Of course people need to be motivated to take part in online learning experiences. But many developers of these experiences misunderstand what motivates people in today’s online world.
The tradition of instructional design that starts explicitly with Gagne, but stretches back through educational history, assumes that learners need to see “what’s in it for them” (WIIFM) when they start learning something. And of course this is perfectly valid. So many from this tradition use our growing understanding of people as “goal-directed agents” (Vygotsky, Schank and many others) to re-enforce the importance of WIIFM.
But the issue of motivation is quickly getting more complicated as the online learning experiences we are creating rely increasingly on collaboration and community as core components. The social constructivists have always affirmed that learning is a social process, and with the explosion of work in the areas of Communities of Practice we now have solid frameworks with which to develop a wide range of online learning experiences.
A key driver for learning in a CoP context is the development of the individual’s identify within the group. Through gradually increasing their quality of contribution (through the process of what’s called “legitimate peripheral participation”), the individual becomes closely bound into the group’s growth and success, to the point where a part of their identity is bound up in the group – and in the process of learning.
People love to contribute to successful groups; and people love to contribute to successful groups that are contributing to others (there’s some really nice research with school kids, done by Schwartz that shows how feeling one is contributing to others is especially motivating).
On the other hand, we know that individualistic motivations can often be highly destructive to groups. So we’re ending up at the opposite end of the spectrum from WIIFM. We’re now encouraging learners to ask “what of me is in it?” – or WOMII. We’re also at the other end of the spectrum from the simplistic, stimulus-and-response, behaviourist origins of WIIFM, however nicely it’s dressed up in constructivist clothing. We’re thoroughly in the situated learning camp. I’d suggest the shift of focus moves through four, thoroughly overlapping stages:
- What’s in it for me? – WIIFM motivation; individualistic learning
- What’s in it for us? – Teamworking; project and goal focussed
- What of us is it it? – Collaborative learning and production
- What of me is it it? – WOMII motivation; community and process focussed
It almost goes without saying that a WOMII philosophy strongly supports the learner’s metacognitive processes. The learner is going beyond the goal-orientation characteristic of WIIFM, to asking what of themselves is currently present in the thing they are learning about. What have they contributed? What is the process they are following, and where are they in it?
A final thought: it’s particularly important to understand WOMII motivation if you are developing educational environments for cultures other than those of the industrialised west. Communitarian cultures (see Hofstede’s model of culture ) have always bound learning, identity and community closely together. One of the reasons that “community of practice” has become such a management buzzword is because it is such a radical concept for many in the individualistic nations of the west. But it’s the natural and accepted way of learning for most of the world’s population.