What Do Participants In Mandatory Training Find Most Influential In Their Motivation To Learn?

School for New Learning Master of Arts in Educating Adults (MAEA) graduate, Matthew Hoff, was recently published in CCASTD‘s June 2012 edition of Training Today.  His article “What Do Participants In Mandatory Training Find Most Influential In Their Motivation To Learn?” speaks to his research for his Applied Inquiry Project and his experience in the MAEA program.

What Do Participants In Mandatory Training Find Most Influential In Their Motivation To Learn?

MAEA Graduate, Matthew Hoff

By Matt Hoff

My time as a student in DePaul’s Masters of Arts in Educating Adults (MAEA) program was instrumental in building my professional identity and confidence as a facilitator and adult educator. I had been an Information Technology Consultant for over seven years, and as a result of MAEA, my goal to transition into the Learning and Development practice at work became a reality. My first project in the new practice inspired my research project and continued my interest in this field.

Project Inspiration

I stood in the front of the room, with my palms sweating and nerves revved up as high as they’ve ever been. Trickling in the room were all different types of people, young and old, shy and talkative. I nervously announced, “There’s coffee and bagels in room 310.” A few people got up and walked down the hall to what we call “an incentive.” It was my first day as an official trainer. Sure, I had been enrolled in DePaul’s Masters of Arts in Educating Adults program for almost a year now, and I had a lot of tools at my disposal. But, I wasn’t told it would feel like this! Thoughts like, “They’re going to trip you up. You shouldn’t be telling them how to do things. They don’t want to be here.” were rattling around in my mind. The time flew by, and the end of the session arrived with all the breaks, exercises, group work, flip charts, and evaluations delivered as planned.

After surviving the first day, I realized that I could be a professional trainer, educator, and facilitator. I quickly found that each training session becomes a mini database of sorts – a collection of experiences that I can pull from to aid the following experience. After a while, it was apparent that a lot of learners had the same questions, and I was getting better at answering them.

As I continued with my education at DePaul and professional development, another important theme came to light: developing and delivering sessions collaboratively in a learner-centered manner. In other words, “It’s not about me.” Over those nine months training teachers and principals in New York, in the back of my mind, I wondered what else I could do- were there ways I could make mandatory technical trainings like these, more interesting and effective?

When I moved on to another project, I had not moved on from my question of: “How can I make mandatory technical training more interesting and effective?” That’s when my research project was born, and I titled it: “Discovering factors related to motivation, when learners participate in mandatory, work-related, technology training.”

Project Overview

Many studies have looked at motivation and how it relates to adult education and training in general. My study looked at a specific scenario, often found in the workplace: mandatory technology training. Based on training research in overlapping areas (Technical Training, Workplace Learning, Motivation, and Mandatory Professional Development), I developed a survey to capture perceptions regarding mandatory, technical training in the workplace. Forty-eight professionals from a variety of industries (Information Technology, Manufacturing, Scientific, and Banking) provided insights based on personal training experiences. Using open-ended questions and fixed responses, the data provided a more focused look into motivation factors within the specified context.

After all the data was collected and analyzed, the following factors were ranked in order of importance: relevance, interest, and extrinsic rewards, which generally aligned with the referenced studies in my literature review. Additionally, delivery method effects (instructor versus web-based training) and a surprising lack of technological issues were noticed in the results (these include fear of learning technology and the technology failures, etc). Other data related to management involvement, technology self-efficacy, and perceived importance were collected and analyzed.


Below are the original research questions, with my associated conclusions, based on the data analysis.

