motivate adult learners

How can you motivate adult learners?

Posted July 8th, 2024

Adult learners are often harder to motivate than children, or at least knowing how to motivate them can be complicated. This is due to several factors. Adults tend to have a lot on their minds, personal or professional, and they are not likely to see a training course as a priority. In most cases, the benefits and rewards of training courses are not immediate, meaning there is no pressing motivation to complete them.

In the professional world, training opportunities are often mandatory. This means busy professionals are asked to take time out of their packed schedules to complete an e-learning course or attend a classroom session on something they might not recognise the immediate benefits of. For training and development professionals, it is crucial to motivate learners so as to achieve a return on any and all investment into training, no matter the form it takes.

Training is only as effective as the learners are engaged and motivating them is crucial to said engagement. Motivated learners can take on board knowledge and information offered to them and use it to develop their own skillsets which benefits their own careers and the overall business.

We’ve compiled a list of tips and considerations aimed at motivating adults with their learning. 

Use the correct approach for the subject matter. 

Today, there are a huge number of ways to deliver training. You can train online or offline, in a classroom style, with a presentation or through e-learning. Beyond this, you have to consider different elements you may wish to use within your course. There are virtually endless opportunities!

This can be both a blessing and a curse. If you get it right, you’re going to deliver efficient and worthwhile training to learners who feel engaged in their learning and motivated to use what they have learnt in practice. However, with all these options for training, you can end up taking an approach that does not satisfy the needs of your learners.

When it comes to motivating adult learners to feel inspired and engaged with their training, the approach you take can be critical. Providing relevancy is important, try to design a course that will be perceived as useful to their specific needs. This is dependent on the learners themselves, your business environment, and the training topic.

Ultimately making learning relevant to the career and personal growth aspirations of learners is one of the best ways to motivate them. If adult learners can recognise opportunities for their own growth or success as a consequence of the training, they will be more engaged.

If we consider the above as a general or umbrella consideration, the following can be used to help achieve said personalisation.

Encourage collaboration. Encouraging collaboration and conversation is a great way to motivate learners. Collaborative learning in a classroom environment has been proven to motivate engagement, whilst boosting learner confidence in the subject matter and encouraging developed communication skills.

Collaborative learning is not always possible or necessary but facilitating conversation can be motivating. Encourage your learners to share their thoughts and findings with one another through conversation. This doesn’t have to be in person! 

Make it personal. Boring content is highly demotivating. Nobody wants to sit in front of a screen and have information piled on them with no real sense of its relevance. One way to motivate learners and make it personal is to include content and visuals that are specific to your business or the team at hand. This can be done through the inclusion of company logos or relevant case studies or videos, for example. When learners feel the content is catered to them, even on a surface level, they are more likely to consider and recognise the benefits of their participation.

You can make learning extra relevant by highlighting the specifics of its application in your workplace. Use detailed examples.

Utilise visuals. Similarly, utilising colours and attractive visuals can engage learners. You don’t want to overdo it, but engaging visuals are much more stimulating. 

Modules. Breaking training courses into modules can be critical to maintaining motivation to be engaged throughout the entirety of the course. We process and remember chunked information much better. 

Use games/gamification. Classroom games or online gamification tools motivate learners to think actively and take responsibility for their own learning. It also makes learning fun, which, even in adults, is a huge motivation for engagement. Where we suggest making learners recognise the long-term benefits of training, there is also the sense of short-term gratification that comes from fun. This engages learners and can boost their knowledge and skills retention.

Use the power of suspense. It is important to provide learners with an overview of any training course or program, but you do not want to bore them from the get-go. Utilise the start of the course or session to create some suspense and spark interest for what is to come. 

Encourage exploration. The best training programs offer learners excess beyond the mandatory courses which allows them to explore further and construct knowledge in new ways. The most motivated learners want to do their own research and studies on the subject matter, you can encourage this by offering interesting additional information during your training in the form of data, infographics, videos and other resources that promote learners’ curiosity.

Consider the trainer. If the content is happening in the classroom, the personality and style of the trainer can be critical to a course’s success. Likewise, the narrative voice of an e-learning course can have a similar impact. Don’t be scared to use humour, training doesn’t have to be stuffy! Of course, this needs to be relevant and sensitive to learner expectations.

Ask for feedback. Finally, ask your learners for feedback on your training program. The best way to understand your learners is from them directly. Use their feedback to shape future decisions. This will help you personalise training for their, and future employees’ needs.

Highlight the benefits. Remember you can always lay out the benefits directly to your learners. Motivate them by showing them and telling them how they stand to benefit from the training and go from there.​


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