Boosting Learner Motivation in Hybrid Environments
Feature Story – by Chapin Brinegar
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge almost every aspect of our lives, particularly the ways we work. As companies have instituted remote and hybrid environments, training teams have adapted by placing greater emphasis on learning through online, self-directed training tools. Though these online methods are enormously beneficial in providing safe and comprehensive learning, they can exacerbate some existing training challenges.
The pandemic has left many struggling with increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Remote and hybrid training that requires our learners to adjust to new technologies — often while separated from their instructors and fellow trainees — can exacerbate these mental health conditions, resulting in lower motivation, decreased attention spans and lagging confidence levels. It is imperative that learning and development leaders like us leverage strategies to help counteract this trend.
Thankfully, there is a proven solution we can employ: the ARCS Model of Motivational Design. Developed by John Keller and detailed in his book Motivational Design for Learning and Performance: The ARCS Model Approach, the ARCS model provides tactics for increasing learner motivation in four key areas — Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction.
Let’s examine how tactics inspired by Keller’s research can enhance learners’ experiences and result in more successful training.
In the hybrid learning environment, learners’ attention on training content is competing with the internet, texts and a constant stream of news about the pandemic. So, it is essential that we capture their interest from the start of the training and maintain it throughout.
To support your learners’ attention levels:
- Introduce a problem, mystery or conflict that participants can only solve if they seek out new knowledge or information by working their way through the training.
- Present an eye-opening statistic or astonishing piece of information to “hook”the learner.
- Find ways, when appropriate, to use humor or incorporate elements of pop culture.
- Develop opportunities for learners to brainstorm, create and make decisions.
- Ensure variation in training methodologies, including the look and feel of the training, number of instructors, types of exercises and delivery methods to present the training.
The moment you use outdated terminology or deliver an irrelevant scenario, you run the risk of losing not only the credibility of the instruction but also your learners’ motivation to continue with the training. Participants must feel the experience you provide aligns with their role and promotes real-world practice.
To help create a relevant learning experience:
- Ensure your participants understand from the start what they can gain from the training.
- Explain how this training experience aligns to their current role and how it will build on existing knowledge and skills.
- Model “what good looks like” or ask tenured employees or leaders to model behaviors.
- Design opportunities for elective learning that offer freedom of choice.
- Use relevant content, including realistic imagery, appropriate terminology and applicable scenarios or examples that align to the learners’ environment.
As training professionals, it can be difficult for us to gauge the anxiety a trainee feels at a learning event. This is especially true in the hybrid environment.
However, because we know that anxiety can negatively impact a participant’s ability to learn, it’s important to build in strategies to boost learner confidence and counteract apprehension.
To inspire confidence in your learners:
- Present expectations, learning requirements, objectives and information on any certification at the start of the training.
- Provide them with success experiences in which they build confidence by accomplishing tasks throughout the learning.
- Design the training with any prerequisite knowledge up front and build the experience so that it increases in difficulty.
- Give immediate feedback:
- Positive feedback should attribute learners’ success to their efforts.
- Corrective feedback should help learners see the cause of their mistake and explain how to fix it moving forward.
- Ensure multiple opportunities for application and practice while in the safe training environment.
Trainees should leave our learning events satisfied with the content, the experience and their accomplishments. Most of all, our learning events should inspire participants to continue learning.
To enhance learner satisfaction:
- Set up job shadowing or mentoring experiences in which participants who have excelled can help other learners or peers.
- Randomly announce surprising awards or provide unexpected recognition.
- When delivering feedback, make it personal and customize it for each learner.
- Ensure numerous opportunities for reinforcement throughout the training and after it is completed.
- Create situations in which trainees can put their new knowledge and skills into practice in realistic settings where there is a likely chance of success.
Online and self-directed learning are here to stay. Rather than wish we could return to the pre-pandemic world, our goals must be to champion these tools, leverage them creatively and inspire our trainees to gain the knowledge they need to advance their careers and help our organizations succeed.
Proactively incorporating these ARCS strategies into our curricula is a step in the right direction as we strive to foster attentive, confident and satisfied learners.
Chapin Brinegar is a senior director of instructional design with Encompass Communications and Learning. Email Chapin at firstname.lastname@example.org.