Motivation and learning

Motivation and Learning – What is The Role of The Trainer?

Recently, someone said they thought it was important for a trainer to motivate their learners. I don’t know about you, but I think it is impossible to motivate anyone to do anything – each of us is motivated because of our own needs, drives, and goals.

Let’s face it. No-one can be forced to learn. Learning is essentially a voluntary process.

I’m looking at it a different way. Maybe as trainers we can remove, or at least acknowledge, the demotivators that affect the learning process.

From the learner, this might be:

  • Nervousness at mixing with others whom they do not know; not performing as well as your peers; being a slow learner; or being forced to do something outside their comfort zone.
  • Over confidence – feeling they are above this experience. Someone said to me in a course recently, ‘I know all this. I’ve done a Level 5 Diploma in Leadership’. Yet they were one of the poorest performers in the room.
  • Under confidence – feeling that they have nothing to add in main group work. This is common; the person who shows insights in small group work and during one to one’s, yet rarely shares in main group.
  • Restlessness – this could be down to having a pressing deadline, physical problems, or simply lots of work to do.
  • Past experience being that training is a punishment, or a passive experience.

The environment may also play a part in demotivating both learner, and trainer:

  • Poor heating – you can never please all the people all the time
  • Poor lighting – as above
  • Poor ventilation – the summer of 2018 was a case in point, with ‘no aircon’ meaning airless, stuffy and breathless rooms to work in
  • Uncomfortable seating – often, seating is an afterthought, yet it is vital we are comfortable in our seat
  • Noise
  • Distractions – this could include window door panels, glass wall panels, or fellow learners looking at their phones

The above lists aren’t exhaustive.

I think the key to the problem is the trainer having awareness.

I think a great trainer will have awareness, and empathy for their learners. Great trainers are brave in accepting that demotivation occurs, recognising when it happens, and then discussing it with their learners. Great trainers have methods to aid, or resolve demotivators.

Techniques that I find helpful:

Pre-engagement. A quick call, email, even online connection can tease out any fears, under confidence, or over confidence. I find asking the learner what will help them get the most from the event sets the tone for the learning experience being a two-way relationship – we both perform at our best when we are feeling safe, secure, and know what the expectations are.

I had one person booked on a competency based interviewing course. He knew it all. He’d been using the technique for years. What did he need to learn? This all came out pre-learning event. I asked him to give me an example of a behavioural question for criteria we were discussing. He said ‘What would you do if…?’. He also volunteered that two of his ‘favourite’ interview questions were ‘What is your star quality?’ and ‘What turns you on?’. This was fed back to the course sponsor, who was paying my bill.

The sponsor then met with the learner, and suddenly the learner was motivated to attend. Why? By saying you won’t be allowed to sit on an interviewing panel if you don’t attend. That would have affected their status in the organisation; therefore they were motivated to learn.

On the day: Take time at the start of the event to agree the ground rules – how we will look after each other. For example, suggest keeping mobile use to break times. This will soon bring up learner concerns, such as workload, cover and deadlines. Once it is in the open, we can then negotiate how we work so everyone is satisfied. I always bear in mind that whatever concerns a learner might have, the client has nominated them for the learning event. Therefore their demotivations need to be discussed.

Use visualisation: a short visualisation helps to focus the learners attention. Questions such as ‘What do I need from the day?’, ‘What I will do if anything gets in the way of my learning?’, and ‘How I will empower myself to be the most motivated version of myself today?’, really works. You have sown those seeds – now watch the motivation emerge.

Sometimes being with others can be useful – we feel better as we are not the only ones experiencing something. However, constant moaning, blaming others who are outside the room, wishing we could change things that are not in our own control can be demotivating to be a part of. A technique I use it to ‘Car Park’ it – draw up a car park, with spaces. If people wish to moan about anything outside the room, individually they can use a post it note and write down moans and then stick it in a car parking space. This works well – I have ‘said it’ to myself, and expressed my potential demotivator. However, my moans about my Boss, company, job, etc. aren’t taking up learning event space that is set aside for something different.

During the course: Go back to the groundrules. How are we living them? If you are overheating, the chances are the group is. So, share your experiences with the group. If you’ve agreed mobiles off, and someone can’t resist the urge to check their phone, state what you have seen. Say it has demotivated you – and how – you lost your train of thought. Ask questions such as ‘What can we do to prevent this happening?’, and ‘Is the course meeting your needs?’.  We can always recontract.

At the end of the learning event: celebrate how the group has been a pleasure to work with. Behaviour breeds behaviour, so have a stop moment to review as a group. It is motivational to be recognised for being part of a successful day.

Post-event: Keep your learners engaged with social media groups, Slack and/or Zoom meetings. Our motivated learner can easily become demotivated to apply what they have learned, so keep the engagement going.

I’m keen to hear your views on demotivated learners. What tools and techniques work for you?

Kay Buckby develops leaders and managers to be the best they can be. Contact Kay to discuss training, coaching, consulting and facilitation



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