Learning principle spotlight: Developing intrinsic motivation

A few of the LearnJam team share products that they feel effectively helped develop their intrinsic motivation.

Great design is often invisible to the user, we don’t think about how something works until, well – it’s not working! If you follow us here LearnJam, you’ve probably heard us talking about how we use our Learning Design Principles, to design learning experiences that work for learners and are as impactful as possible. 

Over the next few posts, we’ll share some examples of products or experiences from our own lives that we think illustrate some of these principles, whether they are learning products or not. By shining a light on the seemingly invisible design features that make them stand-out products or experiences, we’re aiming to show how they exemplify some our LDPs.

Our first principle is to design for the learner and their context:

“Effective learning isn’t simply a case of transmitting information from expert to novice; learners need to understand how the learning process itself works and how it relates to their own context, experience and identity.“

The first component of this principle is to develop intrinsic motivation:

“Intrinsic motivation (inherent interest in or enjoyment of the subject) is generally a better incentive than extrinsic motivators such as rewards, points and badges, punishment or coercion. We need to understand how a learning goal is important to our lives, to believe in our own ability to achieve it, and to have some degree of control in directing our own progress towards it.”

Laurie: Rethink Mixing

Like so many of us, I’ve signed up for various online courses with the best of intentions and not seen them through. This is one of the rare exceptions, and it’s because the intrinsic motivation was so high. Producing music has always been my passion, and I’d acquired a decent level of skill through years of trial and error and undirected self-teaching. But I decided to see what would happen if I followed a structured course – in this case on mixing music.

The course follows the most basic model imaginable: a series of videos explaining key concepts and demonstrating them. The key is that as a learner, you put into practice what’s being taught as you watch. The course provides the raw audio files which, through a series of scaffolded stages, you transform from something that sounds amateurish and muddy into a gleaming, polished professional final track.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing (and hearing) an expert demonstrate a specific technique, and then being able to put it into practice yourself immediately and get the same results – instant feedback and reward. And by breaking a highly complex process down into manageable chunks, the course allowed me to build towards an end result that seemed unattainable at the start, and left me with a step-by-step process that I was then able to apply successfully without support afterwards.

Tim: Noom

Noom is a weight-loss / healthy lifestyle app that uses coaching and psychology to change your behaviours around food and exercise. Now, I recognise that I was already intrinsically motivated when I signed up for the programme (rapidly approaching a milestone birthday prompted me to reassess my health / weight status and I found they were both in need of positive adjustments). The reason I felt this app speaks to the intrinsic motivation principle is because of the way it encourages perseverance.

Losing weight, like learning a language or new skill, is difficult. Even with the best intentions it can be very easy to opt out of the process, especially when the returns on changes in lifestyle take a while to show themselves. What Noom does really well is sustain my intrinsic motivation by recognising that weight loss is a challenge, wrought with its own anxieties, and provides effective support to help me overcome them.  

It does this by showing empathy, positivity and humor. In the example below, Noom is helping to instill the habit of weighing myself every day. It acknowledges up front that it can be a demotivating process, but talks me through it with a lighthearted pep-talk. 

I’m also given an opportunity to check out some psychology tricks and tips that can help me persevere with the habit in the future.

Katy: Waking Up

With stress reduction and heightened focus among the numerous benefits, there should be something inherently motivating about mediation. But as many aspiring mediators will tell you, what starts as a diligent daily practice often ends as just another habit lost along that road paved with good intentions. 

Waking Up is a meditation app by neuroscientist and podcaster Sam Harris. To combat the inevitable motivation dip, Waking Up combines the power of guided audio with habit inducing design techniques to foster continued use and develop motivation.

After a light onboarding process, the opening screen of Waking Up drops you straight into the first guided practice of a 28 day introductory course. Research shows that motivation can be fostered by building a sense of competence. In introducing mediation as a series of very small and achievable steps, the 28 day course encourages users to return regularly and persist in their mindfulness journey. 

Although it’s said that extrinsic motivators, like badges and leaderboards, can undermine our drive in the long run, there is something inspiring about seeing the number of other meditators using the app alongside you at that exact moment. In this case, instead of being competitive, this small nod to community gives you a sense of belonging. Waking Up also shares the number of ‘mindful minutes’ you’ve clocked up, but unlike other wellness apps, it doesn’t congratulate you for daily streaks with points or prizes, but keeps the praise woven into the audio content where it speaks directly to the user in a more nuanced fashion. 

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