The Rapid Elearning Blog

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - motivation

There’s a good chance that if you neglect the information in this post you’ll lose your job.  Want to know why?

You can present a lot of good information in your elearning courses, but you can’t really control whether or not a person learns from them.  The learners own what they learn and much of it is determined by their level of motivation. 

The good news is that while you can’t make a person learn, you can create an environment that is more conducive to learning.  You do this by tapping into the learner’s motivation.  Your job is to figure out what will motivate your learners and then use that angle to lure them into the course.

Typically, people are motivated when their learning has meaning.  For example, if I know that passing a course will equate to an increase in my income, I am motivated to pass the course.  The same can be said for being motivated by personal safety.

When I was in basic training at the beginning of my military service, I was given one opportunity to throw a live grenade.  I was in Finance and normally they didn’t trust us with much more than a pencil.  Before I got to throw the live grenade I had to go through a series of practice sessions and safety procedures.  Considering the implications of making a mistake while throwing the grenade, you can be sure that I paid real close attention to what I was being taught.

The odds are that most of your elearning content doesn’t have life or death implications, so you have to be a little more creative at tapping into what will motivate those who take your elearning courses.

5 Ways to Motivate Your Learners

Reward Your Learners.  People are motivated by rewards.  Figure out what type of reward you can give the learners and then build that into the course.  Sometimes the rewards can be timed challenges or reaching a certain level of achievement.  Other rewards could be actual merchandise, like winning an iPod.  It all depends on the course. 

Rewards don’t have to be tangible items.  They can be simple things like affirmation and encouragement.  The main point is to connect with the learners and find a way to have them feel good about some sort of achievement in your course.  Perhaps the reward is something as simple as being able to test out of the course.

Make Sure Your Course Has Real Value.  Before your learners click on that first button, they want to know if the course has any value or benefit.  The truth is that most people who take elearning courses don’t see the real benefit and because of that they either aren’t engaged with the course or they don’t complete it.  If it happens to be a mandatory course, then they’re just trying to figure out how to click through it as fast as possible.  That doesn’t have to be the case. 

I used to work at an organization where any time we met with a certain executive, he’d ask about our company’s performance metrics or last quarter’s earnings report.  He wanted to make sure we knew why we were working for him.  Because he had this knack for putting you on the spot, you were more motivated to pay attention to the organization’s goals and performance.

In that case, each elearning course had meaning and implications to my job.  This also had an additional benefit.  Not only did I have a heighten sense of awareness to previously "boring" information, I always felt good (see the first point) when he called me out and I knew the answer. 

Help Your Learners Perform Better.  This ties into the previous point.  Your course needs to have value and it needs to be relevant to what your learners do.  People will be motivated to take your course and pay attention as they know it will help them perform better. 

Your job is to connect the learner to the course content.  If I’m taking a site safety course, I’m probably less motivated by clicking a button on a simple assessment than if I’m thrown into a real life scenario where I am challenged to work through some issues similar to what I’ll face at work.  This type of approach connects me to the content, more so than screen after screen of bullet point information.

Set Clear Expectations for the Course.  I’m amazed to see my children just click around on the computer screen to get what they want.  On the other hand, I’ve watched adults fearful of clicking a next arrow not sure what will happen.

People tend to be leery of things they don’t understand, or if they’re not quite sure where they’re going.  However, once they get a sense of what’s going on, they’re more apt to be responsive to the course.

If you want your learners motivated, then a good way to get them there is to let them know what to expect from the course that you want them to take. This all ties into the points above.  You’re asking the learners to spend some of their valuable time going through your course.  They expect clarity on what they’ll do, why, and what type of outcome to expect. 

Along with clear expectations is to make sure that the learner knows how to navigate your course.  I’m not saying that you have to create an addendum course on how to click the "next" button.  Instead, what I’m saying is that you don’t want to create a frustrating learning experience because the learner doesn’t know what to do with the course or how to get through it.  One of the best ways to de-motivate your learners is to make your course navigation so confusing that they just leave and never come back.

