At the end of a piece of learning, we often have a call to arms. What are you going to differently tomorrow from what you did today? What footsteps are you going to take as you leave the learning behind
Understanding a subject conceptually, or academically, whilst in the room, or within the e-learning, is easy, but knowing what to do with it can be the hardest of things. How do you change your everyday reality to reflect the new knowledge, skills and attitudes? How do you internalise the learning and make it part of ‘normal’?
To understand how and why people change behaviours, how and why they take different footsteps down a different path after learning something new, we need to consider ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Motivation’. This is a little bit more than the carrot and stick. People will change behaviours because they want to, or because they have to, and all for a wide variety of reasons. Some of these factors will be ones that we can influence, by making opportunities available to people with better qualifications or training, by making things regulatory or essential, so that they have to do them to get or keep a job, but others fall outside the areas that we can influence.
People will be inspired to learn because it interests them, because they enjoy the challenge, because they want to do better in this job, or because they are desperate to get another one. They can be inspired to do better by people they admire, emulate or are jealous of, and they can be motivated by money, ego or competition.
Whilst we cannot influence many of these factors, and indeed, may not even be aware of many, there are some that we can influence or make more visible.
Inspiration is more than just watching someone you admire and wanting to copy them, although that can be an important part of it. Often people want to change some facet of their lives, but can’t see the path to how to achieve that change, and by seeing someone who has successfully travelled that journey, they can be inspired into action. Changing things is done one step at a time and, whilst the first step is hard, the second and third ones might not me much easier. Whilst motivation can be ‘forced’, by making things mandatory, it’s impossible to force inspiration.
We often focus heavily on motivation, creating frameworks of rules and timeframes in which learning must be completed, but often pay far less attention to inspiration. This is a balance that we should try to address.
Sure, it’s important to set expectations, define parameters for success and to get people to take the first footsteps on the journey, but we need to try to inspire them at times as well. This doesn’t mean having ‘motivational’ speakers springing out of the woodwork, but might mean ensuring that we do at least consider how to capture and enhance inspiration within our messages. Maybe this is done through focussing on a wider and more holistic picture of learning, showing how skills and knowledge are relevent for today and tomorrow, but also for your next job role and even outside work.
I’ve always believed that it’s important to understand how and why people learn both within and outside of work. How do motivations and inspiration differ in those two environments? You find someone who, at work, appears lazy, uninterested and a poor learner, but who achieves great things an is viewed as inspiration by others in an entirely different part of their lives.
Taping into these extra curricular motivations can give people a chance to shine, to display their native desire to learn and to make a greater impact within the organisation. Learning is universal and timeless, something we do throughout our lives. True, some of the subjects that we ‘train’ are less than thrilling, but we can at least make them interesting and engaging by better understanding what drives us to learn in the first place.