Motivating Adult Learners


I have previously mentioned Keller’s ARCS motivation model, and how it applies to motivating adult learners. However, I have not specifically discussed my approach to using these strategies – which is what I plan to do today!

How to Motivate Adult Learners

The ARCS Model of Motivation looks at different strategies through four different categories of motivation – Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction. Including one or more strategies from each category of motivation within any adult learning experience, whether it be an e-learning module or consulting, will help any instructor reach their desired goal.


Attention is paramount to any learning objective. Without the attention or engagement of the adult learner, motivation will be low.

There are a lot of different strategies that can be used to attract or retain the attention of an adult learner. A few of these strategies are listed below.

  • Humor – Humor is a great way to start any presentation, or maintain attention throughout long learning experiences.
  • Active Participation – Research shows that an engaged learner is much more likely to learn what is needed! Active participation can be as simple as reading information out loud, sharing an experience, or participating in a role playing scenario.
  • Gamification – Using game strategies can motivate and grasp learner’s attention quickly! I’ve found that, when used appropriately, gamification strategies are best when an instructor is not physically present.


In my experience, the first two questions out of an adult learner’s mouth are, “Why am I here?” and “How will this help me?” While sometimes combative in nature, these are valid questions!

I believe that relevance is the most important area of motivation to include with any adult learning experience. A few strategies are listed below.

  • Present Worth – “Why am I here” can often times be the blunt start of a learning experience. Answering this question directly, and making sure the adult learner is aware how this learning will add value to their life is often the first step to making sure the learning experience is relevant for the learner.
  • Future Usefulness – If there is no current usefulness for the learning experience, certainly there is future usefulness! Making sure the learner is aware how the learning experience will improve their future life is very important – even if it’s just learning a new payroll system!
  • Choice – If the learning experience allows for it, choice is a great way to motivate adult learners. Because learners all have different backgrounds and skill-sets, offering the learner choice on what experience they wish to pursue will significantly increase their motivation.


Once the learning experience has started, it is the instructor’s job to make sure the learner is confident with the learning target. If the learner isn’t confident with their new knowledge or skills, the instructor hasn’t been successful!

Below are a few strategies to increase the confidence in the adult learner.

  • Growth Mindset – It is so important for instructors to preach a growth mindset! Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking work on mindset opens the doors on improving learning through mindset. An effective instructor must be on the lookout for fixed mindsets, and champion growth mindsets.
  • Provide Feedback – Adult learners need positive feedback as they are learning! Low confidence questions like, “Am I doing this right?” or “Am I understanding this?” often float through a learner’s mind. Put those minds at ease by providing feedback often!
  • Giving Control – Similar to allowing learners choice over what they learn, giving a learner control of their learning environment will instill and inspire confidence. Because adults learn differently, this strategy allows for the learner to engage with the learning in the way they understand best.


Satisfaction is the final category in Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivation. Strategies in satisfaction allow the adult learner to engage with the learning in new ways. By the end of the learning experience, the learner should walk away satisfied and confident in their new knowledge or skill.

Below are a few strategies you can use to make sure your learner is satisfied with the learning.

  • Praise and Rewards – Positive feedback, in any form, feels good! Whether it is a certificate, a raise, or a smile and compliment, praise and rewards increase the level of satisfaction and motivation of adult learners.
  • Practice – Allowing the adult learner to practice their new skill before utilizing the skill in a professional setting can greatly increase the satisfaction of the learner. This strategy also helps increase the confidence of the learner!
  • Action Items – Giving the learner a specific action plan after their learning experience is vital. “So now what?” is another common question in trainings, and answering that question before it comes up connects the learning with its professional application.

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