How To Create a Useful Educational Product for Adults using Motivational Designby@refocus
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How To Create a Useful Educational Product for Adults using Motivational Design

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Despite the boom of the demand on educational products for adults, the average completion rate of the courses is quite low. To create a course that people will complete, it is essential to know the principles of motivational design and build a program based on them. To recognize students’ intrinsic motivation, we have a 4-step process that you can learn about by reading ahead.

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Roman Kumar Vyas

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Despite the boom in the demand for educational products for adults, the current average completion rate of the courses is quite low. For example, for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)  it is approximately 15%. As a founder of an EdTech startup, I’m sure the main metric for the educational product is not how many people bought it, but how many completed it and then apply the knowledge form it in practice. And our completion rate is currently 65%!

To create the course that people will complete, it is essential to know the motivational design principles and build a program based on them. Together with learning experience designer Karina Arushtova, we have created educational programs that students are excited and motivated to complete. Let's explore how to do it!

What is motivational design and how does it function?

When was the last time you promised yourself to start something new - to study, to lose weight, or to save money? Adults quite often promise to "start a new life on Monday," but by "Wednesday," many go back to the previous scenario. Why does this happen? 

At the beginning of the journey to a new goal, we clearly imagine the final result - buying a car, a perfect shape, a dream vacation. But then the motivation becomes less intense and disappears altogether. To prevent this from happening, it is important to know the cycles of adult motivation and take it into account in the program, so that the adult student gets support, advice, and recommendation in time and admits the progress.

The motivational design itself is defined as the process of arranging resources and procedures to bring about changes in people's motivation. 

To properly motivate the audience, it is important to understand what their vision of the final result is and periodically remind them in the process of learning about the result that the student will get if he doesn't give up. For instance, in exploring the Refocus students' motives during CustDevs studies, we identified two key groups of people with different motivational drivers: 

  • Re-skillers - learners who need to acquire new skills required to switch a career. A successful result as they see it is a complete change of occupation to earn more, often working remotely, and fulfill their talents.
  • Up-skillers - want to systematize knowledge, get promoted, and make the transition from one marketing position to another. At the end of the course, they imagine how they can earn more and buy a house, a car, and improve their quality of life.

Segmenting is important because it proves that people buy the same product for completely different reasons. So, it’s impossible to create a motivational design without knowing what are the pains and needs of the audience.

Recognizing intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is concerned with the pleasure the adult learner gets from the process of learning. It includes the interest and enjoyment the student feels when performing a given task. To engage students, educational startups should handle it in the first place. To recognize students’ intrinsic motivation, we have a 4-step process:

1. Goal-setting meeting at the beginning of the course, where students determine the results they want to achieve in the program. To make this process effective, we introduce a SMART goal-setting system, which means goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. This approach eliminates generalities and guesswork, sets a clear timeline, and makes it easier to track progress and identify missed milestones. 

SMART Goal Example: I will apply data analyst skills in my work (for promotion) within 6 months after graduation from the course. 

2. Miro board introduction. Students are working with 3 tables and stickers: GOALS, FEARS, and WHAT WILL HELP/SUPPORT, and the results are discussed in a group.  This help students not only understand that other have similar fears but also gain support from the community. And this is working! When such sessions are held, students write that they appreciate the goal-setting they get and motivation from others


3. Recognizing the student's expectations from the education. To learn it, we conduct CustDevs qualitative studies where we ask newcomers about their experience and expectations. During this part, we found, for instance, that among their expectations are: ‘’to learn the programs required to do data analysis’’, ‘’collaboration with other classmates and instructors/mentors’’, ‘’timely feedback for each project during the course’’. Moreover, we regularly ask for feedback during the live session and receive similar results. That helps us focus on things that are actually important for our students.

4. ’Final reflection’’.  Students are describing their feelings now, what they will take with them after the session and what they wish for themselves. 

