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5 Motivation Theories To Get You Started

5 Motivation Theories To Get You Started

To implement Captivate courses that motivate your learners, you should know what gets someone motivated in the first place. Here are 5 motivation theories that you should reflect on, in order to structure your next eLearning course the right way!

1 – Scaffolding

The theory behind scaffolding is that when your learners are given the support they need while learning something new, they stand a better chance of using the knowledge independently.

Instructional scaffolding is the support you can give to your learner in order to help him achieve his learning goals. It may include, for example: hints, clues, guides, checklists, etc. As the student gets more autonomous and demonstrates knowledge, this support can be gradually withdrawn.

For scaffolding to be effective, you should:

  • Anticipate the errors your learners are likely to commit.
  • Make sure you provide the right amount of information for your learner to remain motivated.
  • Make sure you give a positive feedback, to avoid discrediting what the student has achieved on his own.
  • Keep the student focused on his learning goal.

Scaffolding can be done using different means:

  • Feedback: providing information regarding the student’s performance to the student him/herself.
  • Hints: providing suggestions of clues without including the full solution
  • Instruction: providing an explanation on how something must be done and why
  • Models: demonstrating a particular skill to allow the student to imitate it
  • Questions: asking students questions to lead them in the right direction.

2 – Self Determination Theory

Self-Determination Theory, or SDT, is an important theory of motivation according to which learners have innate psychological needs:

  • Autonomy: your learners should feel that they are able to take decisive actions, that they are in control.
  • Competence: learners should feel they are able to master a task, or a topic. It can be achieved thanks to the scaffolding theory, described earlier in this blog. Make sure you set up your content from least to most difficult, to give your learner confidence in his abilities. Your learner should feel challenged, but still be able to master the content which you are providing.
  • Relatedness: feeling connected to other people will make your learners motivated. You may for example provide options to share rewards and successes through social channels.

3 – Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the self-desire to seek out new challenges and to gain knowledge. It is driven by an interest in the task itself, and doesn’t rely on external incentives or threats. In eLearning, intrinsic motivation would come from a student mastering a new topic and feeling a sense of accomplishment. To generate intrinsic motivation, you may for example use feedbacks and create a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence in your learner.

On the contrary, extrinsic motivation refers to the performance of an activity based on a desired outcome: a reward (money, grade…) or a threat of punishment. You might generate intrinsic motivation by allowing your learner to receive points, earn badges or trophies as he masters new content. Extrinsic motivation tends to work best when your learners don’t have an inherent interest in the topic you want to teach them, or when they don’t really see the value of the content.

However, some studies have found that giving excessive external incentives for a behavior which is already internally rewarding can lead to a reduction in intrinsic motivation. This phenomenon is known as the “overjustification effect”. Therefore, try to make sure your eLearning content is not only focused on external rewards. You can have intrinsic and extrinsic motivation coexist in your educational setting, to achieve the best results.

4 – Distributed Learning

Distributed learning means giving your learner a little bit of content at a time over a long period of time. On the contrary, massed learning means that the course and content to be learned is provided all at once over a short period of time. For an example of distributed learning, read this blog post about

Massed learning can be good for highly skilled or highly motivated performers. It does require a lot of concentration and motivation but repetition helps reinforce the learner’s skills. It may work well when the learner needs to assimilate a physical movement (while playing a sport or a music instrument, for example).

On the other hand, using distributive learning has several major advantages:

  • It leads to better recall of the information on the long run – contrarily to cramming, which may work well for short term memory but won’t allow you to remember the information after a few days.
  • It avoids “learner fatigue” – which is when the learner gets overwhelmed by receiving a lot of information all at a time, which slows down the learning process.
  • It allows the learner to master on thing at a time. When provided with a lot of information at the same time, the learner may get confused as all the content gets mixed, making it harder to memorize the information and recall it later on.
  • The learner has time to process the content, and therefore remember it more clearly when needed.

Distributed practice can be used by either having the user reread or re-listen the content, or quizzing the learner regularly to force him to recall the content. This is called retrieval practice.

5 – Episodic Memory

Memory can be strongly tied to emotions. Your brain may associate specific information to specific times or experiences in your life; this process is what we call Episodic memory. In order to use this concept in your courses, you may want to tap into a learner’s emotions, and provide an emotionally charged course. Think of the methods to add fun and emotion to your learning solution.

Episodic Memory is actually a subdivision of Explicit or Declarative Memory, which is made up of memories that we are conscious of remembering and capable of describing in words. Explicit memory can be divided into Episodic Memory, which refers to memories from our personal experiences, and Semantic Memory, which are facts and general knowledge about the world (name of colors, for example).

To learn more, have a look at the links below:


Chloé Wibaux | Project Manager

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