Tell Them They’re Wrong.  Controversy gets our attention and is a good way to motivate.  Challenge what a person believes, or even tell him he’s wrong, and you’ll see a person motivated to prove you wrong.  Of course, this approach needs to be tempered with common sense.

However, there is a lot of value in challenging people and what they know.  It’s just a matter of knowing how to do it in a manner that is appropriate.  When a person is challenged it puts them at risk and they tend to pay more attention.

Create an environment where they can safely fail or make mistakes and you’ll challenge them and keep them engaged.

These are some basic tips and things to consider when building your courses.  What you can do in your elearning courses to motivate your learners is dependent on the course and your resources.  However, the main point is that you find the angle that works for your learners and the course you build, and then use it to engage your learner’s motivation.  A motivated learner will learn.

I look forward to your thoughts and feedback in the comments section.

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48 responses to “Motivate Your Learners with These 5 Simple Tips”

Tom – You are right on the money. We could spend a lot of energy and money developing a course, but without motivating the learners it all could be wasted. If you aren’t able to motivate your learners to learn, you might as well forget it!

March 25th, 2008


Great article! I am all for motivation. When I develop a course, one thing I like to consider is “What’s in it for the learner” Therefore, speak about reward in the course overview before they even get started. It’s all about finding ways to hook them.



I have been reading your blog for several months and agree with most (well, maybe 90%) of what you say. I must say that in my experience, this is the most under appreciated element of any development and the most important predictor of success for any course. This includes not only e-learning, but classroom, video, paper-based and any other type of presentation. I attended a presentation where the instructor stated “I don’t know why they make us cover this stuff” and the class immediately tuned out of the lecture. Since then I have always strived to find the WIIFM factor (what’s in it for me).

March 25th, 2008

i find the easiest way to get people interested in a class is to describe the scenario in which the skills are used, often by posing a common problem (pulled from our helpdesk records).

“They don’t know what they don’t know”, and when people find out there is an easier way to do something they do all the time, they are highly motivated to learn it.

To set expectations, I usually recommend building a diagram showing the bigger picture: this is what you should know before beginning this module (prerequisites), this is what we will cover, this is what you should know at the end, these will be the available modules to complete your training, and, most of all, this is why this training module is important to become a better [placeholder of the position].

That way, all five of your points can be included in a single visual display.

Tom, I have been designing and developing training for MANY years, and am new to on-line training. This is a great recap and reminder for those like me, as well as those new to the world of training. I am going to go back to the last (my first!) course I developed and do a check for the points you’ve made here. I have a feeling that things I would have included naturally in a instructor’s guide may have been over-looked in this format. THANKS! Your article was relevant and challenged me to learn! Well done!

March 25th, 2008

Each month, we advertise the courses we want to emphasize just like auto dealers advertise sales on sports cars. We touch on the objectives and tell them the benefits they will get.

Great article – Topics like this need to be discussed within our learning community. I think Mike made a good point when he mentioned the WIIFM bullet. Something that has also worked well for me is a good success story of how this had an impact within our company. For example, I was teaching a group of engineers on different ways they could use MS Excel pivot tables. One engineer who spends many hours analysing data was able to reduce his time by at least 2 hrs after applying what he learned. You can bet that I’ll be using that examlple in my next lesson.
I feel learners also need to be motivated on how to apply what they’ve learned to their jobs – perhaps that can be another topic.

I’ve enjoyed e-learning tips since I discovered them a few months back. Motivate Your Learners with These 5 Simple Tips is sound advise. All of our courses use 5 similar tips to accomplish basically this goal. They are 1)Introduce the course/lesson, 2) Explain how the material fits, 3) Explain the objectives, 4)Explain importance of satisfactory performance, and 5)Motivate students to do their best “WIIFM”.

WARNING…Be careful with rewards…be sure to tie the reward to an action or accomplishment of the individual trainee/group.

