How To Motivate People To Learn
The internet has turned the planet into a global village by making communication with people all over the world effortless. Talking to your uncle Joe is well and good, but learning the perspective of a person belonging to a different culture, living half a world away is a much more interesting experience. Cross-cultural communication can yield surprising results and produce unexpected epiphanies, and talking to colleagues in professional communities never gets old. A few months ago I posted a topic called How do you motivate people to learn? in one such community. In it I was upfront about being familiar with many theories of motivation and thus being much more interested in practical examples than general discourse. Most of all I sought the stories of practicing learning professionals. I wanted to learn about their approach to motivating the students, and the techniques and tricks they used to attract and engage the audience, kindle in it the desire to learn.
At first, some participants tried to derail the conversation with talk about methodologies and theories, but I kept a true course: I would only need practical advice based on real life experience. Community supported the idea and the rest of the discussion flowed in the direction I originally planned. In total, the thread attracted over a hundred comments, and I thought it would be nice to highlight the most useful tips and summarize them. This knowledge is bound to be valuable for any learning professional, as being able to motivate the students is an essential skill for an educator. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at how teachers from all over the world wrangle with the issue.
1. Take Students’ Feedback Into Account Before Beginning To Instruct
Talking to your students before sitting down to prepare the syllabus will pay dividends. Have a clear understanding of what they know, what they don’t know, and what they would like to learn. Knowing what their expectations are will go a long way towards a productive and rewarding teaching experience. This is especially true with adult learners.
Don’t neglect to learn about the prior experience of those you aim to teach. Doing so will make your syllabus relevant and engaging, and tailoring the teaching course to your students’ expectations by excluding the topics your audience is familiar with will give you the freedom to explore the material they wish to learn in more detail. And the students, in turn, will be sure to reward your attention to their needs with extra attention and a friendly attitude.
2. Establish Relevance (WIIFM - What's In It For Me?)
Before beginning a lecture or a lesson, talk to your students and explain the practical applications of the knowledge you are about to impart to them. Make it clear how this knowledge will be useful to them, how it will make their life easier, and what advantages studying the topic at hand will grant them. Convince the students that the topic is relevant, help them form a clear picture of the reasons for studying the topic, and that those reasons are valid and the topic worthwhile. Intrinsic motivation is a powerful tool, strive to make it your ally when introducing new material to the students.
3. Tell Stories From The Real Life
How is a student to know if the subject being taught is relevant to them? Stories from the real life can help. Explaining how a skill you are about to teach had helped a real person in the past (or maybe even saved them) is a good way to make the students pay attention. Besides, well - who doesn't like a good story? So opening the lecture with a short story related to the topic will help you capture the students’ attention and make the delivery of the material smother.
However, keep in mind that different stories are best suited for different auditories. Take your students’ age, sex, status, and the field of activity into account when choosing the story for illustrating the topic of the day, or you may commit a gaffe.
4. Interact With The Audience
The teaching process assumes that the students are listening to the teacher attentively. Unfortunately, this is a baseline requirement that does not guarantee, in and of itself, that the new topic or skill being taught will be understood sufficiently well. Knowledge and skills that are not used regularly are lost in two to three weeks on average. This makes is crucial to interact with the students instead of treating them as passive listeners. Engage them, and reward active participation in the discussion. Take a break from lecturing every 5-10 minutes to give the students an opportunity to ask questions or to have them perform interactive exercises on the topic being taught.
Asking the audience questions, turning the students from listeners to “doers”, is another good way of interacting with them. Ideally, one should let them practice throughout the whole lecture. A passive student gets bored after 5-7 minutes of listening to a droning monologue, and by forcing your students to only listen to you, you risk losing their attention entirely. It is far preferable to let them participate in the lesson in an active manner.
5. Organize Group Activities
To take the previous point to the next step, consider having group activities. Split the audience into groups numbering 4-7 students each (depending on the number of students in the group) and task them with finding the best solution to a real-life problem. Set a time limit, and and announce that after the time runs out, a representative from each group will have to explain the solution their group comes up with.
This way, you’re killing many birds with one stone. First, giving a responsibility to a small group makes it so that everyone is required to participate. Second, having competing groups fires up the students’ competitive spirit. Not wanting to be outdone, they actively participate in the discussion, brainstorm, and suggest ideas.
6. Use Professional Actors
Engaging actors to stage short theatrical plays related to the subject being taught will pique the interest of even the most lethargic crowd. Just imagine: Instead of a boring one-hour long lecture, the key points are being delivered by actors acting out short scenes. You’ve gotta admit that it’s kinda cool. Good actors will improvise and add a touch of humor to make the material as engaging as it can be.
P.S. We have Howard Ellison to thank for this one. Actually, I’ve had such an experience once (as a learner and not as a teacher), and it left a lasting impression. I’ve had a lot of fun - and the scenes were pretty educational, too!
7. Engage And Stimulate Self-Study
When concluding a lecture, you can leave the students with an intriguing tidbit, point them in the right direction, and let them research it on their own. No hand-holding - a challenge will motivate the students to explore the topic, and the deeper they delve, the stronger the intrinsic motivation to continue will be.
8. Put The Students In Charge Of Teaching
One of the more “off the wall” techniques involves turning the teaching process on its head and turning the students into instructors. In the beginning of a course, announce that every student will have to prepare a report on the topics covered by the course and present it to the rest of the group. Divide the audience into groups of 2-3 students each and give every group a specific individual topic to cover. Task every group with researching their topic and preparing a report on it.
What to do after that depends on the learning format. With frontal instruction, have every group present their report in front of the group and field questions. Make sure to impress upon the students that the quality of delivery will determine how much impact their report will have. Your role in this case is that of a mentor overseeing the process. You can add to the students’ explanation if you believe that they’ve missed an important piece of information, but take care not to interrupt or upstage them. With E-learning, every group should conduct a webinar or record a training video.
9. Challenge Your Students And Make Learning Fun
Keep in mind that the more engaging and fun your lessons are, the more attention your students will pay to your instruction. Hold interesting class activities that will bring a smile to the faces of your students, but don’t forget to challenge them as well. Reward effort with praise, don’t be afraid to joke once in a while. Introduce play to the classroom (don’t buy into the notion that play is just for kids), just keep the delivery and the content appropriate to the audience’s average age and sphere of activity. Most importantly, make your students feel at ease.
10. Motivate Yourself Before You Can Motivate Others
A good leader can engage and drive even the most listless idler. A good teacher has to be a leader, and must believe in their craft. You just can’t fake it - the students know when a teacher is inspired by the subject at hand, and will respond. Many participants in the LinkedIn discussion that served as the basis for this article mentioned that when the teacher is motivated and engaged, his students are highly motivated as well. Trainer needs to feel enthusiastic about their subject. Start with your own state of motivation and then spread it around.
This is all for now. Try as I might, I could not fit every piece of advice I received in that thread into a single article. The discussion itself is far from being over and it might lead to a second part, but for now, I hope you found something useful here. I’d be happy if you put some of the tricks and techniques described in this article into practice. Just remember that success is often based on the willingness of others to help, and this makes motivation a key driving force in education and in life.