Home > Personal Effectiveness > Motivation from the Inside-Out!

Motivation from the Inside-Out!

The sixth principle of the Andragogical Model is Motivation to Learn.

What motivates you to learn? My initial response to this question was, “To further develop my skills in order to attain a job promotion, make more money, and/or because of others’ expectations.” However, I quickly came to realize that these external reasons aren’t the most important factors. As I continued to ponder my individual learning motivators (as a adult learner), one thing was clear: I am very focused on changing myself from the inside-out, not nearly as much from the outside-in.

Congruent with my own realization, Malcolm Knowles points out that the most potent motivators that make adults respond come from “internal pressures” (Knowles 2010, 68). Internal pressures include, but are not limited to, improved quality of life, enhanced self-confidence, increase in self-esteem, and higher job satisfaction. Knowles challenges us to consider the intrinsic value and the personal payoff. My personal internal motivators include: personal happiness, sense of accomplishment, recognition, increased awareness, and expanded perspective.

Motivation is not simply an on/off switch- there are many layers to motivating adult learners. Last year, at the University of Denver, I met a (surprisingly) non-traditional professor named Greg Giesen. “Geese” was my instructor for a graduate course entitled, “Leading High-Performance Teams.” My personal motivation for taking this course included personal interest and experience, plus it was a requirement for my Masters program (external driver). The classroom learning activities were structured in a way that they fostered a highly interactive environment. This made the course fun and somewhat competitive as well! I believe being able to experience a sense of accomplishment and reinforce internal intuition on various projects led to a higher degree of personal learning and real-life implementation than had the course been structured in the more traditional sense (lecturing).

When teaching adults, I believe setting the tone through personal connection and helping training participants feel important can be effective methods in addressing the principle of motivation. At the very start of a training session, it is wise to welcome the group, introduce yourself, explain why you are training the course, and reveal what your personal payoff will be. By asking the participants to do the same, you communicate that you are interested in them and can learn more about what motivated each of the participants to sign up. Once you more about why each individual is attending, you may be able to leverage this information during the training to more effectively connect the learning to the participants.

From the Inside-Out,


  1. Cameron
    September 21, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    I think human motivation is so interesting. It’s so much more complex than the classical conditioning behavioral approach to animal training! I really like what you wrote about internal pressures. I personally think motivation has a huge amount to do with an individual’s values (i.e., internal pressures). Your last idea is really cool. Figuring out what motivates people to learn seems pretty important in helping to motivate them right?? I have taken classes where this is definitely missed. Maybe my instructors have emphasized my desire to be self-directed a bit too much….
    Marianne, I think you make an EXCELLENT point! We have to remember that external motivors can easily become internal if they are meaninful and significant to the learner. Just because we may not agree that flair is awesome, doesn’t mean the trainees don’t see them as “badges of honor” to rub in the face of their rivals.

  2. September 21, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    One more big thumbs up for “Office Space!”

    Two favorites for poor external motivations:

    “Yeah, I’m gonna need you to come in on Saturday (slurp coffee). Yeah, okay.”


    However, having worked with Wal-Mart very closely in the past, flair actually had a very powerful effect on employees. The badges they earned and could wear were really badges of honor. But those days are probably long gone.

  3. Joanna Duenas
    September 20, 2010 at 6:35 pm


    Agree with the tie in to engaging the learners immediately by having them verbalize their motivatons for taking the class, in addition to personalizing who they are, where they’ve come from, fosters an immediate sense of community — we’re in this together — even if it may be a mandatory or required training. Like Tobi and Allison, I can recall those classes/trainings that fell short of my expectatons simply because it didn’t feel inclusive, therefore non-motivaing to me.


  4. Allison Friederichs
    September 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    I, too, love the “Office Space” reference (and the movie itself!). If only we all had the chance to take a baseball bat to a printer at some point! lol. Your post is interesting, and you do point a to critical point of interest in terms of motivation. We have probably all experienced being exposed to learning environment in which the external motivators were the major forces. I would argue that, even in those instances, the internal motivators would need to be playing a part in order for learning to take place. I myself have attended conferences that were purely required and offered me no internal motivation, and I probably couldn’t tell you one thing I heard that day. But here’s where your insight makes its mark on you as a trainer: because you understand that link, you realize that even if the external motivators are present, you have to tap into those internal motivators in order to engage the learner. We’ll talk more next week about specific ways to do what you reference here — to connect what you learn about WHY they’re there (great idea) to HOW to get them to learn. Excellent post, very insightful. Thank you!

  5. September 20, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Tom – Love the Office Space reference! Amazing how applicable it is in so many situations regarding what NOT to do. 🙂

    Your classroom example of motivation at DU sounds great. I’m bummed I won’t be taking a course from that instructor.


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