Engage, Explain, Experiment, Explore, Embed. This is the “5E” model in a nutshell – the underlying principles of our practice as trainers and the experiences we create for our learners, all based on neuroscience and other educational sciences.
“You have to motivate learners!” is something we often hear. This is true, but how can you do this in a way that is productive for their learning? And can people actually be ‘motivated’?
What neuroscience tells us about motivation
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a chemical molecule that transmits messages between neurones in the synapse – which plays a crucial role in motivation.
It is “the neurotransmitter of pleasure and reward which the brain releases during what it perceives to be beneficial actions. […] In addition to making our brains happy, it has been demonstrated that learning activities which increase dopamine aid concentration and motivation. The most recent findings suggest that dopamine is found directly at the source of synaptic consolidation during learning.” *
When learners understand something, they recognise a pattern. i.e., they make connections between elements they have not previously made. When this happens, learners produce more dopamine. The neural circuit, which is used for pattern recognition, is then strengthened and can be used more easily in future.
The gamification trend in training relates closely to neuroscience. Video games are indeed ‘dopamine stimulators’, which explains why they can be addictive!
- “The challenge is stimulating but accessible.”
- “The difficulty increases in small increments.”
- “Progression is quick, which at every level triggers the neurobiological reward…”*
The positive mood created while playing video games fosters even more cognition, creating the conditions for a virtuous circle.
*Source: “Neurolearning”. Medjad/ Gil/ Lacroix. Eyrolles 2017.
Engagement therefore requires integrating a set of coherent practices – from a neuroscientific point of view – in line with what we know about the motivation drivers to be learned.
So, what are these drivers and what can be done to activate them?
Driver 1 – Self-determination
According to R. Vallerand and E. Thill, motivation comprises “internal and external factors that produce the trigger, direction, intensity and persistence of the behaviour.”
Motivation is a powerful driver for learning. It generates action and self-regulated behaviours and affects cognitive processes such as concentration and the processing of information.
We know there are two types of motivation, and that one is more effective that the other when it comes to learning.
‘Extrinsic’ motivation refers to behaviour that is driven by external rewards such as threat of punishment, social pressure, the promise of a reward, seeking approval, etc. ‘Intrinsic’ motivation refers to behaviour that is driven by internal rewards, without expecting an external reward.
Deci and Ryan set up a ‘self-determination continuum’, from controlled extrinsic motivation (you will be punished/rewarded if you do not/do take part in this training) to integrated intrinsic motivation, in which the subject is fully aware of their freedom to decide, completely consistent with their inner self.
People find their own intrinsic motivation by “incorporating the form of progress offered by the training into the self-development project that the training is for.” (Nuttin)
On the one hand, there is a goal to be reached through training. On the other, is the perception people have of themselves. Harmony between these factors is found in a person’s determination to engage with their training project. The learner is therefore in control of their own development.
Intrinsically motivated behaviours display greater creativity, greater perseverance in the face of adversity and greater concentration. As a result, training engineering that consolidates extrinsic motivation may result in surface learning, which can be useful if there is strong resistance. However, only self-determined motivation from within is effective over the long term.
In the engineering of modern training initiatives, learners are given the freedom to co-construct their training pathway: choice of modules, the order in which they are completed, the rhythm of the learning, etc. Such self-determination enhances a participant’s intrinsic motivation.
Driver 2 – The feeling of self-effectiveness
“Perceived self-effectiveness refers to the beliefs in one’s own capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments.” (Albert Bandura).
We tend to avoid tasks and situations that we feel unable to deal with. People with a high degree of self-effectiveness tend to set themselves higher objectives. The perception of self-effectiveness also comes into play when we persist with something, particularly in assessment situations. This feeling represents a major performance driver when learning.
Factor in what Lev Vygotski calls the “zone of proximal development” – the difference between what a learner can and cannot do without help. In any given situation, let all learners get involved so that the challenge is engaging but remains realistic. The feeling of self-effectiveness is then retained.
Support for learners should be incorporated into the very design of the initiative, using the mentoring and/or managerial function.
Goodwill, cooperation and strong feedback bolster the feeling of self-effectiveness.
Driver 3 – The perceived value of the training offered
This driver reflects both the perceived importance of the reason for committing to the training and the essential qualities of the training as regards the goals sought (Vroom). Its role is even more important when the motivations are extrinsic.
To what extent will this action help me achieve my own goals? What is the relationship between the effort required and the results obtained? Both are significant questions for participants with low intrinsic motivation.
Contemporary training design places a great deal of importance on communications; before, during and after the initiative.
The growing popularity of on-the-job initiatives provides a means of applying the essential principles of the training – specific problems require the knowledge and reference practices covered by the training, which can themselves be immediately transferred.