Today, many adults often struggle with the decision to return to school to seek higher education as well as participating in job related training. For them to be successful in these pursuits, we must first understand what motivates them. The economy is currently affected by companies who cannot fulfill high level roles with a shortage on talent among candidates who lack the skills necessary to perform the job. This is called a talent shortage. The root cause of this emerging issue is Motivation. “Education is a key factor in fueling economic growth, but the educational attainment of our workers is slipping badly. New strategies are needed to help undereducated adults (Bosworth, 2008).” This paper will cover ways to motivate the adult learner as well as situational factors that have become barriers for adults to actively engage and participate in adult learning.
As a future instructional designer, it is important to understand the psychology behind adult learning. Whether it’s creating training material or an online course, we must deliver in a way that is appealing enough to make them want to learn. We must also take into consideration the flexibility of the program for the sake of accommodating the busy life of an adult learner so that the learning outcome is not compromised. We need adults to engage in formal learning beyond their own benefit. For the sake of ensuring quality service and competency through training, career development or personal development within academic pursuits, effective learning should be based on the needs and interest characteristics of the adult learner.
Before diving deeper into this contemporary issue, let’s first define Motivation. Motivation is the general desire or willingness of someone to do something. The reason why motivating the adult learner has become a contemporary issue is because active effort and practice is needed to develop one’s literacy skills. These skills are needed to fulfill roles in organizations, otherwise this results in a talent shortage. “The talent shortage problem continued in the United States as job openings increased to a record high of 6.6 million on the last business day of March 2018, according to the ‘Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary’ (Ahearn, 2018).”
As technology advances, the complexity of skills needed to perform tech-heavy roles in the labor force of the future will also change. Motivating adult learners to learn new skills through higher education and job training helps them to stay employable. “More than half of the 3,000 U.S. employers and managers in the Hays U.S. 2018 Salary Guide said they’re hiring in 2018, but three-quarters said their industries face severe skills shortages. So severe is the shortage that 92% of employers say the problem is negatively affecting productivity, employee satisfaction and turnover. The industries reporting the greatest shortages are construction and life sciences (Barrett, 2018).” Knowing this, changes would need to be made in educational and learning environments to help motivate adults and convince them of the benefits to actively pursue learning.
Progression is just one of many ways to motivate an adult learner. Through progression, adults can set goals and work toward them in a way that increases their skills while also increases their knowledge and chances of growth within their personal life, academic pursuits or career. According to Teresa Amabile of Harvard, “the lure of progress is a powerful motivator in adults. Adult learners are interested in taking an eLearning course only if the learning aligns with their life goals and lets them advance in their career.” Motivation can be achieved by providing reoccurring one on one session with leaders and team members to talk about performance and progress. Offering feedback in those session to guide them, encourage them and boost their confidence can also make a major difference. Providing in company training, through E-learning courses that are relevant to the job, complete with a certificate is also ideal. Lastly, I would consider incorporating growth plans and actively following up on them either monthly or quarterly is yet another great way to get an adult learner motivated in the workforce.
Contemporary Practices for Teaching Adult Learners
Adult learners are currently using higher education as an opportunity to earn higher pay and promotions. Many are also motivated to pursue education for changing career paths or switching to another industry.
The following practices are traditionally used in adult education:
Experiential Learning- Allowing the learning to tap into their previous experiences to relate and apply it to their learning. The pro is that experiential learning allows us to adopt new behaviors and habits. The con is that it doesn’t technically teach you anything new.
Job Training (new hire training, cross training and certifications) – The pros of companies creating onboarding programs for better job training is increasing the skills of the team member and the likelihood of them retaining the information. The cons of job training is that it limits the adult learner to one specific task or job responsibility opposed to a full program through higher education that teaches a “field” or industry.
Learning Styles- Taking into consideration of the many different learning styles of adults. Everyone analyzes, interprets and retains information in their own way. This can include tactical learning, auditory or visual. The con in this practice is trying to accommodate everyone’s unique learning style in the curriculum, training or E-learning program, as an instructional designer or teacher. The pro is obviously having a greater chance of achieving the learning outcomes.
Identifying Purpose- Sharing the importance of the components and outcomes of the course or training helps them to better understand what they are getting out of it, which is ultimately what motivates partake in it.
Autonomy- Adults have a need to be self-directing.
