What Motivates Adult Learners?


What motivates different people, and how can we match up the appropriate motivators for folks at different stages?

I recently began asking myself the same question so I decided to test out a few things when delivering training to our call center staff. I work for a health care call center which if you’re familiar with health care, it’s always changing! However, most of the people that work for health care are very set in their ways. Let me explain…

I found, with many of the staff we hire at our call center, people tend to resist change when it comes to technology. My company recently (about two years now) made a system-wide update to their Electronic Health Record  system which forced all of its employees to learn something that affected their day-to-day tasks, e.g., scheduling patients, ordering labs and other tests, documenting in patient’s charts, collecting payments, running reports, etc… Now, health care is interesting because there’s a position for every type of person, young and old. What I find most interesting, however, is the reaction we get from people that have been with the company for 10+ years. They’ve seen it all. And it’s unfortunate that this demographic is always overlooked. Our older generation of employees tend to be late adopters* because they want to maintain their old skills.

Late adopters: referring to a person’s resistance to adopting a new idea or way of doing things, an innovation. (Surry Ely, 2007)

When attempting to motivate late adopters, it’s important to think of the following: 

  • Most of the time, late adopters are autonomous and self-directed;
  • they’re goal-oriented;
  • they want to know how new information relates to them;
  • they want to feel respected and heard (they have years of knowledge/experience);
  • they want to maintain old skills;
  • they need to earn your trust (especially if you’re younger than them and trying to teach them new things).

I would love to know what you think or what you would suggest I do so I can gain trust from adult learners. I will be 30 years old this year and most of the people I train are 10+ years ahead of me. I’m an easy-going person and get along with everyone, but I still feel resistance from our older learners.

What would you suggest I try to gain their trust and respect? 

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