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The truth is that employees can only truly learn when they really care. So how can you get them to care?

What Motivates Learning?

Each person consists of a unique combination of cognitive capabilities and motivations. That means that if you want people to learn, you need to know how they work from both a cognitive and motivational aspect.

Adult educator Malcolm Knowles did the first comprehensive research on adult learning. He discovered that an adult’s strongest motivators are internal and not external and that adults want to know why they need to learn something.

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink writes about human motivation in the sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He explains it this way:

  • autonomy means our wish to be self-directed;
  • mastery means our desire to make progress and continuously get better and
  • purpose is our need to contribute and be part of something greater than ourselves.

These internal motivators are essential when it comes to working. Yet most companies Implement learning strategies that are, actually, the exact opposite of what science tells us we should be doing. Instead of autonomy, they implement the command-and-control model that tells employees what and when they have to do things and learn. Instead of real competence, companies seem to be satisfied that employees have completed “training” no matter if they have actually learned anything.

Getting Practical to Really Learn

There is a “Learning Loop” that people go through when they want to learn. It is a straightforward way of thinking about learning and has four parts: knowledge, practice, feedback, and reflection.

For example, in the first week of work, an employee starts learning about the role and familiarizing themself with the new work environment. This is the knowledge component of the Loop. Then they start doing real work, collaborating with more experienced account managers (practice), and maybe sitting in on some client meetings. During these weeks, they receive feedback about the progress. Then the employee must reflect on the feedback, adjust their actions accordingly, and also gain professional confidence.

Here are some other ways how you can help employees build expertise:

  • Model mindset and the right motivators.

Let your employees know that your organization prefers “learn-it-all” rather than “know-it-all” employees, and then apply this behavior. Think about the internal motivations of employees, including autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and let employees take responsibility for their own learning.

  • Have employees assess their skill gaps.

Helping employees understand their strengths and weaknesses adds great value, because how can they know what skills they would want to learn if they don’t know the type of skills they have, the level of those skills, and the skills they still need.

  • Encourage autonomy

People really value autonomy. If you want to establish an environment where the employees have autonomy, you should focus more on what work gets done, and not how it gets done. If you don’t trust your employees to work autonomously, then why would you even hire them?

  • More reading and fewer lectures

Some of the most well-respected entrepreneurs and industry leaders of our time learn best through reading, and so could your employees. It’s all about building trust and providing autonomy.

Discover the best way to help your employees learn, consistently connect with your leadership team, and predictably turn them into highly engaged employees. Call me for some complimentary advice. Book an appointment at or call me at +1 (604) 943-0800.

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Inscape Consulting Group
Greg Nichvalodoff, BSc. BM (Honors), MBA, PCC, CMC
Office: 604.943.0800
Mobile: 604.831.4734