Think of the last time you felt deeply committed to learning something new. What were you learning? WHY were you so invested in seeing it through?

Our answers to this question quite often fall under a few categories:

  1. the need to learn a new skill or solve a current problem
  2. the sense that it is something we will enjoy or be good at
  3. an interest or curiosity about the topic

Learners who are motivated will engage and persist on a task. Designing for motivation increases the potential for student success. In an ideal design, motivation should come from learning. People are wired to learn, and we usually prefer to keep doing the things in which we feel successful. After watching Backwards Bicycle you may notice that this is why learners have to sometimes undo old understandings when confronted with new information. Unlearning is the process of reconciling new information with prior knowledge. This is most challenging when the two pieces of information are in direct conflict – like the backwards bicycle. Where did his motivation to learn the backwards bicycle come from when it was clearly a challenging task?

How can we design for motivation?

Strong instructional design and knowing your target learners will increase the likelihood of increased motivation. Knowing your learners and the context within which you teach will help you to identify possible sources of low motivation, enabling you to plan for interventions or proactively scaffold to avoid motivational problems.

In a traditional K12 model, a teacher may often post their goal for a lesson or unit sequence. This may begin activating motivation for some learners who engage with knowing what is to be expected. In order to engage more learners, an instructional designer may ask the learners to set personal goals around the learning targets. Self-efficacy around goal setting may help a learner feel more engaged with manageable goals and a perceived sense of competence.

One possible model for maintaining learner motivation can be found in Keller’s Arcs Model. As part of your learning design you can incorporate four different categories:

  1. Attention: how will you engage and maintain the interest of your learners?
  2. Relevance: how can you make the learning experience personally relevant and meaningful?
  3. Confidence: how can you build in learner autonomy and a sense of self-efficacy in your design?
  4. Satisfaction: how can you support your learners in achieving their goals and feeling accomplishment?

For further exploration of Motivation, feel free to read this short chapter on Motivation Theories and Instructional Design from the  Foundations of Learning and Instructional Design Technology: The Past, Present, and Future of Learning and Instructional Design Technology textbook.