Motivating Learners with Online Learning

Aug. 25 2020

Creating the Wrong Kind of Learner Motivation

I want to share an interesting story that occurred recently regarding FedLearn. As we continue to build our catalog of courses, starting with an Intelligence Community (IC) focus and with courses in AI/ML and data science, space, and leadership and management, we have been giving both current and prospective customers early access to certain courses for feedback.

In one of these engagements, I get a frantic email from an intelligence analyst with a government contractor (GovCon) taking one of our courses. He couldn't move beyond a certain point and needed to finish the course and print a certificate of completion by the next day for his supervisor. As we worked through his course issues, he mentioned that if he doesn't produce the certificate by the next day, his supervisor told him he wouldn't get paid. That folks, is indeed motivation to take online learning seriously. However, is it the RIGHT kind of motivation?

The quick answer is no because the learner was likely not focused on absorbing the content to apply to his work and instead was motivated just to finish the course to get paid. So, what do Federal government (FedGov) and GovCon organizations do to ensure ROI in using FedLearn and online learning? It is having a plan about learner motivation.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Learner motivation can be broken into two types...intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation to learn involves an inherent gratification prompted by the feeling that learning is interesting and enjoyable. Extrinsic motivation involves external incentives for learning, such as obtaining a reward or avoiding punishment. In the story I shared, the driving motivation for the individual was extrinsic because the individual was seeking to avoid punishment.

For FedGov and GovCon organizations to take advantage of learners' intrinsic motivations to realize ROI requires creating thoughtful communications and integrating online learning into mission objectives. For example, with FedLearn's IC-focused catalog, we have identified 71 courses to be developed (and expect more). Of those courses, 36 are aligned directly to the Defense Intelligence Agency Certified Defense All-Source Analyst (CDASA) certification. For FedGov learners, online courses provide a means to obtain continuing education in support of their certification. For GovCon, it is positioning FedLearn's online courses as a means to prepare for CDASA certification.

For extrinsic motivation to work with online learning, FedGov and GovCon organizations should set performance objectives that include taking online courses. In the current situation that the COVID-19 pandemic has created, setting these types of expectations is important to the ROI of online learning resources in organizations. Another extrinsic motivation tactic is to offer small, but valuable incentives for completing courses, such as gift cards.

Realizing the Potential of Online Learning

Effective use of online learning to improve knowledge and skills and enable mission success is dependent on creating and utilizing the right motivations for end users. Maximizing the potential of online learning, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, involves leveraging both intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors. Spending time thinking through this strategy before making online learning investments is a key initial step.