Mindset: Tackling the Challenge of Adult Learner Motivation



We all know that we learn better when we want to learn, and the evidence suggests that learner motivation promotes learning outcomes.  Most instructional designers agree that learner motivation promotes learning outcomes. When designing programmes for adult learners, learner motivation becomes particularly important. Training exercises have to compete with the complicated circumstances that adult learners bring to training such as work and family committments. Adult learners have often had bad experiences with previous training experiences which also have an impact on their willingness to go through another potentially disappointing training exercise. We only need to have a look at the retention rates for most MOOCS to see the effect that levels of motivation have on training. While some of this could be explained by learners discovering that the material is genuinely not useful, some of this could be explained by learner motivation

Carol Dweck’s theory of mindset helps to explain resilience in learners and why some learners give up and some continue. Dweck describes two mind-sets: a fixed mind-set and a growth mind-set.

  • People with a fixed mind-set generally believe that their cognitive ability and personality traits are what they are. Furthermore, failure is seen as a judgement on their worth.
  • People with growth mind-sets generally believe that their cognitive ability and personal attributes are flexible. Failure is often re-positioned as a challenge.

Clearly adults with a growth mind-set may be more able to surmount the set-backs that are associated with being an adult learner. Luckily, it is possible for an individual to shift their mindset. Because minds-set has a probable influence on learner motivation, it is useful for instructional designers to understand.  Ideas for dealing with the mind-set challenge when designing curricula for adult learners

  • Address the mindset challenge straight on: educate your learners about growth and fixed mindsets, encourage them to take online tests (like this one).
  • Be explicit about the cognitive load involved in training: explaining that a section of a course involves a cognitive stretch and why that is so, helps learners to turn on their growth mindset .
  • Ensure that the problem-solving nature of the course is clear: learning should not be positioned as a black box with an “A”  for compliance at the end. Your training should encourage learners to develop and share their own problem solving process.
  • Give feedback that enhances the learner’s problem-solving process: Ensure that learners can incorporate feedback into their problem-solving process. For example, instead of saying “this answer is not correct” you can say “consider these adjustments to your problem solving process ”

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