According to Business and Public Administration Studies Vol 2, No 2;
“Modem adult learning theory has its foundations in the following assumptions of Lindeman:
- Adults are motivated to learn as they experience needs and interests that learning will satisfy.
- Adults’ orientation to learning is life centered.
- Experience is the richest source for adults’ learning.
- Adults have a deep need to be self directing.
- Individual differences among people increase with age. (Manning , 2007).”
In the emerging issue of talent shortages and motivating the adult learner, we’ve already established that adults will only put forth the effort to invest in higher education and training if there is a motive behind it. This is similar to the components of the Behavioral Theory because the learner needs stimuli in order to motivate them to perform an action. As for Conditions of Learning, this relates as well in terms of learners needing to feel as though learning benefits them in their own way, on their old time and under their conditions.
Adult Cognitive Development
When it comes to motivating an adult learner, it’s important for the adult to recognize and understand their own abilities, their own learning styles, level of intelligence, knowledge and their cognitive processes. This level of awareness is metacognition. In return, it’s important for the instructor or instructional designer to know and understand that there are cognitive theories of motivation. According to Lumen Learning, “Cognitive approaches to motivation focus on how a person’s motivation is influenced by their cognitions or mental processes. Of particular interest is the role of cognitive dissonance on motivation. These contradictory cognitions may be attitudes, beliefs, or awareness of one’s behavior.”
The cognitive theories of motivation include the Expectancy Theory and the Goal-Setting Theory. The Expectancy Theory of Motivation explains why and how an individual chooses one behavioral option over others. On the other hand, the Goal-Setting Theory states the importance of creating goals in motivation a person.
Expectancy and the Goal-Setting are just two cognitive theories of motivation. Within expectancy, the learner is motivated to choose a specific action or display a specific behavior over other choices or behaviors due to what they expect the outcome or result will be. Within Goal-Setting, the adult learner takes into consideration, the amount of time it would take to attain the goal, how complex it difficult the goal is and what the specific goal and it’s purpose is.
Intelligence is one of many dimensions of learning. “Intelligence is generally assumed to be a requirement for sound educational and vocational decisions as well as for deriving maximum benefit from the total educational program (Lister, J. 1996).
Motivation is a key factor in emotional intelligence. “Daniel Goleman, who developed the concept of Emotional Intelligence in the mid ‘90s, identified four elements that make up motivation: our personal drive to improve and achieve, commitment to our goals, initiative, or readiness to act on opportunities, as well as optimism and resilience (Nicholscu, 2016).”
The following practices for adult learners are ones that I feel are appropriate for the appropriate for getting the adult learner motivated.
The first practice I would recommend would be integrating new ideas with existing knowledge. How we process information is dependent upon what we already know. Everything else must be built from the point of the new and old information being meaningful. Existing knowledge is often referred to as cognitive structure, however, the learner must make a connection between the old knowledge and the new knowledge which is constructivism, hence; why Cognitive-Constructivism is highly effective when both theories or practices are combined. This produces a lasting motivation for future learning.
The second practice I would recommend would be to allow students to use their life experiences in the classroom. This practice is often referred to as “Experiential Learning”. Similar to the practice of using existing knowledge, utilizing experience allows you to reflect, conceptualize and experiment to transform your learning. This can be done by taking your learning outcomes and aligning them with real-world problems. It would be best to implement hands on learning or projects within this practice as it would be more engaging.
The third practice I would recommend would be to make learning relevant so that the student can actively apply everything they’re learning to their lives when they leave the classroom. One of the first questions adult learners ask themselves before pursuing higher education or training is, “What’s in it for me”. Being able to immediately apply what they’ve learned into something such as their career, in a way that enhancing their skills extremely beneficial. This also makes them more likely to earn a bonus, promotion or increase their earning potential which breeds both momentum and motivation.
There are many components to adult learning that all effect the learning level of motivation throughout the process. That included their learning goals, the teaching methods of the instructor, understanding how they will be evaluated and the tools used to aid in their learning.
As instructional designers and instructors, it’s important that we help learners;
- identify goals that are meaningful to them
- make sure those goals are realistic
- break those goals into smaller milestones to achieve
- organize those goals and prioritize them
- understand how those goals benefit them
- monitor their progress with them
This will not only make them more likely to achieve those goals, but it fosters that motivation that hope to see.
The instructor also plays a major role in the success of the adult learner through their teaching methods. The learning styles of students should always be taken into consideration when developing an instructional plan or teaching method.