  1. What factors do participants in mandatory training perceive as most influential regarding their motivation to learn?
    • What factors enhance their motivation?
  • Relevance and “real life” is appreciated most greatly by participants. This means the training should directly and concretely affect their work. The exercises should be based on real life / work-related situations.
  • Interest in the topic and / or interest in learning technology generally increases the desire to participate in the training.
  • “Being mandatory” actually seemed to motivate all those to complete the training, even though the learners weren’t aware of consequences nor accountable for not completing the training.
  • Extrinsic rewards, like promotion (or even food) was listed as a ‘general’ factor, although not specifically related to the training(s) these learners were asked to chronicle. These sorts of extrinsic factors came out as a higher factor when asked about training in general.
  • As an instructional designer or trainer, it’s important to consider how some of the more polarized factors could be manipulated. For example, being mandatory was high on the motivational factor list, but it was also heavy on the “low” end, which means there wasn’t a lot of in-between. While this isn’t a factor you can change as a designer or instructor, it is possible to focus on the positives and minimize the cost by adjusting factors like time, presentation creativity, responsiveness, relevancy, and external incentives (adding food, highlighting promotions), etc.
  • Although this survey group rated themselves highly in technology self-efficacy, it was apparent throughout the literature review and some of the open-ended responses that “fear” and/or confidence levels with technology do affect training experiences. For example, one comment from a user discussed their technology comfort level, “We had someone come in and train in groups.  Since I’m not that technically literate (computers)….I could have used more one – on -one training.”
  • Surprisingly, these respondents mentioned little or no issues with technology. But, based on personal experience, technology issues during training, like connectivity (mentioned only once in survey results) and problems with software will affect motivation greatly. This variable would need to be explored in detail, however, before making any real conclusions.
    • What factors impede their motivation?
  1. What advice can participants offer trainers doing mandatory training to help inspire participants’ motivation? 
    • Approximately 70% of the training represented in this survey was classroom-based, and several responses suggested the instructor and attributes the learners desire:
  • Real life experience – An instructor with real life, practical experience (or the ability to demonstrate the topic’s applicability realistically to the trainees) was one of the top factors.
  • Pacing – Ensure the class time is long enough or not too long. The learners want an instructor who can pace the course according to the needs (dynamically).
  • Support – An instructor with resources to answer questions and the ability to follow up after the training is complete was desired.
  • Attributes – Several respondents requested an instructor with personality traits like “animation” and “patience.’ “Preparedness” was also high on the list.
  1. What advice can participants offer management [or whomever is requiring the training] about communicating the need/purpose of the mandatory training?
    • Involving management is important, because the potential to build in and be aware of certain factors like rationale, incentives, and consequences will affect the design and delivery of training.
    • The learners recommended providing comprehensive introductions, which explain, why they are required to take the training, how to proceed if they are not successful, and its relevance to their day-to-day work.

Implications Moving Forward

As a result of the study, it was clear that learning developers and facilitators need to prepare appropriately and try their best to include elements which stimulate relevance, interest, and highlight any extrinsic rewards. A couple of other important factors related to these circumstances include the delivery method and technology itself.

Because of constraints in this study, I suggested including learner interviews and critical incident journaling, as employees progress through a mandatory training program. This sort of data capture would provide a richer set of qualitative analysis. Doing so could really enhance the ability to uncover previously “unnamed factors”, looking for any other trends in these sorts of training sessions.

Several other questions were raised throughout the data analysis, which require more research. For example, most of the respondents did not feel that management communicated or established consequences for completion of the mandatory training. Creating a study which captures management’s perceptions regarding a mandatory training and its consequences (in addition to participants’) could help fill this potential gap in communication.

The hope is that this project’s specific data analysis and conclusions can serve as jumping off points for continued study and conversation starters, with the intent to develop better practices.

Matthew Hoff graduated in 2010 with a Masters of Arts in Educating Adults from DePaul University, School for New Learning. Matthew works for a global consulting company, as a Senior Learning Consultant.  Contact him at mphoff@us.ibm.com.

5 Responses to What Do Participants In Mandatory Training Find Most Influential In Their Motivation To Learn?

  1. Hi I am Scott Lee, an analyst, consultant, speaker, strategist and writer on topics related to digital content technology.
    Interesting post!

    • Dr Judy Hurst says:

      Hello Matthew- great study and of great interest to me. Currenltly doing a lit review in this area. is there any chance you can share your references please.
      Kind regards Dr Judy Hurst

  2. Hi I am Scott Lee, an analyst, consultant, speaker, strategist and writer on topics related to digital content technology.
    Interesting post!
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  3. Hi I am Scott Lee, an analyst, consultant, speaker, strategist and writer on topics related to digital content technology.
    Interesting post!
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  4. Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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