Attitude is Essential to Learning, Part 1: It’s All About Me

December 30, 2011

businessphoto_flipchartsmAs learning professionals we spend so much time designing just the right kind of exciting learning intervention that we sometimes forget to think about other factors that may prevent learning. For example, no matter how great the learning experience is, if people are unmotivated to learn then the reality is that they won’t. Let’s explore some of the reasons why people might be unmotivated and figure out what we can do to combat it.

Challenge 1: How does this relate to me? Can you recall a time when you were totally uninterested and unmotivated to learn? Maybe in grade school during history class? For me it was college math. I simply was not interested. Why? I did not ever think calculus was something I would use in “real life.”We know from adult learning principles that people learn best when they can see the relevance the content has to their day-to-day jobs, and to their lives. So, one would think the answer is simple: show people how the content is relevant to them, and they will be open to learning it. As important as this concept is, it’s something designers forget to do as they get all caught up in designing the learning.

Solution 1: Point out the WIIFM. It is really important in the beginning of every learning experience to point out why it is important and relevant for the learner to absorb this new information. The “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) should be present at the start of each learning piece.


What else may prevent you from learning?

Challenge 2: I already know this. For example: “I’ve learned several sales models in the past. This sounds like the same stuff.” If people think they already know something, their minds are shut and they won’t allow in new ways of thinking—because of course they don’t need new ways of thinking about something they know inside and out.

Solution 2: Point out differences—things they may not know. If you know you are dealing with this learner mindset, the best thing to do is first acknowledge that you are teaching them YET ANOTHER sales model. Then, point out what is unique and different about this sales model. Doing that will help people start thinking about all the ways this is different from what they already know and that will open them up to learn more.


I remember creating a module on hedge funds for a major financial years ago and the first page said: “Think you know everything there is to know about hedge funds? Think again! Did you know that…” With just one fun fact on the first page of the module that we could bet was new information to them, we captured their curiosity and dispelled their immediate notion that they did not have to go through this because they already knew.

So far, we’ve focused on the individual, and how to overcome their barriers to learning. But what happens next? There’s an even bigger barrier to implementation out there—and we’ll talk about that in the next installment!

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