Designing e-Learning for Maximum Motivation

These are my live blogged notes from the Designing e-Learning for Maximum Motivation webinar by Ethan Edwards of Allen Interactions. Any typos, mistakes, incomplete thoughts, etc. are likely mine, not the presenter’s. My side comments in italics.

Motivate banner outside museumQuick Summary of the Motivation Rules

  1. Say less
  2. More challenging
  3. Delay judgment
  4. Content-rich feedback
  5. Levels of difficulty
  6. Learner control


“The goal of e-learning is to create meaningful performance change in the learner.”

Organizations choose e-learning for other reasons (cost, access, etc.), but as an instructional designers, we’re focused on the performance change

Assumptions about Learning

  • Learning is active
  • People learn best in highly particular ways
  • Learners must actively construct meaning

“Learning isn’t a transitive verb; I can’t “learn” you this.”

Why should we care about motivation?

  • Learning process must be initiated actively
  • No one else is present at learning even
  • Cannot rely on social motivators (well, you could blend traditional e-learning with social learning, via social media or traditional forms…)
  • Rewards are indirect or absent

Learner Motivation

Cynical thoughts, but most learners aren’t intrinsically motivated

  • Media/animation isn’t enough. (Avatars are cool, but aren’t enough unless they are doing something instructionally)
  • They want the shortest, least painful way through a course. They look for shortcuts.
    • Traditional path: reading text without purpose, unhelpful feedback, memorize trivia, long unbroken narratives (I think “narrative” here just means long blocks of text)
    • “Expedited” path: Hit next without thinking, multitask, guess without consequence, random actions until give up. Most people will pick this in traditional e-learning.

IDs need to create experiences where learners won’t aim for the expedited path

What we want

  • Read text to satisfy a need
  • Active involvement in meaningful tasks (task-oriented, not content oriented)

What we need

  • Don’t rely on default navigation
  • Tasks require attention
  • Guesses is unproductive
  • Failure leads to a dead end rather than default completion

Question about kinesthetic/tactile learners
Answer: He’s being careful to not totally discount learning styles, but to say we’re not in specific boxes that way. “Auditory” learners still can learn visually. Think about learning through multiple channels, but not focus on specific learning styles

Question on overused Flash features
Answer: Superficial animation, stuff that is visually appealing but meaningless instructionally

Instructional Interactivity

Not all interactivity is instructional. The clicky clicky bling bling concept, although he’s not using those words

  • Context
  • Challenge
  • Activity
  • Feedback

Content is important, but only as far as people will use that content to do something.

Six Rules to Create Motivation

These can be used even without the full CCAF model.

  1. Just say less
    • Formal objectives (we need objectives, but we don’t need to tell learners the full formal objectives)
    • Technical requirements/compliance documents, especially at the beginning of e-learning. Put it at the end if it has to be there. Make content-heavy resources available, but only when users choose
    • Things that matter only to the SME
  2. Make it more challenging
    • Not just making it harder, but something that makes you think
    • “Achievable challenges with appropriate risks”
    • Withhold information until learner asks for it
    • Ambiguity isn’t always bad
  3. Delay judgment
    • Goes contrary to what we usually think about immediate feedback
    • Give time to think and correct yourself
    • Include an “I’m ready” button
    • Increases memory (I wonder if there’s research support for this about moving things to long term memory)
  4. Content-rich feedback
    • Wait until they are engaged and interacting to put content
    • Consequences for actions
    • Naturally chunks content based on actions
    • Interest is high after you make a wrong choice; you want to know where you went wrong
  5. Create levels of difficulty
    • Challenges grow as skills develop
    • Expand content & functionality as levels grow
    • Vary how much help is provided
  6. Give more control to learners
    • Prevents “learner as victim”
    • Give learners responsibility
    • Places you could give choices: pace, sequence, review, construct answers, seek help, choose when to be tested

Question: How do you convince people that interactions aren’t a waste of time?
Answer: You may have to do some work to “sell” the course and convince people

Question: What if you really need lots of text?
Answer: Make a nice resource web page and give them a reason why they should read it. Don’t make it e-learning.

Question: Better to read on-screen text or not
Answer: Literally reading every word on the screen is the worst. Narration can do a good job for emotional content, but highly technical content may be better without narration. Text is easier to read and review. The more complex, the less useful narration.

Image Credit: Motivate 2 by tedeytan

10 thoughts on “Designing e-Learning for Maximum Motivation”

  1. Pingback: My History of Live Blogged Notes | Experiencing E-Learning

  2. Pingback: #IOLchat Report: Maintaining the Motivation for Online Learning - Online

  3. Thank for for the recap of the seminar. I am new to the field of instructional design. In my Learning Theories and Instruction class we’ve have just begun learning about cognitive information processing theories. I found the notes on assumptions about learning, “Learning is active; people learn best in highly particular ways, and learners must actively construct meaning” to be very interesting in relation to the cognitive processing theories. Orey (2001) suggests elaboration, relating new information to existing knowledge, is key to getting new information into the long term memory. It seems designing content that would keep learners actively involved and guiding them through activities that help them relate new content to past knowledge would assist in actively constructing meaning, which would in turn help establish the new information in the long term memory.

    Orey, M. (2001). Information processing. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

    1. Although Ethan didn’t talk about it explicitly in his presentation, I do think that when we’re talking about learners being “active,” it really means that they have to be mentally active. You can have lots of interactivity that makes my fingers active on the mouse without really engaging my brain (see: Farmville or other mindless games). What we need is interactivity that makes people think, by relating new information to existing schemas, as you pointed out; by reflecting on what they are learning; by practicing actual skills; by making decisions with consequences; and so on.

      Good luck in your graduate program!

  4. Pingback: OTR Links 10/05/2011 « doug – off the record

  5. In my instructional design class, we’ve just learned that motivation is the #1 factor for e-learning success. I’m now doing the front end analysis for my first project. It is not a required class for work, but instead a “fun,” 30 minute, self-paced course for solving garden pest problems. This means motivation may be either high (they really want to know) or low (I don’t have time for this!).

    I will do my best to use these tips. I would also love to see an example where at least a few of these have been used. Do you know where I could look for this?

    1. Allen Interactions (the company that provided the webinar) has several examples on their site.

      Railroad Safety for Professional Drivers e-Learning Challenge is one course specifically used as an example during the webinar, but you may want to review the others as well. Registration is required.

      Another site you might use for inspiration is Edheads. I LOVE their games. Creating something exactly like either Edheads or Allen Interactions is beyond what you can do for a class project, but I think you can take elements of these for lower-tech approaches.

  6. Pingback: Designing e-Learning for Maximum Motivation «

  7. Thanks Christy for this succinct recap of the webinar. One thing I picked up from this session is something he mentioned at the very beginning; ” 60-70% of content displayed is not read”. I found this very interesting and shared it with a colleague, but being the librarian I am I had to wonder where he got this information from. Any thoughts on this?

Leave a Reply