I think a student-centered approach or teaching method, with a personalized learning strategy is vital in building confidence and motivation. ‘Personalized learning is a practice in which educators seek to tailor challenge, lessons and instructional style to each student’s needs (Day, 2017).’ Personalized Learning is a method that is tailored to the student’s specific needs. ‘Personalized learning can pinpoint specific gaps in student learning, identify where a student is on his or her learning pathway, and provide the appropriate interventions to support students at just the right time (Worthen, 2016).’
I believe Inquiry Based Learning is another great method in motivating the adult learner. According to Teach.com, this method is based on student investigation and hands-on projects, inquiry-based learning is a teaching method that casts a teacher as a supportive figure who provides guidance and support for students throughout their learning process, rather than a sole authority figure. There are many evaluation strategies that can be used to measure performance and comprehension. Some of those include;
- Ask open ended questions to provoke full conversations that will get students more comfortable to talk to ask questions.
- Use knowledge checks in online learning content such as tutorial or study videos to help reiterate the information and check for understanding.
- Use quizzes or assessments to check to comprehension and to determine of the learning outcomes have been achieved.
- Use surveys to allow students to provide feedback on their instructors and the content and tools used to teach, as well as to examine the students overall learning experience.
“Getting students involved in analyzing their mistakes on tests helps them to understand the intended learning, the immediate next steps they need to take in their journey toward learning targets and gives them a clearer picture as to just where they are in the journey. Hattie and Timperely’s (2007) review of the research on feedback determined that analysis of mistakes is one of the most powerful ways students learn or increase their learning (Sindelar, 2010).”
Many schools and companies are levering technology to engage adult learners, but with that comes challenges for those who are less experienced in digital literacy and those challenges make adult learners more resistant to the use of technology in their learning. Technology such as computers, tablet and cell phones are all instruments that host programs, software and features that aid in learning and the benefit of unlimited research. Using tools such as social media allows for the learner to network and connect with others as they would in a classroom setting yet on a wider scale. LMS applications or programs allows for self-directed and self-paced learning. Using a teaching strategy such as gamification can make their learning experience a little more fun and less stressful. Student engagement, described as the tendency to be behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively involved in academic activities, is a key construct in motivation research (Thijs & Verkuyten, 2009).
Effects of Motivation Within Learning Styles
How motivated an adult learner is can also depend on their learning style. Some people require extrinsic motivators, similar to behaviorism in which the extrinsic motivator would be equivalent to stimuli. “Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, fame, grades, and praise. This type of motivation arises from outside the individual, as opposed to intrinsic motivation, which originates inside of the individual (Cherry, 2018).” In the case of adult learning, external rewards can be pay raises, a sense of accomplishment earning a degree or certification, the satisfaction of learning a new skill, earning a promotion or obtaining the higher education to increase earning potential.
In learning what motivates the adult learner, instructors and instructional designers can also take a look into how students interpret information and perform tasks as it helps them to know what kind of content to produce, how to develop the curriculum, and how to designs tasks, assignments as well as assessments. There are three types of learners. The Deep learner, who puts forth maximum effort in their research and work. They usually exceed expectation and takes a deep approach with their extra initiative to seek understanding more thoroughly. Next is the strategic learner. Depending on what is required, the strategic learner will do what is expected of them but under certain conditions. They do what they have to do to meet a goal and rely heavily on memory but will not go as far as the deep learner would go in ensuring they understand conceptually. Lastly, the surface learner understands little and does the bare minimum to stay afloat. This is often referred to as the student that is a passive learner who does enough just to pass. Knowing this allows for an instructor to use this as an opportunity to engage all students and make it a goal of transforming all students in to deep learners through motivation.
In conclusion, a lack of motivation can be been identified as the root cause of the talent shortages in the employment industry. It is the obvious solution to skill gaps and talent shortages. “The challenge is obvious: the quickening pace of technological change has shrunk the shelf life of skills acquired by today’s university graduates to just a few years. In a 2013 Deloitte survey of executives at large companies, 39% said they were either “barely able” or “unable” to meet their needs for talent (Harrell, 2016.)” The proposed recommendations and strategies are those of which can be implemented in any learning environment.
“Future economic growth is driven by unemployment rates. But the real threat to long term growth and sustained quality performance is skill shortages (Smart Workforce, 2018).” Reskilling of the workforce needs to be accelerated and the only way to do that is through motivating the adult learner to actively pursue a new skills, training or higher education.