What Motivates Adults to Learn?

If you have ever had the opportunity to teach anything to adults, you can understand that it can at times be a challenge. Wouldn’t it be nice to break the code and figure out what motivates adults to learn. As I continue to explore Wlodkowski’s book, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults*, I am gaining further insight into what motivates adults to learn, as well as, strategies to engage adult learners. Wlodkowski and Ginsberg have put together a motivation framework that will help you help adults to learn. So far, I like what I have seen, and I have used their ideas in a recent learning presentation. If you are an adult educator, I recommend Wlodkowski’s book.

Wlodkowski points out that one of the most powerful motivators for adults is responsibility. Adults are responsible to not only themselves but they have responsibility to others; family, co-workers, organizations, etc. They learn to stay competent in their jobs. Adults are eager to learn about things that they believe to be relevant and practical. In the end, they want to be able to use or apply what they learn to help solve problems or to perform better.

Adults also want their experiences to count. Over time, adults have gained a considerable amount of experience, and as Wlodkowski points out, adults not only want their input  to be considered, but they also measure what they are learning against what they already know. They also want to be able to test what they learn in a realistic and practical setting.

It is important to create successful learning opportunities for adults as soon as possible, otherwise, their motivation to learn will diminish. Wlodkowski points out that adults will continue to be motivated to learn if the learning activity meets four conditions: success, volition, value, and enjoyment.

Wlodkowski and Ginsberg developed the Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Within this framework, Wlodkowski and Ginsberg incorporate four essential elements that will attend to the four conditions above:

  • Establishing inclusion
  • Developing attitude
  • Enhancing meaning
  • Engendering competence

By attending to these four elements, you keep focused on learner motivation. Each of these elements will be explored in more detail in subsequent posts, so please stay tuned.


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