6 Motivational Techniques for Adult Learners

We all know that courses must be meaningful and motivational to learners, but, unfortunately, not all Instructional designers know how to engage adult learners.  When adults are required to take courses that they have no interest in, or find irrelevant to their needs, their level of motivation and consequently their retention level will be low. Instructional designers need to work hard to come up with motivational strategies for adult learners. In this blog post, we will go over some of the motivational techniques that work.


  1. Create real life experiences. Make the course meaningful to your learners by creating scenarios, role-plays, games, and demonstrations that resemble learners’ everyday work environments. This can be easily achieved by asking SMEs to provide realistic examples and anecdotes from their experiences. Then, use your creativity to turn their stories into meaningful interactions.
  2. Provide downloadable resources and job aids.  It is unrealistic to expect learners to remember everything that was covered in the course. Therefore, it is suggested to create downloadable resources and desk guides that they can print and refer to as often as needed. If learners know that the information will always be there for them, they will be much more relaxed during the training.
  3. State benefits and have learners work toward their individual goals. All learners have different reasons for taking the training. While some want to acquire new skills, others may simply need a refresher. Allow learners to skip sections or test out of the material to move to the section they truly need to learn about.
  4. Have participants do a simulation or create an end product that lets them demonstrate their understanding of the material. Adults will be much more motivated to learn if they have an opportunity to immediately apply their new knowledge to real life situations. Asking them to do a simulation or complete a realistic exercise will reinforce their understanding of the material, improve confidence, and increase retention.
  5. Chunk information to accommodate busy schedules.  We all know that adults are busy. Therefore, instructional designers should chunk their courses into manageable pieces to allow learners to take them whenever they have a small opening in their busy schedules. It is also a good idea to add bookmarks and have the program remember where the learners left of. This way, they won’t be required to complete the course in one take and could come back to it when they have time again.
  6. Provide immediate and constructive feedback. Adult learners want to know how they are doing. Furthermore, if they are not doing well they want to know why, and they want to be pointed in the right direction. Allow learners to make decisions and guide them through the learning process. Never leave them hanging and always offer explanation or provide review of the material they did not understand.

  • Richard H Maloney

    Excellent advice here.
    Thank you for sharing!

    December 9, 2014 at 8:15 pm
  • Susan Henderson

    These are excellent steps to take. I also find the ARCS motivational model most helpful when designing instruction or even presentations. With the ARCS Model by John Keller, you begin by analyzing your students/audience or whoever will be participating for Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction and then design your instruction to ensure each of these variables can be ensured. For a quick overview of the ARCS Model and many important instructional design theories including Gagne’s Events of Instruction, please see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instructional_design.

    February 3, 2015 at 9:23 pm

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