That’s how it looks:


Analyzing extrinsic factors

Extrinsic motivation is related to the rewards that the student receives at the end of the course. Usually, the key reason adults attend courses is to gain more income. This is confirmed by LinkedIn statistics – 55% of adult learners named "increasing my earning potential" as a desired benefit of additional education. After market research, it became clear that adult students in Asia value certificates very much — it is really considered prestigious, which is why we also emphasize that and give them even free webinars.


Also, during our training, we implemented various elements of gamification and rewards for completing tasks. Shortly, we want to add a mentor for each cohort of students, who will monitor progress and give encouragement.

Implement the results in the educational program framework

The results of student motivation research are worthless without knowing how to apply them. To properly engage motivational incentives in the learning process and inspire students to complete the course, we use the SSDL model

The model aims to help the student go beyond regular learning and find the correlation between education and the further use of knowledge. If you just give content in a course without practical cases, the adult learner will quickly get bored and his or her engagement will drop. After all, we live in the information age, and any knowledge can be obtained from Google or free webinars. As an educational startup, your task is to encourage the student to examine the relationship between study and work. For example, that’s the reason why we apply mentors who do have real-life experience in the sphere: students get the feedback almost as if they’re already working.

SSDL model consists of 4 stages, and that is how you can increase students’ performance in each:

Stage 1. Learners of low self-direction (Dependent). At the beginning of the course, students rely completely on the professor, since he is more experienced, and has already gone on this journey and achieved the result that the students themselves want to achieve.

Practice tools: Educational startups can build interest with such instruments as providing instant feedback, analysis of needs and goals, and "quick success" - activities that lead to positive results and give students confidence in their abilities. 


Stage 2. Learners of Moderate Self-Direction (Interested). Here students become interested in learning, and it is crucial to reinforce it. That can be done through strong personal interaction with the mentor, inspirational stories from the lecturers, and clear explanations: "This tool helps develop this skill, that's why it's valuable’’.

Practice tools: One of the great instruments at this stage might be exercises on the LMS –small assessment methods like tests or similar things. It takes around 1 hour to interact with all the content and all the exercises. For example, ‘’please choose a correct definition of "Target audience". The platform itself usually assesses these tasks.

We also provide case studies during outro sessions. After each module, our students join a 3-hour live session that a community manager hosts. The first half is the cognitive reflection of the module combined with getting feedback on the module from the students. The second part is hosted by a mentor. A mentor gives case studies — 20-minute tasks in tiny groups to do right then & there. Groups present their solutions before each other and get feedback from the present mentor. 

Stage 3: Learners of Intermediate Self-Direction (Involved). At this stage, the student wants not only to pose questions but also to seek answers to them and collaborate with other students enjoying the friendly interaction of a welcoming group. The role of the instructor in the third stage is a facilitator. 

Practice tools: We usually give students real-life tasks and discuss challenges they encountered during the assignment. For it, we suggest live sessions with the community manager as a moderator, where interested students can collaborate and do tasks together.


Stage 4. Learners of high self-direction. These are already autonomous students who need teachers as advisors.  Students here already want to work and do internships to put what they have learned into real life quickly.  

Practice tools: Refocus provides students with real client briefs as close to real life as possible. To achieve it, we have partnered with some local companies that are interested in hiring our students later. The project assignment is assessed both by the client and mentor. While the client gives oral feedback during the presentation, the mentor provides oral and written feedback based on assessment criteria.


Screenshot from onboarding Internship meeting for our students

To sum up

It’s not enough to launch an educational product that satisfies market needs - it should also be useful and comfortable for your audience. Key tips for EdTech startups to boost completion rate:

  • Analyze your audience and their explanations - what is the ambition of each segment,
  • Identify students’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivation by implementing goal-setting meetings at the beginning of the course,
  • Add hands-on assignments and work with real-world cases into the learning process,
  • Provide regular meetings with a mentor to help students achieve their goals.
  • Give feedback and help improve performance.
  • Use gamification to engage students
  • Link theory to the practical application of knowledge - let students work with real client briefs.


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