Learning and motivation: an essential tandem

A growing number of providers in the broad field of education – including Gymglish – base their teaching approach on students’ motivation, which they consider to be the best guarantee of effective learning.

Motivation stimulates concentration and participation; it also encourages memorization and the long-term retention of knowledge.

In his book To Want to Learn, Jackson Kytle*, who received a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Columbia in New York, analyzes the close links between learning and motivation from a psychological standpoint. 

Kytle draws attention to two major forms of motivation that he considers essential for successful learning: social engagement and psychological involvement.

Social engagement refers to all forms of personal commitments in life, for example marriage, political or religious convictions, sport, looking for a better job, or the desire to learn. 

In France, legislation relating to vocational training has been in place for several decades, prompting companies to fund the development of employees’ skills. 

This provision, which is rare in other countries, is logical: training benefits both the company and the employee, and so it is in the company’s interests to encourage it. 

But is giving the training initiative to the employer rather than the employee consistent with encouraging the latter’s social engagement? Not necessarily.

Learning […] is dependent on a desire to learn.

Since 2015, the CPF program (French company training) has endeavored to give employees the initiative regarding their training choices, with or without the endorsement of their Human Resources department, which seems relevant to the social engagement described by Kytle.

In other countries, general vocational training that does not relate to a profession, such as learning languages, is by default at the initiative of the individual rather than the employer. As a result, there tend to be fewer problems with participation rates and with the effectiveness of the training down the line. The social engagement described by Kytle is clearly a significant factor.

Learning, whether it is funded by the company or not, is dependent on a desire to learn.

Psychological involvement is described in the book as a “state of sustained, focused attention, accompanied by an elevated mood”. In other words, the person is immersed in the learning experience and enjoys it. “Staying motivated without becoming distracted or tired is a daily challenge”, explains Kytle. 

And yet the vast majority of learning approaches completely ignore this well-known struggle of the human mind to remain focused for a long period of time.

“A university timetable assumes, implicitly and incorrectly, that students and teachers maintain the levels of energy and attention, and enjoy the same atmosphere every hour of the day,” comments Kytle, adding that, “Financial values supersede educational values in discussions on contemporary education”. It is not enough to provide access to school, lessons and educational resources, it is also necessary to adapt to students’ ability to stay focused and motivated. However, this ability has limits: it is a matter of human nature.

Staying motivated without becoming distracted or tired is a daily challenge.

While these concepts are highly theoretical, they do support our intuition and our choice of placing motivation at the heart of the Gymglish pedagogy.

Our recipe: short lessons of 10-15 minutes daily, delivered to the student via email or app push notification, focusing on the individual student’s needs and requests (determined with the help of artificial intelligence), along with a healthy dose of culture and humor for an enjoyable learning experience that can be repeated over time with pleasure.

After 16 years and teaching hundreds of thousands of people, with participation rates of around 80% and an average of 9 months’ training in companies (16 months for individuals funding their own training) we can safely say that the recipe works. However, this is just one recipe among others, and many remain to be discovered. Every day, more knowledge becomes accessible through the Internet, mobile apps, etc.

Yet this abundance of educational resources does not make this knowledge any easier to absorb, let alone retain. Rather than striving to offer an ever-greater range of tools, formats and resources, innovators, particularly in the world of digital learning, should focus more on motivation – then we would be sure to learn lots of things!

*To Want to Learn: Insights and Provocations For Engaged Learning (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Jackson Kytle


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