A Good reward could be accomplishing a training action with validated comprehension in a time frame or “highest average score for all training courses for the group”

A Bad reward could be “Achieve zero incidents or recordables[accidents of close calls])… here the trainees (and supervisors) may hide an inucident or close call to achieve the goal of zero incidents thus preventing actions to prevent future incidents.

March 25th, 2008


I like your comment. I am also developing a course for managers to teach them how to create Pivot Tables. My goal as well is to get them to save time and analze customer related errors(CRE).

The blog and Tom’s suggestions have help me tremendously. One of the things I’m doing to motivate my learners is I’ve created a “Hot Spots” quiz. I decided not to use the typical “True and False” quiz as it is somewhat boring and serve no purpose. I just feel it’s really hard to determine if the learner has actually learned the anything.

March 25th, 2008

Hi Tom, Just a question about the 5th point, of how to tell them they are wrong. Can you give an example on this one?
Also, on a completely separate note, I am currently trying to write a script for an e-learn course, and I need to get some help from subject matter experts. Do you have any past or current advise on writing scripts? I came up with a few things

-ask questions to get the learners involved
-tell them up front what will be covered
-tell them why they want to know it
-explain the e-learn environment and how to interact with it
-use friendly language
-try not to assume they understand anything and explain things in detail
-use phrases such as “as discussed previously” or “you may recall” to indicate that a point has already been made
-use humour or noticeable statements such as “but the billion dollar question is how do we achieve this?”

I enjoy reading your blog each week. I am currently the only instructional designer at my work so its nice to hear from other people doing the same job.

Great comments and feedback. Some good tips, as well. Troy makes a really good point about rewards. I worked for an organization once that ran into that exact problem, they incented the wrong behaviors.

I’m glad to see that we’re able to help, Kathie. By the way, Cathy Moore’s recent post had a good before/after example of using questions.

This is a fantastic blog Tom. Motivation is a key issue that is faced everyday and no matter which angle you come from, if its not the right angle, your courses may take take a dive. I am all about the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ factors in elearning. ‘Why am I doing this course’ and ‘how will it benefit me’. Elearners need to see the chocolate before they eat their peas.

March 26th, 2008

Great article. A few years ago I used a very simple approach to get learners to complete a Customer Service course in a bank’s home-loans division: At the beginning of the course they were given a floorplan of a 3 bedroom house. No furniture, fittings, finishes. At various stages during the course the learner was rewarded by being offered options of furniture, kitchen appliances, bathroom fittings, etc. The final reward, at the end of the course, was a virtual car in the virtual garage. All these “rewards” cost absolutely nothing, but a sense of competition quickly developed amongst learners: Result? Every one got a virtual car, ie 100% completion rate.
This approach can be varied to suit the target audience. We chose a house as the audinece were home-loans consultants.

March 26th, 2008

Excellent article as always. As someone who spent many years in sales, I was always taught before saying anything to a client to ask yourself, “So What?” in other words, is what I am about to say, going to make any difference to the client. I have found that exactly the same principles apply in Training. Having recently started to branch out from IT Classroom Training, to develop online IT training courses, your article has made me refocus on these principles on “selling the Benefits” of the course to the intended participants.
Keep up the great work!!

March 26th, 2008

thans tom!for the article. yeah motivation is realy important for achiving our educational objectives.

March 26th, 2008


Thank you for the reference examples on Cathy Moore’s post. I will definately take a look.

Much appreciate!

I’m a big fan of Michael Allen and the 3 Ms: meaningful, memorable, and motivational.

Definitely a crucial part of any course.

March 26th, 2008


Your blog is an eye opener for a beginner like me in my conversion from old fashion teaching methods to e-learning. Thanks a lot!


I like the virtual car idea, Martin.

K Jacobs: On the fifth point it depends on the subject matter, but two quick ideas. This one is low cost. Address commonly held beliefs about the subject matter as a series of myths. Then debunk them. The point is to challenge what they believe.

