How to use Motivational Concepts for Inspiring Microlearning Assets


Learner motivation is critical for the success of your training initiatives. Motivation can be intrinsic, where the learner seeks inherent satisfaction, fun, or challenge from the learning. It can also be extrinsic, with promotions, rewards, or fear of punishment motivating the learner.

Let’s now understand how to apply 5 motivation theories/concepts to make your lessons more impactful and effective.

Microlearning & the ‘Self-Determination Theory’

According to the ‘Self-Determination’ theory, learners are influenced by their own environmental and social factors, and their innate need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. They want to:

  • Be in control their own behavior and its consequences
  • Believe in their ability to accomplish tasks and do a job well
  • Have a sense of belonging in a group or team at the workplace

This theory can be used in microlearning to create a stimulating experience for learners, using the microlearning platform to consciously encourage and empower each learner.

For example, in a microlearning gamification scenario, rewards and recognition (through scores, badges, leaderboards, levels, etc.) can be used with great effect! Your learner gets a sense of achievement when she/he is awarded a badge or level-up recognition while getting a quiz or question right. Similarly, seeing one’s name in the leaderboard or being recognized as the master of a certain topic brings instant cheer to your learner, increasing his or her motivation levels.

The learner gets the ‘I can do it’, ‘I am worth it’ sense of self-worth! With adaptive microlearning platforms, you can gradually increase the level of difficulty. A no-rush, no-push approach makes learning easier and more acceptable.

The feeling of belongingness and relatedness can also be heightened with microlearning. For example, when the learner is recognised as having attained a certain level of mastery, they feel they are an important a part of the social group (team of achievers).

Microlearning & the ‘Achievement Goal Theory’

The ‘Achievement Goal Theory’ states that the learner can be motivated by a desire to achieve a specific goal. There are two simple goals you can create – mastery goals and  performance goals.

Mastery goals help the learner acquire abilities and skills to perform a task. The focus here is on developing competence and self-improvement.

Performance goals are formed when the learner wants to achieve a higher level of success than their peers. Competition matters here!

Both goals can be applied in a microlearning scenario.

It is better to go for mastery goals of self-efficacy to start with. Performance goals can follow depending on the situation and learner acceptance.

A word of caution – Performance goals could have a negative influence on learners’ self-efficacy if they are not mentally prepared. This doesn’t mean that you should never use performance goals; only that you’ll get better results if you use them when the time and conditions are right. For instance, performance goals will be viewed positively in a fiercely competitive learning environment! A healthy competitive spirit is a great motivator too.

You can choose either approach depending on the learning requirements, learner profiles, possible side-effects, and the learning environment of your organization.

Microlearning & the ‘Social Learning Theory’

Social Learning to Improve Attention, Retention and Motivation


According to the ‘Social Learning Theory’, the learner learns by ‘observing’ others. The learner’s social interactions and cognitive processing follow a sequence of attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.

Simply put, this concept is very helpful during the initial stages of your microlearning initiatives. It helps create a learning culture early on, especially when learner acceptance of microlearning is an issue.

For example, when implementing microlearning for the first time, look for a few role models and early adaptors. These folks will be quick to accept microlearning and set the ball rolling. When other learners observe these early adaptors demonstrating superior skills and performing better, they will soon be motivated to follow!

Microlearning & the ‘Situated Learning Theory’

The ‘Situated Learning Theory’ says that learners are naturally motivated to participate and grow. They have an innate desire to become full-fledged participants at their workplace.

Learning is facilitated by social interactions, real activities, contexts, and culture, helping the learner connect prior knowledge to the present in an informal, unintended contextual way.

Microlearning complements this type of learning by making the learning an immersive and relevant experience, where the lessons are based on authentic social contexts and real work situations.

For example, microlearning assets like short sims, videos, podcasts and games place learners in real meaningful contexts, which motivates them to participate, learn and grow.

That’s why this theory works so well for microlearning.

Microlearning & ‘Feedback’

The learner can be ‘motivated’ or ‘demotivated’ by feedback, depending on how it is given! Feedback can be positive or negative.

Constructive feedback given in a timely manner is a great motivator that can positively impact performance. Supportive, encouraging feedback emphasizes the learner’s strengths. Badges, emoticons, applause, gestures, and other multimedia elements in the microlearning platform can be used here with great effect.

Negative feedback focuses on the learner’s weak points and poor performance. It can also be used to deliver a clear message about ‘how to improve’ rather than just focusing on the poor performance

The feedback process can be customised using a fading strategy while creating the microlearning assets – this method gradually decreases the ‘level of help’ provided to the learner to master a task. Fading enables the learner to reflect on what he or she is learning. It promotes better comprehension and enhances performance.

To conclude, training through microlearning is inherently motivating and impactful. Consciously applying motivation theories, concepts, and techniques will help you achieve superior outcomes.

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