The WIIFM of Adult Learning

I had to laugh, as I was finishing designing the research methods course that I’ll be teaching next term.  How will I possibly retain the title of Professor Cool teaching a class like this?  Let’s be honest, while I’m an admitted research geek, I recognize that not everyone shares this perspective.  And while I think that’s more indicative to a misunderstanding of the research process and methodologies, it’s a reality I have to acknowledge.

More than the subject matter, however, it’s the rigor of this upcoming course that has focused my concern.  It’s a really good course.  But it’s also going to be a really difficult course.  That’s also a reality I need to acknowledge.  In eight short weeks, I have a ton of material to cover, and there’s not much that can be cut out without undermining the students’ need to develop solid applied research skills.

Qualitative versus quantitative research.  Hypotheses and variables.  Measurement and reliability.  Internal and external validity.  Sampling techniques.  And simply establishing good primary research literature evaluation competencies.  Did I mention it’s also an online course……?

Welcome to the fire hose, students!

Rigor and high expectations go hand-in-hand.  And high performance is my expectation, I’ll be honest.  I believe this wholeheartedly, so at the end of the day, I’m looking forward to seeing what the students produce!

But rigor and high expectations themselves are not enough to drive performance, certainly not committed, sustainable performance.  The missing link here is emotionally intelligent and responsive leadership.  Add in these two elements, and stand back.  Followers will likely explode into action…positive, impactful….transformational action.

Why won’t just any old leadership end with these results?  Quite simply, if leaders aren’t aligned with the motivations of their followers, if they don’t know what’s important to their subordinates (or students, in the case of an academic environment), and if they haven’t connected on a personal and emotional level with their followers, only mediocre performance (at best) is possible.

For a professor, this means understanding that the individual goals of their students (personal and career-wise) are always going to trump the most carefully crafted academic goals and objectives in the syllabus.  For other leaders, the WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me”) provides the glue (and the propellant) for explosively positive growth on an individual and organizational level.

So, what do I need to do as I launch this research methods course?  Well, I need to ensure I have a good grasp on the reasons and motivations of my individual students.  Beyond merely having to take this course as a requirement for their Master of Science in Organizational Development degree, how will they use the knowledge and competencies they gain in this class?  What is the WIIFM?  What is the trigger that will light off their self-directed learning mechanisms?

I sure hope I figure that out…..and quickly!

3 thoughts on “The WIIFM of Adult Learning

  1. As a first time instructor this semester I’ve been learning a lot about the balancing act you’re speaking of! I remember (it wasn’t too long ago) beginning the semester with VERY lofty goals for my undergrads taking my two upper-level electives, and I’ve had to realign several times already! Perhaps you’re not feeling what I am (at least I hope not) because you have grad students, but I get the impression that the “WIIFM” these guys and gals are asking has more to do with “how do I not have to do work” than any motivations driven by self-directed learning. I only wish that was more the case!

    Nonetheless, great post as always! And best of luck to your new course next semester!


  2. Reblogged this on Michael Cilla, M.S. and commented:
    A great post by Trevor Nagle for anyone charged with the responsibility of motivating others, whether they be subordinate employees or students! You should always be empathizing with them and taking on their motivational mindset of What’s In It For Me?

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