Another approach might be to make assertions that are not true (or are overly broad). Challenge them to agree or disagree. If you see elearning as just part of the learning process, you could incoporate this into some sort of team discussion. I designed a program once where the learner went through a basic courses and then got a series of follow up email case studies. They had to review the case study and present their decisions to the manager (or peers depending how you set it up). In this type of process you can be more direct in challenging their ideas.

I had an instructor once who would give me a bad grade on a paper or test even though I was correct. It forced me to defend what I knew. Personally, I think it was a lame way to teach, but I can still recall some of the conversations (and my zeal to prove her wrong).

As far as the SME question, check out Clive’s 60 Minute Master wiki. There’s some good stuff in there and might help you out. You’ll need to register but its free.

Martin, that is a seriously cool idea. I like the fact that not only do you get a reward, you get to choose the style of each reward, which increases your commitment to it. Salespeople do the same thing–before you’re committed to buying a widget, they’ll ask questions like, “What color widget would you like?” The more they involve you in decisions about the product, the more likely you are to commit to it.

[…] a comment to Tom Kuhlmann’s post Motivate Your Learners with These 5 Simple Tips, Martin Kopsch describes the approach he took with home loan consultants: At the beginning of the […]

Tom Your comments fuel thought on new ways to create motivation. I often wonder if some of the old tried and tested methods still have relevance.

Do you have any insight on whether certifications are still of value as a reward. In the past a certificate has been seen as a reward by dedicated learners but I am not sure if theat is sstil the case. Your thoughts

That’s a good question, Philip. I think it all depends on the users and the level of certification. What does the certificate indicate and would it make the user proud to display or announce? If so, then it probably works. If it’s just a piece of paper because I completed a course, then it’s probably not much of a motivator.

Thanks Tom that makes sense.

One of the things we have been building into technical training courses for assurance staff is to certify them with a grade, i.e. “Guru – passed in the top 10%”, “Expert – passed in the top 20% and with the students agreement posted the top 10% as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) on the reference site for that technology. It’s early days yet but some don’t want to know because its more work but some throw out their chest and proudly agree and will have a wall full of matching certificates. Linking the certification to a valuable activity is always the challenge.

“Why learn if I have nothing to lose?”

What motivates one student and not another is the mystery key.

Back in the 70’s, an author named Steve Daniels became something of a cult hero with his book:
Title: How 2 Gerbils, 20 Goldfish, 200 Games, 2000 Books, and I Taught Them How to Read.
Author: Steven Daniels
ISBN: 0664209041
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Pr
Pub. Date: 1971

It is about his experience as a teacher in the Philadelphia School System. Being the new guy on the block, he was given the worst possible group of students from the school.

Bottom line he gave his students who had nothing to lose SOMETHING TO LOSE. Highly recommended reading. Out of print but still available. I see one on ebay for $1.95 at this moment.

I appreciate our moderator’s focus on producing relevant training.


Good insights Wayne thank you. The book you mention sounds really worthwhile I will look for a copy and what sounds like a tried & tested standard.

The oldies most often turmn out to be gooodies.

Another winner in a series of really useful articles. Keep up the great work Tom.

I have just finished reading a document about Articulate and I reached this blog by clicking the link. You have defined and explained e-learning in a very beautiful way. I will visit this blog quiet often and add-on to my knowledge. This is relevant as I have just entered this field and this is fascinating me. I would like to share my blog where I have just posted an entry to share my work with my friends. It might be funny as I do not have the immense experience you have, but I would love to share it with you.Thanks for sharing such important facts about e-learning. I am indebted to you for such crisp and clear information. Regards

April 7th, 2008

I do like the five tips especially Reward Your Learners and Set Clear Expectations for the Course, they absolutely make sense. There are many ways to motivate learners. Here is my cents:
keep interaction with learners by using, say, instructional games,online tools, and other activities.
Communication with learners in class and after class, for example, answer questions quickly, always give feedbacks to assignments.
use clear language and positive tones in the class.
keep course materials interesting and organized.

