Flexible Training that Inspires Learners


Over the last month, I have spent some time reflecting on my personal training philosophy. Said simply, I believe in flexible training that inspires learners. Initially, selecting strategies to motivate learners may seem like a relatively straightforward task. But, the truth is, external forces cannot make someone truly want to learn. Learners will decide for themselves how much time and effort they want to invest in learning.

Creating training that inspires learners begins with intrinsic motivation, that is, the desire to learn without promise of external rewards. John Keller developed the ARCS model for motivation and suggested that instructional design should be evaluated based on motivational outcomes as well as learning outcomes. In other words, we need to consider these questions: Did the course inspire the learner to actively want to participate (motivational outcome)? – AND –  Did the learner complete the course satisfactorily (learning outcome)? Well-designed training utilizes instructional strategies that encourage intrinsic motivation.

Unmotivated learners may do just what they need to get by or drop out of a course all together. In online courses, learner motivation is a key concern because learners are physically separated and have competing demands on their attention. An important question to ask learners is: What do you hope to learn from this course? And then listen to what they tell you. Relevance is one of the key drivers of motivation; if learners feel the course topics are tailored to what they want to know, they will be more motivated to actively participate in the course.

So, if you want to design inspiring training experiences, step one is considering motivational factors. Without intrinsic motivation, learner participation will be limited and obligatory. The following instructional strategies have been shown to inspire intrinsic motivation on the part of the learner:

  • Experiential, Active Learning:  Learn by Doing. Learners examine what they learned and actively engage in activities using what they have learned.
  • Self-Directed Learning:  Learn By Exploring. Learners are given freedom to freely explore the elements of learning that are most interesting to them.
  • Social Learning:  Learn in Community. Learners are encouraged to learn from each other and society at large.
  • eLearning:  Learn Anywhere, Anytime. Learners are given opportunities to learn outside of the restrictions of physical location and specific time.


The first two strategies, experiential/active learning and self-directed learning, encourage learners to take ownership of their own learning. Research has shown that when learners have at least some control over the choices and format of their learning, they are more intrinsically motivated. The second two strategies, social learning and eLearning, help capture learner attention and address learner satisfaction concerns. Research has shown that social learning helps learners feel connected to a course and that learners enjoy sharing ideas with one another. eLearning increases access to learning by allowing the learner to select the best times and places for learning. In addition, eLearning can help support active learning and self-directed learning by putting learners in the decision-making “driver’s seat.”

When these strategies are used together, a learner may be motivated to participate in a course on many levels, e.g. they find the content relevant, they have some input into the learning process, they can network with peers, and they can access the course anywhere, anytime. Content is king, but that content won’t even be looked at unless learners are motivated to participate in the training.