How to design motivating eLearning: Purpose

Purpose is the feeling that you’re trying to achieve something worthwhile. In your eLearning, it will make your trainees feel that what they’re doing is valuable to them, to their colleagues, and to the organization.  

What is Purpose? 

Social researchers have found that single people are more likely to have unhealthy habits compared to people who are in a serious relationship. Somehow, the sense of needing to be there for your partner (and in many cases, your children) makes it easier to give up smoking and control your alcohol and fast food intake. Tasks that might seem too hard to bother with, suddenly become feasible and urgent when our decisions and actions affect things and people we care about. 

The strongest sense of purpose is present in people who feel they have found their “calling” – a noble and important reason to persevere with what they’re doing in the face of adversity. Think of doctors who travel to distant countries where they’re most needed, or teachers who stick with teaching in disadvantaged schools because they feel that they have more social impact there. 

How to design Purpose into your eLearning 

Purpose is perhaps the hardest of the three elements of motivation to design in a learning experience. It’s a fragile sense, more so than Autonomy and Mastery, and it can be destroyed by toxic working environments or low morale in an organization. However, there are a lot of basic features that make eLearning content more purposeful. Some are discussed below. 

  • WIIFM statements. WIIFM stands for “what’s in it for me”, and a WIIFM statement is brief, truthful, and comes at the beginning of each learning session. In other words, the first thing we inform trainees about at the start of each  session is what they will learn, how it’s going to help them improve, and what impact it will have in their day-to-day activities. 
    If you find that you can’t think of a WIIFM statement for a learning object, step back and re-examine it. Are its learning goals clear? And if they are achieved, does the knowledge or skill they impart have a true impact on the trainee’s working life? 
  • Team tasks. Working in a group contributes to more accountability for trainees. As a result, procrastination is reduced. More importantly, team tasks foster a sense of belonging and strengthens pride for achievements. 
  • Sharing pride stories. Some learning systems (but not many, unfortunately) allow trainees to create their own content in the form of stories of how their learning impacted their work and their lives – and how this, in turn, made others happy. This can inspire colleagues to imitate them, and make them feel that they, too, can experience pride in their work. 
  • Story-based learning objects. Communicate the importance of your learning content through stories. Set the story background, describe a conflict or crisis, then show how the knowledge or skills you’re teaching resolved the situation. (We will talk about story-based learning in more detail soon.)  

There are many more ways to make your eLearning purposeful. It all depends on what you do, and what your true values are as an organization. These must be universal values that people can relate to. (Unfortunately, purposeful eLearning will be harder to create for gambling websites or cigarette manufacturers!) 

A final word 

In this 4-part series, we looked at what motivation is and how it can be inspired in your trainees. The basics are simple enough to understand, but designing them into your learning experiences takes a lot of planning and forethought.

Don’t be afraid to test things out and measure their effectiveness. It’s more important to learn to have a motivational design mindset than to get it right every time! 

And, remember, our instructional designers are always ready to help. Get in touch! 🙂

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