April 11th, 2008

The fifth tip is usually comes with opposite effect which we want

[…] För att lära mer och få tydligare förklaringar, läs posten “How to turn your learners into compulsive completers” (från bloggen Making Change) eller “Motivate your learners with these 5 simple steps”. […]

Islam: agreed not all tips work in all circumstances. The real key in it is to challenge the learner’s understanding.

[…] The Rapid e-learning blog has five tips to help you motivate your learners. […]

Thanks for the tips, I am already more motivated.

Thank you for the post. I agree with much of it. However, I am not sure that telling somebody that the person is wrong is motivating. Asking them why they think what they think can be. Controversy for the sake of it can be quite destructive, while allowing constructive dialogue is not. beware of the relationship among your learners, though.

You make a good point. That’s why I suggest using common sense. I’d add that challenging a person’s assumption and suggesting they’re wrong is not necessarily destructive. However, it could become that if I suggested they were stupid. The main point is that many elearning courses just go with the flow and never test a person’s assumptions. However, if you want to motivate a person, test their assumptions and make them prove what they know. I’ve found that when people get things wrong they tend to pay more attention than if they can easily skate through the content. The goal is to make it all a safe environment so that it is a constructive learning process.

I think it is a good ideas for motivating learners….nice. I like this way…but what is the instruments of motivation to learn L2?..THANKS A LOT.

i have also learn a lot about motivation actualy i am doing an assignment right now but i become more inspired when i read this simple five ways of motivating your learners, thank you so much Tom im now starting to enjoy the educatots job.

[…] Kuhlmann, T. (2008, March 25th). Motivate your learners with these 5 simple tips. Message posted to […]

[…] Motivation is essential to learning at all ages. Students have the primary responsibility to own their own learning, yet we have a […]

[…] Motivation is essential to learning at all ages. Students have the primary responsibility to own their own learning, yet we have a […]

I have found site to be very helpful. Too often we forget the basics, and strive for something not practical. In doing so we loose sight as to what we are trying to accomplish. Your five simple steps prove that. Too often people think the more complex an outline the better it is.

I have worked in the educational field for over 25 years, and have seen course objectives confusing and hard to understand, and some very simple and basic.

Too often we let our own ego’s get in the way of what we are trying to accomplish, and forget about designing courses so the student will learn and be able to apply the material.

Thank you for your tips on motivating students. I especially like your tip on challenging people when they are wrong. Great way to motivational tool.

November 24th, 2011

duuuuude this post was wicked! Excellent read. Thanks so much.

Hi Tom, agreed with much of it. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful piece of written words. However, instead of telling the learner that he/she is wrong, we can engage them even by stating that they are right. Well here’s an example- clear and insteresting instruction helps us in grabbing the learner’s attention while doing an activity or answering a checkpoint. It has been proven that process feedback is always effective than results feedback.

[…] Learning is motivational for some and is easily found; while others struggle with motivation to learn. On a daily basis as an agricultural educator I seem to struggle with student motivation. The students I have the privilege to teach are what I call “worksheet trained” they are great with simple tasks, yet when ask to actually conceptualize a question or actually learn the objective they lack the skills and motivation. Many learning theories and proven strategies for facilitating instruction are found in searching the web such as this site all about the motivation theory, and throughout academia. Although motivation for people to learn is an area where educators and facilitators continue to struggle even given the vast amounts of information, skills, and tactics available. […]

Tom, I appreciated your 2008 posting, “Motivate Your Learners with These 5 Simple Tips”, especially tip 5. I find the idea of purposely challenging people’s beliefs as a motivational device intriguing. When I was a child (many decades ago), expressing beliefs that contradicted the teachers’ views was forbidden. The teachers were guardians of Truth and we were just students. I might have developed critical thinking skills early in life rather than quite late had such theories been put into practice. Being told I’m wrong is still a fast way to ensure that I will put effort into research to prove that I’m right. It’s all about motivation!