who crave contact with others. Visual processors can have their charts, maps, notes and flashcards, while auditory processors may prefer a soundtrack, voice-over, reading aloud and recording their own voices. A distance learner online can download documents, review presentations in slideshows, video or audio, interact via e-mail, respond to an issue in a newsgroup or discuss a topic in a chat room.

Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction

My colleague Clive Shepherd has already introduced Keller’s ARCs in a previous posting to this blog. Let me remind you of it now. The psychologist John Keller in the 1970s was puzzling over why some people seem to study harder and with more success than others. He was uncomfortable at the conventional view of the times that learners who do better do so because they have greater ability. Keller looked at a different factor – motivation, and so came up with his ARCS Model of Motivation.

A is for Attention

What can we do to make a learner sit up and take notice?

How can we get them involved so they demand to know more?

How can we maintain their interest after the initial impact?

You need only watch someone at play to be sure one is quite prepared to give lots of time, effort and attention to something that sets a challenge or stirs the sense of fantasy. You can pose or invite questions or set the learner a problem to solve. By delivering novelty, by surprising the learner and by bringing them to uncertainty, you can stimulate their desire to stick with the material and find out more. In many people, doubt and contradiction provokes a keen demonstration of interest.

R is for Relevance

If we can show how the learning is useful, then we can increase motivation – but how can we stress the relevance?

It is a good idea to link the learning experience very closely with desirable outcomes, and explain how it will be useful in the present and the future. Use concrete language and include familiar examples and illustrations which relate to the learner’s own experience and beliefs. Throuoghout the material there should be a liberal spread of goal-oriented statements and objectives.

C is for Confidence

It is obvious that people will avoid situations that make them feel nervous or insecure. But how can we help learners to develop confidence?

Help learners to believe in the inevitability of their own success It is vital to get the right balance between support and challenge – the material should be not too easy and not too hard. Success breeds success, so provide early and frequent opportunities for activity and accomplishment. Remember to give unambiguous instructions and expectations and make sure learners are clear about how they will be assessed both in the learning and under performance conditions. Remember to continue to feed back how the efforts of the learner add up to positive outcomes for them.

S is for Satisfaction

If an activity is satisfying we’re bound to want to repeat it (and vice versa – as RF Mager says, “People learn to avoid what hits them”).

How can we ensure satisfaction in learning?

Some suggestions:

You may not be in a position to track the learner back into the workplace. However as a minimum you might project forwards, plan, and mentally rehearse opportunities to use the newly acquired knowledge or skill for real. Through elearning it may be possible to gain satisfaction by working through a simulation. Whether or not under real work-base conditions, it is essential to recognise and reward desired behaviour. Whether it comes in the form of praise from an observer or through the joy of mastering the task and acomplishing a defined standard, feedback needs to be consistent, reliable and consistent with what learners feel they deserve and expect.

Happy customers, happy Regulator, happy staff

Recently I reviewed an example of Trainng for Compliance. The module began with the words, “Happy customers, happy Regulator, happy staff.” It went on in similar vein, making worthy attempts to emphasise the value, importance and relevance of the learning and the performance it was meant to bring about. “Pride in the job you’re doing”, it proclaimed, and then went on to announce, “You are about to experience a renewal of your sense of pride and professional satisfaction. We already know what a great job you do, but now you’ll have a chance to show the outside world. That’s why we welcome the new Code of Conduct (you’ll hear about through the next few screens). It makes us even stronger market leaders and more careful in our public duties. Now the whole Industry, the Regulator and the Public will be able to see very clear proof that we are looking after their interests with the greatest possible care.”

Now whether on not you believe in the sincerity and authenticity of these messages will be determined more by what the organisation does than what it says it does. If the saying and doing are not in harmony then the message is bound to be received as less than inspirational! In this particular example however there were more fundamental problems that it would be dangerous to dismiss as “political correctness. It concluded,”Teachers, nurses, doctors, fire fighters all know why their job is essential. People come here to us for confidence and security. We safeguard their health and welfare and the prosperity of their families.”  These statements were illustrated with very clear photographs of workers such as a nurse, a religious minister, a lawyer, and a fire fighter.  But when asked to comment later, some users remarked, “Men can be nurses; women can be barristers! The vicar is stereotyped and where is the rabbi or the imam? At least one was upset by the images of a firefighter since fire had a deep personal sensitivity in her family’s history. Others felt patronised by the tone, commenting, “OK – so I am a Rescue Service! Where we use words, picture and sounds to motivate learners, we always tread a fine line. The secret is to do a proper job of analysis before you write a single word.

And that brings us very close to the end of this series on motivation to learn. Please come back next week for the final part.

About Phil Green

Phil Green has written 84 post in this blog.

Phil identifies himself as a perfomance consultant and teacher who helps people and organisations to do the best they can at work. He has strong skills in designing learning materials and workflow support, and draws from a wide spectrum of methods and technology. Co-designer of a certificated qualification in blended learning, he has trained hundreds of others from many industry sectors in how to create effective learning solutions, both online and offline.

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